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Dialectologia et Geolinguistica

Journal of the International Society for Dialectology and Geolinguistics

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The role of dialect in mother tongue retention of Slovene Canadians: a case study

Nada Šabec / Mihaela Koletnik
Published Online: 2017-11-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/dialect-2017-0003


This article addresses the issue of mother tongue retention in the Slovene Canadian community of Vancouver. A brief social and historical profile of the community is followed by a description of the general linguistic situation, based on the data collected through questionnaires and participant observation. The results show substantial intergenerational variation in terms of the immigrants’ language use and language attitudes and point in the direction of a relatively rapid shift from Slovene to English, but not to the weakening of their sense of ethnic identity.

The focus then shifts to the linguistic aspects of Slovene-English language contact themselves. In addition to interference phenomena in the immigrants’ language such as borrowing from English and Slovene-English code switching, special attention is paid to the presence of dialect or standard features in their mother tongue. Lexis in particular is interesting as it shows traces of other languages. Next, we try to identify the most significant factors which affect the immigrants’ choice between Slovene and English in various contexts as well as their use of either dialect or standard in Slovene.

Keywords: Slovene-English language contact; mother tongue retention; immigration; ethnic identity

1 Introduction

The purpose of this article is to present the language situation in the Vancouver community of Slovene Canadians, addressing both the social and linguistic aspects of the Slovene-English language contact observed there. The former are primarily concerned with the degree of mother tongue maintenance in the immigrant environment, the latter with forms of bilingual discourse such as borrowing and code switching and the influence of English on Slovene on the phonological, morphological, lexical and syntactic levels. In addition, the linguistic analysis touches upon an issue which, to our knowledge, has not yet been addressed in any detail by other studies – i.e. the ratio of standard vs. dialect features in the Slovene used by the immigrants and the role that this ratio plays in terms of their attitudes toward both language use and ethnic identity.

2 Slovene-English language contact: language use and attitudes

Vancouver is a small community of Slovenes on the West Coast of Canada. According to census data, there are approximately 2000 people of Slovene descent and, of these, only 400 active participants in their only ethnic organization, The Slovenian Society (the terms Slovene and Slovenian mean the same and can be used interchangeably). As such, it might seem surprising that I chose to do my research there, especially since my previous research focused on much larger communities of Slovene Americans and Canadians in Cleveland and Toronto (Šabec 1999; 2011). While those communities have an extremely widespread network of ethnic and cultural organizations and a rich range of activities, Vancouver is much more modest in this respect. But it was precisely due to this size difference that I became intrigued by the prospect of trying to better understand how a relatively small community, in adverse circumstances, compares to the larger ones in terms of mother tonge maintenance and sense of ethnic identity.

Slovenes began to immigrate to Vancouver in the second half of the 20th century, first as political refugees after World War II and then as economic immigrants from 1951 on. During my fieldwork in Vancouver (November 2009, 2016), I was primarily interested in comparing those who were born in Slovenia and had immigrated to Canada on the one hand and their Canadian-born children and grandchildren on the other. I obtained comparable data from 87 participants, asking them to complete a questionnaire on their language use and their attitudes toward language and ethnicity. The questionnaire was fairly comprehensive, containing 66 questions, but only responses to the questions relevant to this study will be analyzed here and some examples presented for illustration purposes.

The responses to the question about the immigrants’ mother tongue were expected, as all Slovene-born participants (35 or 40 % of the entire sample) chose Slovene. English translations are provided in brackets. All responses and interview excerpts are cited literally. Most of them did not speak English at the time of their arrival. The answers about their preferred conversational language, however, already show more diversity. Only 32% chose Slovene, 78% English and 3 participants opted for both languages. The two answers below are good illustrations of the dilemmas facing immigrants in an English dominated environment:

  • Slovensko, ker je to materin jezik in ker lažje izrazim svoja čustva in občutke. (Slovene, because it is my mother tongue and I find it easier to express my feelings and emotions in it.)

  • When we were young we always spoke Slovenian at home. However, as we are married and grandchildren came along, there was more English spoken at family gatherings.

The majority of younger, Canadian-born generations, however, no longer waver between the two options: for them both the mother tongue and the preferred language is already English. Accommodation on a personal level and a language shift from Slovene to English on a societal level have obviously already taken place. While they had learned some Slovene from their parents when they were little, the contact with school was decisive in their adoption of English. Also, parents mostly encouraged this in order to avoid the stigma of their children having a foreign accent, as shown by the responses below. At the time, a non-native accent was considered a serious obstacle to being able to integrate successfully into mainstream society. This is not to say, of course, that some do not still remember occasional Slovene words, sayings, proverbs and the like (especially those related to food and tradition), but their competence in Slovene is limited, used only on rare occasions and mostly to communicate with (grand)parents. On the whole, however, there is no doubt that they feel more comfortable speaking English in all circumstances.

  • My parents spoke Slovenian to us, but we always answered in English.

  • My parents spoke Slovenian to me. When I started school, children made fun of the fact that I was speaking Slovenian. So my parents spoke more English and I stopped speaking Slovenian.

The way society today looks at multilingualism/multiculturalism has since changed and many now regret that they have failed to preserve their mother tongue. They value it as an important part of their ethnic identity, but due to their limited language competence, for the majority of the Canadian-born respondees their proclaimed love of the language remains on a declarative rather than on a concrete level. Compared to the Slovene-born, who rank their mother tongue relatively high, they thus often state that Slovene is valuable, but cite ethnic music, cuisine, tradition, and culture as more important ethnic identification factors.

The comparison between the Slovene-born and the Canadian-born thus shows a rapid decline in the Slovene language competence of the younger generations. The shift from Slovene to English comes as no surprise in light of the many extralinguistic factors discouraging the use of Slovene. These have to do primarily with social and economic advancement, little time and few opportunities to socialize with other Slovenes, and ethnically mixed marriages. Efforts such as Slovene language classes taken by individual enthusiasts are commendable and may help slow down the process of attrition to some extent, but not entirely and not on the level of the community as a whole. The feeling that language matters is nevertheless clearly seen from the following responses.

  • S slovenščino ohranjajo svojo kulturno identiteto, jezik jih povezuje socialno in psihološko. (With Slovene they keep their cultural identity, and the language connects them socially and psychologically.)

  • I think it is very important for Slovenians in Canada to preserve their mother tongue. We should know where our roots come from and we should be able to convey this to our children. Since by genetics, I am 100% Slovenian, my children are 50% Slovenian. I want to be able to go back to Slovenia. And show my children, where at least part of their roots are from. For this, the more I am able to communicate in Slovene the better. As well, I need to get as much of my family history from my mother while the opportunity is there.

The reasons cited for preserving Slovene range from practical to symbolic ones.

  • Heritage and communication with family in Slovenia.

  • Although from an economic point of view it may not seem very relevant to speak Slovenian in Canada, speaking another language is always beneficial for one’s own enrichment, and of course for Slovenians it will put you in touch with another nation.

  • Mogoče se bodo preselili nazaj v Slovenijo. (Maybe they will move back to Slovenia.) – a recent immigrant about her young children.

The prevalent perception by the immigrants that Slovene ethnic heritage enriches them both personally and culturally thus persists and has not changed over time. For some, it has even intensified.

  • Biti Slovenka mi pomeni vse: spoštovanje do mojih staršev, dediščine in kulture. (To be Slovene means everything: respect for my parents, my heritage and culture.)

  • It defines who I am, my life values, and my work ethic. It defines my childhood and my life experience, being brought up in a Slovenian home.

  • Yes, my view has changed, when you are young there are other things that seem more important to you, but as you grow older and have more time to reflect you realize how important it is to keep your roots strong and how important it is to keep your traditions which enrich your life and also bring stability to your life in this fast-changing world.

The relationship between the immigrants’ mother tongue retention and their sense of ethnic identity is thus all but straightforward. The literature offers various perspectives on this issue. While some claim that language is an intrinsic and crucial marker of ethnic identity (e.g. de Vries 1990; Smolicz 1992; Schmid 2002), others believe that it does not play a significant role in determining it (e.g. Renan 1990; Myhill 2003). Yet none of these views seems sufficient to explain the case of Vancouver Slovenes and their descendants adequately. It is clear that only 1st generation immigrants still speak Slovene, while younger generations do not. Yet, it is still valued on a symbolic level. This is probably best explained within the framework of Berry’s acculturation theory (1990), specifically as integration, one of the strategies adapted by immigrants when faced with a new environment. The strategy involves sufficient adjustment in terms of acquiring the new language, both on individual and community levels, in order to become an integral part of the broader society, but at the same time maintaining a degree of original cultural identity (including the symbolic value of the mother tongue) as well as close contact with the old country. This was proven, for instance in 1991, when Slovene Canadians showed full support for Slovenia’s endeavors to become an independent state. The Slovenian Society at the time wrote to its members that “We must ensure that all our members are aware of the Census and why it is essential that they identify themselves correctly. Make sure your children and grandchildren know how to accurately fill in their Census forms with ‘Slovenian’ if they are asked about their ethnicity”. (Plut 2008: 124) Despite its size the community thus seems to remain vibrant.

3 Linguistic analysis

The linguistic analysis, which is based on interview transcripts as well as participant observation, reveals two types of immigrant discourse: borrowing and codeswitching. The first involves combining English bases with Slovene affixes, i.e. morphological and phonological adaptation and is typically used more, but not exclusively by Slovene-born participants. Younger generations, on the other hand, to the extent that they use Slovene, mostly do so through code-switching, which involves two distinct linguistic systems rather than their mixing on the level of individual words. Occasional instances of borrowing and code-switching occurring in the same sentence/part of discourse of the same interviewee are also observed.

The partial influence of English is also seen in sections of discourse spoken entirely in Slovene and occurs on various linguistic levels from phonology to morphology, lexis and syntax. It is understandably strongest in the area of morphology, as Slovene and English grammatical systems differ considerably, with Slovene being a pro-drop language and having a very complex inflectional system (and consequently a very flexible word order), while English has a relatively modest inflectional system (and thus a fairly rigid SVO word order).

An important part of our analysis concerns the ratio of Standard vs. dialect in the participants’ Slovene. While the two may be intertwined, the dialects nevertheless prevail. Dialectal features are very common especially in the speech of the older, Slovene-born immigrants. Some respondents even mention the dialect explicitly (e.g. Govorim dialect/I speak the dialect. It is very important to preserve a language that was your mother’s because language and dialect will be lost forever if not practiced.). Such responses no doubt imply a considerable degree of linguistic sophistication and, we believe, can be interpreted as a sign of their very positive perception of self- and ethnic heritage.

Excerpts from three interviews will be analyzed in detail in order to illustrate the presence or absence of the mentioned phenomena and, as the interviewees belong to three different generations, also to point out developmental trends reflected in the differences and similarities in language use between older and younger members of the community.

3.1 Interview with an 89-year-old Slovene-born female

The interviewee was born in the city of Maribor, Slovenia and immigrated to Canada immediately after World War II, when she was in her mid-twenties. Not surprisingly, her Slovene is dominated by features of the dialect spoken in the Maribor suburb Melje, where she lived as a child and a young adult. First, however, we will focus on the English influence found in her speech either in the form of borrowing or code switching.

3.1.1 Borrowing vs. code-switching

As expected with first-generation immigrants, the interviewee is very fluent in Slovene. The influence of English in her speech is seen mostly in the form of borrowing, whereby English lexical items undergo phonological and morphological adaptation to Slovene. It should be noted that phonological adaptation in general may vary according to the productive competence of the speaker, which is why it is sometimes difficult to classify individual words as either borrowings or code switches. Morphological adaptation, on the other hand, is a sufficient criterion in this respect and leaves no doubt about it: the use of inflectional markers clearly indicates that such words behave in the same way as any other Slovene word.

  • Mi smo rentali, ne … (We rented …)

    rentali from Eng. rent + Slovene suffix -ali marking the masculine gender, plural number and the past tense of the verb;

  • Tam skos pa tam sta dva elevatora gor. (There were two elevators over there.) elevatora from Eng. elevator + Slovene suffix -a marking the nominative case and the dual number of the noun

Instances of code switching in the interviewee’s speech are relatively rare considering that she has lived in Canada for over fifty years. Most are relatively short and do not seem to disrupt her narrative. Apart from nouns and verbs, we notice discourse markers and numerals, which are, due to the frequency of their occurence, routinely used in English. Often, the switch has the function of reiterating something (the Slovene and the English word are repeated one after another), of quoting or simply the result of not knowing or not being able to retrieve the Slovene expression on the spot.

  • Samo mi je pravla: “You have lots of time”. Jas nisn vedla, kaj je lots of time. (And she kept saying, “You have lots of time”. I didn’t know what lots of time was.)

  • Hčerka pravi, “Mama, you have to sell the house.” (My daughter says, “Mom, you have to sell the house.”)

  • In točno smo po dveh letah potem šli, ninety seventy. (And exactly after two years we then left, ninety seventy.)

  • In tak smo si dopisovali. Very nice lady, very nice. (And so we wrote to each other. Very nice lady, very nice.)

  • Po celi North Ameriki gre. (He travels across the entire North America.)

  • In tak je long story. (And so this is a long story.)

  • In oni so nas pofsot vozli, beautiful. (And they drove us everywhere, beautiful.)

  • “Mama, golop že fly.” (“Mom, the pigeon is already flying.”)

  • Je ena privatna mala bolnica, hospital. (There is a small private hospital.)

  • Ja, ja, that’s right, that’s right, tak je blo, ja. (Yeah, yeah, that’s right, that’s right, it was like that, yeah.)

  • Sure, seveda je blo teško. (Sure, of course it was difficult.)

An unexpected, but very interesting feature of this interviewee’s speech is switching between Slovene and German, when she talks about her very difficult experience in an Austrian refugee camp just prior to emigrating. The switch seems to have been triggered by the interviewee’s memories and the emotions associated with them.

  • … sn pa napisala po nemško: “Bitte, schicken Sie uns zwei nach … Unsere Eltern sind in … Bitte, schicken Sie uns zwei nach” (… I wrote in German: “Please send us after them … our parents are in … please send us after them.”)

  • … se pa tam rasformiralo tisti Kindererholungsheim, ker so potem otroci not prišli, ne. (…The children’s home was reorganized, and then the children came.)

  • … tisti Lagerführer pravi, kaj naj z nami. (That camp leader is asking what to do with us.)

3.1.2 English influence on the Slovene parts of discourse

Given the interviewee’s proficiency in Slovene, we notice relatively few traces of English influence in her speech. Those that are present are primarily associated with word order, which has, because of the time the interviewee has spent in an English-speaking environment, become either atypical of Slovene or similar to English. This is certainly true of the overuse of the subjective pronoun with verbs, which is obligatory in English, but redundant in Slovene when stylistically unmarked. She also has difficulties with correct placement of clitics and auxiliary verbs as well as with the use of some prepositions.

  • Njega je še bolj zanimalo, ker je on tam f šolo hodo. (He was even more interested in it because he went to school there.)

  • On je tam v domo biu. (He was in the home.)

  • Starša sta oba mrtva tudi. (The parents are both dead, too.)

  • Ona mela dva otroka. (She had two children.)

  • Zato pa jas niti rada ne preveč jamram k njej. (This is why I don’t want to complain to her too much.)

  • Za dve leti pridem. (I’ll come in two years’ time.)

A possible English influence can be detected also in the use of ot hčerke mož (my daughter’s husband) instead of the more common Slovene kinship term zet.

3.1.3 Standard Slovene vs. dialect

Throughout the interview, the participant speaks in the Maribor local dialect with almost no deviations from it. Due to the geographical position of Maribor, its dialect was formed under the influence of both Styrian and Pannonian dialectal groups. For this reason, it contains elements from both Styrian and the Slovenske gorice dialects. Melje in particular, the Maribor suburb which borders on Slovenske gorice and where the interviewee spent her childhood and youth is typically marked by features of this Pannonian dialect. Phonology

The first feature that strikes us as typical of the Maribor local dialect has to do with stress, more specifically with the shift of stress from the previously circumflected long or short word-final vowels to penultimate syllables.

  • méso (Eng. meat), prêveč (Eng. too much) vs. mesó, prevèč in Standard Slovene. [Standard Slovene diacritics are used to denote the place of stress: acute ( ́ ), grave ( ̀ ) and cricumflex ( ˆ ). In addition, the accute marks long and mid-close e and o, the grave short and mid-open e and o, and the cirmuflex long and mid-open e and o. The semi-vowel or schwa is written as ǝ.]

Furthermore, we notice the tendency to overgeneralize the stress, i.e. to use the same stress pattern with all related words.

sóset sóseda (nominative, masculine, feminine; Eng. neighbour), próso -la -lo (past participle, singular, masculine, feminine, neuter; Eng. asked) vs. sôsed soséda; prôsil prosíla prosílo in Standard Slovene.

The participant pronounces complex words such as kólodvór (Eng. train station) and Máribór with the dialectal stress on both syllables, while in Standard Slovene only one syllable is stressed: kolodvór, Máribor. In the case of the possessive pronoun njegov (Eng. his), however, we observe free variation between the dialect and the Standard forms (njegóv / njêgov).

Another dialectal feature in this interviewee’s speech is the loss of not only tonemic but also of qualitative contrast in word-final or only vowels. They are short in Standard Slovene, but in her speech, just as in the dialect of Maribor and the surrounding areas, they are lengthened.

  • níč (Eng. nothing), vêč (Eng. more) vs. Standard Slovene nìč, véč

Yet another distinctive feature has to do with the quality of stressed vowels. While stressed e and o are mid-open vowels in Standard Slovene, they are pronounced as mid-close in the dialect.

  • séstra (Eng. sister), róka (Eng. hand) vs. Standard Slovene sêstra, rôka

It is interesting that even though both Standard Slovene and the Maribor local dialect know only monophtongs, the participant’s speech contains also diphthongs. These are typical of the dialect of Slovenske gorice, the area adjacent to the Melje and Košaki suburbs, where the inerviewee grew up. Four diphotongs in particular stand out: ej, ou, iẹ and u, all originating in Proto-Slavic. The interviewee thus pronounces certain words once with monophtongs typical of Maribor and at other times with diphtongs typical of the Slovenske gorice dialect.

  • rés – rejs (Eng. really, true, indeed), šólašoula (Eng. school), létoliẹto (Eng. year), dóbroduọbro (Eng. good)

The same phenomenon can be seen in the words where speakers of both Standard Slovene and Maribor dialect use a, while she pronounces it as e (as in the dialects of the surrounding areas) or as a interchangeably.

  • vás (Eng. village) – vés

As far as consonants are concerned, we notice the dialectal palatal l instead of its Standard palatalized pronunciation.

  • ból (Eng. more), plúčnica (Eng. pneumonia) vs. Standard Slovene bòlj, pljúčnica

On the other hand, the interviewee pronounces nj in accordance with the Standard norm, deviating from dialect where nj is no longer palatalized.

  • njému (Eng. him), živlénje (Eng. life)

The phoneme v in front of voiceless consonants and in word-final positions is not pronounced bilabially as in Standard Slovene, but rather as f in in accordance with the rules of Styrian and Pannonian dialects.

  • fčásih (Eng. sometimes), f Kanádo (Eng. to Canada), zdráf (Eng. healthy)

By the same token, the interviwee does not vocalize unstressed l’s in word-final positions of masculine past participles –into u as in Standard Slovene, but pronounces them as o, which is a very strong dialectal feature.

  • klíco (Eng. he called), hóto (Eng. he wanted) vs. Standard Slovene klícal, hôtel Morphology

There are few dialectal features in the interviewee’s speech. Most notably, there is no dialectal feminization of neuter nouns. Also, while she does tend to use feminine declensions ending in -a instead of masculine ones, she does so in free variation with Standard Slovene forms.

  • v možgánih (Eng. in the brain) – v tréh tédnah (Eng. in three weeks)

Similarly, we notice free variation between the Standard Slovene ending -u and the dialectal -o marking singular nouns in the dative and locative cases, and plural nouns in the genitive case.

  • v dómo (Eng. in the home) – v pokóju (Eng. in retirement)

Furthermore, we notice the use of 1st person dual form -ma instead of the Standard -va in verbs such as délama (Eng. we two work), the use of double demonstrative pronouns tóti, tóta, tóto instead of the Standard and , the interchangeable use of Standard and regionally marked adverbs such as pól (Eng. then) vs. potem and the use of the relative pronoun ki instead of the conjunction ko.

  • Ón je edíni, ko še slovénsko zná. (Eng. He is the only one who still speaks Slovene.) Vocabulary

There are no major differences between the interviewee’s vocabulary and the present day colloquial Slovene. The exception are Germanisms, words of German origin, which at the time of her emigration were used with much greater frequency than today. This was the case especially in Maribor, which lies very close to the Austrian border and which at the time had a substantial German speaking population. While words such as lager, luft, prišparati instead of zrihtat (Eng. camp, air, to save, to fix) may still be used today, they are mostly considered as archaic or stylistically colored.

3.2 Interview with a 50-year-old Canadian-born female

The interviewee was born in Canada and learned Slovene from her parents. In the past she had two opportunities to attend the Summer School of the Slovene language in the Slovene capital Ljubljana. Also, she visited her relatives living in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia several times. At the time of the interview she was taking Slovene classes in Vancouver. She is married to a German husband.

3.2.1 Borrowing vs. code-switching

Compared to the first interviewee, she uses less borrowing, but resorts to switching into English much more often, as her proficiency in Slovene is at a considerably lower level.

  • Enkrat sem prodajala tikete, karte za theater. (I once sold tickets, theater tickets.)

  • Tam je vse okrog in imajo detour, sem pozabla, obvoze. (It went all around and they have a detour, I forgot, obvoze.)

  • … ne bom prišla tam do kasla. (… I will not be able to reach the castle.)

  • In on sploh ni mislo, da, he was calling my dad. Because nobody has ever called them stric, because we don’t say uncle. (And he didn’t think at all that he was calling my dad. …)

  • And jas sem mela mapa, zemlevit zraven and sem misla … (And I had a map, a map and I thought …)

3.2.2 English influence on the Slovene parts of discourse

Apart from English-like pronunciation of certain sounds such as r, l and an occasional aspiration of p, t and k, the most salient impact of English is found in morphology. The very complex Slovene inflectional system seems to be too difficult at times and the interviewee frequently resorts to random use of case, number, gender and other endings. Overgeneralization, simplification or even ommission of inflections are not uncommon either.

  • Ali enkrat sem rekla to za nekdo, ne vem. (But I once said that about somebody, I don’t know.) Nominative instead of accusative

  • Imajo za mladi, za stari. (They have it for the young and the old.) Nominative instead of accusative

  • V šolo bom govorila. (I will speak at school.) Accusative instead of locative

  • Oni so pokazali nas, kaj je pravilno. (They showed us what was right.) Accusative instead of dative

  • Jas sn mela eno tak party. (I had one such party.) No gender agreement

Another area affected by English is syntax with a word order which is, in some respects, beginning to resemble English. Among the most obvious features of this influence are redundant subjective pronouns, wrong prepositions, and the use and incorrect placement of long pronouns instead of their clitic counterparts.

  • Jas tut se spomnim, jas sen šla nazaj z mojim atom. (I also remember, I went back with my dad.)

  • Skor vsak dan imamo en trip, excursion and smo šli na parlament building. (Almost every day we have a trip, an excursion and we went to the Parliament building.)

  • Sem rekla: “Jas bom tebe vozila nazaj.” (I said, “I will give you a ride back.”)

3.2.3 Standard Slovene vs. dialect Phonology

Since this interviewee learned Slovene from her parents, born in the Prekmurje region, it is not surprising that her speech contains features typical of the Pannonian dialects spoken there. Among the most obvious is the loss of qualitative contrasts, i.e. all the vowels are long. jáz (Eng. I), splóh (Eng. at all, in general) vs. Standard Slovene jàz, splòh.

Likewise, there is a strong tendency on the interviewee’s part to change the quality of e and o, prononuncing them in diametric opposition to the norm of Standard Slovene.

  • lêto (Eng. year), anglêško (Eng. English) vs. Standard Slovene léto, angléško

  • óni (Eng. they), nóge (Eng. legs) vs. Standard Slovene ôni nôge.

The interviewee tends to shift the stress from the word-final syllable to penultimate syllables.

  • devêtnajst (Eng. nineteen), láhko (Eng. easily) vs. Standard Slovene devetnájst, lahkó.

Free variation between Sandard and dialectal forms is also present some cases.

  • bilóbílo (Eng. it was); govorígovóri (Eng. is speaking)

As expected, the phoneme v is devoiced before voicless consonants, i.e. pronounced as f. This was also the case with the first interviewee and is in fact typical of all Styrian dialects.

  • fprášo, fsê (Eng. asked, all) vs. Standard Slovene vprášal, vsè

What comes as a surprise, however, is an occasional bilabial pronunciation of this phoneme, which could be perhaps attributed to the influence of the interviewee’s attending Slovene classes.

3.3 Excerpts from a Slovene dialogue recited by two 3rd generation teenagers

The dialogue in Slovene about wine making was written by the two teenagers’ grandmother, who is a 1st generation immigrant originating from the Ilirska Bistrica region. She also coached her granddaughter and grandson in preparing for their performance at the traditional celebration of the Wine Festival organized annually in the Vancouver Slovenian Hall. I spoke to the two young people at the rehearsal for this event. They spoke English with a few Slovene words here and there when prompted. They told me that they understood some Slovene, but needed their grandmother’s guidance for pronunciation and the meaning of words. They expressed great pride in their Slovene heritage and told me about a school project on Slovenia that they were preparing for their class at the time. They also prepared a popular Slovene folk song for the Festival and sang it for me.

The dialogue is therefore prepared rather than spontaneous and for this reason written in a very careful style, which is very close to Standard Slovene. Nevertheless, the teenagers’ rehearsal of the lines revealed some interesting phonological and partly morphological dialectal features.

3.3.1 English influence

There are some deviations from Standard Slovene pronunciation as well as vaccilation between different pronunciations of the same phonemes in the teenagers’ performance which could conceivably be attributed to their uncertainty as nonnative speakers. This is the most likely explanation in particular in the case of so called dark pronuncation of l, rhotic pronunciation of r and with traces of aspiration in some plosives. The same is true of the phoneme v which the interviewees pronounce sometimes labiodentally (as is often the case in the dialect), then again bilabially (as in Standard Slovene) and even as voiceless f (which is clearly an English influence, since this form occurs neither in this dialect nor in the Standard Slovene).

  • v kat, skrivnost (Eng. into the tub, secret); usako (Eng. each); fsi, tƏrgatef (Eng. all, grape harvest)

The non-standard or unstable vowel quality, on the other hand, is not so easy to explain. While the example of ón (Eng. he) vs. Standard Slovene òn is most certainly a case of inaccurate performance of non-native speakers, some other cases may be influenced by their grandmother’s dialect.

3.3.2 Dialect vs. Standard Phonology

As pointed out, the loss of vowel quality manifested in the lengthening of short stressed vowels is due to the dialectal features (the local Brkini dialect), which the children learned from their grandmother. The fact that the strongest influence on their Slovene comes from their grandmother was further proven in conversation with them when they enumerated some of the Slovene words with which they were familiar. One such word, for instance, was južna, the equivalent of the Standard kosilo (Eng. lunch), which is used in the Notranjska and Litoral regions of Slovenia.

  • kát (Eng. tub), móšt (Eng. cider) vs. Standard Slovene kàt, mòšt

The same is true of the mid-open pronunciation of e as opposed to its mid-close pronunciation in Standard Slovene.

  • vêm (Eng. I know), umêtnost (Eng. art)

By the same token, soft l’ is pronunced as a palatal, as in the Notranjska dialect.

  • práulica (a fairy tale) vs. Standard Slovene právljca

A very distincitve feature of the dialect is also the pronunciaiton of the word-final g as x.

  • box: O moj box! (Eng. God: Oh, my God!) vs. Standard Slovene bog: O, moj bog!

As for stress, we notice its frequent shift to the left.

  • táko (Eng. so) in láhko (Eng. easy), vs. Standard Slovene takó, lahkó Morphology

There is one word where the inflectional ending for the locative case of a singular neuter noun deviates from Standard Slovene, which is a clear influence of the Notranjska dialect.

  • po gərli (Eng. down the throat) vs. Standard Slovene po gərlu

4 Conclusion

The comparison of the three excerpts nicely illustrates the differences between members of different generations. The 1st generation (with the exception of very recent immigrants), when speaking Slovene, uses the greatest number of dialectal features and the least Standard Slovene. Some members of this group could be described as speaking exclusively in the dialect. In addition, the older ones use quite a few archaic words that are no longer or only rarely used in Slovenia. These are mostly Germanisms in the case of those who were born near the Austrian border, and Italianisms (not included in this article) for those born near the Italian border. A not unusual complaint by some of them is that Slovene as spoken in Slovenia today has changed so much that they have difficulty understanding it when visiting.

As for the influence of English, this is seen mostly in borrowing and in the almost inevitable use of English discourse markers.

The speech of the 2nd generation may be a mixture of dialect that they learned from their parents and English or, in the case of those who attended Slovene language classes, the same with the addition of Standard Slovene features. The Vancouver Slovenes have a language school and meet once weekly for classes where they learn Slovene. Some have also had the opportunity to attend summer schools in Slovenia. Despite that, of course, they speak more English than Slovene and switch codes more often than engage in borrowing. Another source of Standard Slovene for them is, as I was told, the Internet.

The 3rd generation speaks mostly English and only occasionally switches to Slovene when prompted or when they see a special reason for it. The excerpt in question is not spontaneous, but a learned-by-heart dialogue and a song, which is why only pronunciation is relevant for our analysis. For the most part, it follows the linguistic norm of Standard Slovene, only r and l are pronounced in an English-like fashion. Also, there are traces of English aspiration in the pronunciation of p, t and k, some variation in the pronunciation of v and some vowels vary somewhat in terms of length and quality. The latter can be attributed to two factors: the influence of the interviewees’ grandparents/tutors and their dialectal features on the one hand and the uncertainty/inability to reproduce the sounds with precision of non-native speakers on the other. As a result, their pronunciation, while very clear, at times sounds a little unusual or even affected.

Based on the data and the situation observed we can conclude that the Vancouver Slovene community, despite everything, shows admirable signs of ethnic vitality and awareness (as illustrated by the following response by a 2nd generation immigrant: My mother always used to say that Canada was a good stepmother, but not the real mother.).

The prospect of mother tongue maintenance is a different issue. Despite individual efforts to learn Slovene, it seems that circumstances definitely work against it and only time will tell whether and to what extent the language can survive. Regardless of the outcome, the complexities of such a language contact situation as that in Vancouver are well worth documenting and studying, not least because they may provide better insights into the role of dialect in immigration.

From the data gathered in this study, we can say that dialect plays a very important role, indicating perhaps a stronger and more genuine tie with the old country than the Standard Slovene alone. Those who speak the dialect do so with greater proficiency and with greater emotional attachment.


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-11-27

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Dialectologia et Geolinguistica, Volume 25, Issue 1, Pages 51–67, ISSN (Online) 1867-0903, ISSN (Print) 0942-4040, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/dialect-2017-0003.

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