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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter II. Spirit of the Nation: Customs, Language, Religion

The Slovak dialect, or the necessity of writing in this dialect

Ľudovít Štúr
Traduction de Petr Roubal et Gordon MacLean

Texte intégral

1Title: Nárečja slovenskuo alebo potreba písaňja v tomto nárečí (The Slovak dialect, or the necessity of writing in this dialect)

2Originally published: Pressburg, Wigand, 1846

3Language: Slovak

4The excerpts used are from Ľudovít Štúr, Dielo v piatich zväzkoch, vol. V, (Bratislava: SVKL, 1957), pp. 24–114.

About the author

5Ľudovít Štúr [1815, Uhrovec (Hun. Zayugróc, present-day Slovakia) – 1856, Modra (Hun. Modor, Ger. Modern, present-day Slovakia)]: poet, politician, linguist and journalist. He was born into the family of a Lutheran teacher. He attended grammar school in Győr, and later enrolled at the Lutheran lyceum in Pressburg (Hun. Pozsony, Slo. Prešporok, today Bratislava). Later, as deputy professor at the ‘Department of Czecho-Slavic Language and Literature’ at the Pressburg lyceum he taught the history of Slavic literature and founded the ‘Institute of the Czechoslovak Language’ there. In 1838 he went to the University of Halle in Germany, where he came under the influence of the ideas of Herder and Hegel. In 1842 he initiated the first Slovak petition (Slovenský prestolný prosbopis) to the Court in Vienna, demanding that the government prevent the Hungarians from persecuting the Slovaks. One year later, Štúr and his friends decided to codify a standard Slovak language (based on the central Slovak dialect), for which in his Náuka reči slovenskej (Theory of the Slovak language) Štúr elaborated a grammatical and orthographic system. After he was deprived of his lecturership at the lyceum, he became a private scholar and founded the first Slovak political newspaper, Slovenskje narodnje novini (Slovak national newspaper), which included an important literary supplement, Orol tatranský (The eagle of Tatra). From November 1847 to April 1848 he was a member of the Hungarian Diet in Pressburg. In 1848 he was active in organizing the Slavic Congress in Prague and initiated the foundation of Slovanská lípa (The Slavic limetree), an association aimed at promoting mutual cooperation among the Slavs. During the early phase of the 1848 revolution, he supported the program of the democratization of Hungarian political life and the federalization of the Empire, which should bring Slovakia autonomous status. In May 1848 he was among the initiators of the official petition Žiadosti slovenského národa (Requests of the Slovak Nation), demanding Slovak autonomy within Hungary. From September 1848 till November 1849, Štúr took part in the political and military activities of the Slovak uprising against the Hungarian government, hoping that the Habsburgs would make it possible for an autonomous Slovak entity to be created. However, the neo-absolutist regime introduced by Vienna after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution in 1849 proved to be equally unwilling to implement his demands. Prevented from public activity, he moved to Modra near Pressburg, where he lived under police surveillance. He continued his work on the codification of the Slovak language, while his political position radicalized in the direction of pan-Slavism, as witnessed by his book Das Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunft, published posthumously in Russia in 1867. Štúr was the main creator of the political program of the Slovak national movement and modern Slovak national ideology, which was closely connected with the issue of the separation of the Slovak language from Czech. To this day he is referred to as the central personality in Slovak national ideology.

6Main works: Dumky večerní [Evening thoughts] (1838–1840); Die Beschwerden und Klagen der Slaven in Ungarn über die gesetzwidrigen Übergriffe der Magyaren [Complaints and grievances of the Slavs in Hungary regarding the illegal encroachments of the Magyars] (1843); Das neunzehnte Jahrhundert und der Magyarismus [The nineteenth century and Magyarism] (1845); Nárečja slovenskuo alebo potreba písaňja v tomto nárečí [The Slovak dialect, or the necessity of writing in this dialect] (1846); Náuka reči slovenskej [Theory of the Slovak language] (1846); O národních písních a pověstech plemen slovanských [On the national songs and myths of the Slavic races] (1853); Spevy a piesne [Hymns and songs] (1853); Das Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunft [Slavdom and the world of the future] (German original 1931, Russian translation 1867, Slovak translation 1993).


7During the Hungarian Reform Age (1825–1848), the Magyar political leadership sought to reformulate the traditional natio hungarica—referring originally to the Hungarian nobility—into a notion of a modern political nation embracing all ethnic communities living on the territory of ‘St. Stephen’s Crown.’ However, their efforts to centralize the state and to establish Magyar as the language of official communication provoked negative reactions among non-Magyar peoples and strengthened their emancipatory aspirations. For the emerging Slovak intelligentsia this development encouraged the endeavor to unify the two major confessional streams, Catholic and Lutheran, in the Slovak national movement. The former, representing in denominational terms the majority of the Slovaks, used a specific literary form of Slovak (‘bernolákovčina’), codified by Anton Bernolák (1762–1813) at the end of the eighteenth century, and nurtured a vision of the Slovaks as an autonomous tribe in the family of the great Slavic nation. The latter, in contrast, who had a stronger following among the cultural elite and the urban population, were in favor of the language they themselves used for religious purposes, namely ‘biblical Czech,’ and shared the view that the Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks were all one single tribe of the Slavic nation.

8At the beginning of the 1830s, an indisputable authority in the Slovak national movement, respected also by the Roman Catholic intellectuals, was the poet and linguist Ján Kollár, a supporter of Czech-Slovak tribal unity and of the use of the Czech language. During the 1830s, however, a new generation of Slovak patriots entered public life, including Ľudovít Štúr, Jozef Miloslav Hurban (1817–1888) and Michal Miloslav Hodža (1811–1870). The majority of them had passed through the Lutheran lyceum in Pressburg, where the Czech-Slavic Society, founded in 1829, initiated them into the ideas of the national movement. In 1835, however, when Štúr, the leading personality of the new generation, took over the presidency of the Society, the previous Kollárian ideas were gradually replaced by a more consistent and politically oriented Slovak nationalism. Štúr recognized that the unification of the Slovaks was possible only on the basis of a unified literary language used by the whole Slavic population in Upper Hungary. At the same time, he stressed that Slovakized Czech, the language of educated Lutherans, was not enough to form the basis of a national program and at the same time was far from the everyday language of the Slovak peasants. Hence, he chose the Central Slovak dialect as the basis of a literary Slovak and, together with Hurban and Hodža, he decided to work out a linguistic framework for this codification project.

9In his critical essay, Nárečja slovenskuo, written in 1843 but published three years later, Štúr rejects Kollár’s concept of only four distinct Slavic tribes (Russians, Poles, Czechoslovaks and Southern Slavs) and insisted additionally on the distinctive character of the Slovaks. He lists reasons for the introduction of a new language based on a dialect spoken in the Central Slovakian areas and for the use of a phonetic spelling. In Štúr’s thought, the Herderian idea that a nation’s individuality mirrors its belonging to mankind overlapped with the reception of the Hegelian principle of the Absolute Spirit, unfolding in self-knowledge. Hence, he argued that the spirit of a particular nation was expressed by its language and indigenous cultural achievements. The originality (svojbytnosť) of the Slovak “national spirit” was thus based on the “organic principle” of language, which, however, had to be based on an indigenous dialect. He considered the introduction of a unified Slovak language and the creation of a specific Slovak identity a way to break the ‘ahistoricity’ of the Slovaks and turn them from a passive object into an active subject of history and a part of the Weltgeist.

10Štúr’s proposal was fiercely disapproved of by Kollár and also by many Czech nationalists who saw it as an act of unjustifiable separatism and a weakening of solidarity and the power of the national movement. However, the majority of Slovak intellectuals, including the Catholics (represented by the leading figure of Bernolák’s group, the poet Ján Hollý), welcomed the act of codification. The standard language became an important political tool, since it finally provided a basis for a program of unification of the two streams of the Slovak national movement and contributed significantly to the formation of a modern, universally conceptualized Slovak national identity.


The Slovak dialect, or the necessity of writing in this dialect

12Centuries and centuries passed while we, the Slovaks, showed no signs of life or only sporadic and weak ones. Praised be God, the time of inertia of our nation is ending and we are more and more wakeful and embarking on our own voyage on the wings of spiritual life. Never before, however, has the awakening been so striking as it is in our time, as observation of our recent national endeavor rightly shows. Never before have so many scholarly works been published. Never before has the love for the country of our Slovak men and especially of the youth been so devoted and fervent. Never before has anybody noted so much desire in our nation to discover itself and the entire world. As this time in which our new life will be born is extremely important for us, it is necessary to reconsider thoroughly in which way we should start this new life so that it might—as much as we can influence it—evolve successfully. First and foremost, it is striking that up to this day we have written not in our own but in another nation’s dialect; how could our national life possibly be built upon such a dialect? We can create our life in full only upon the basis of our own dialect; for it is closest to our hearts, it is most understandable to us, it has the fullest connection to our inner being and inspires us to the greatest openness. Therefore, we have to embrace this dialect of ours at the outset of our new life and grow spiritually in it. […]

13We had our Slovak people, to whom we devoted most of our efforts, in mind when we made the decision, in contrast to the past ages, to use the Slovak dialect and not the literary language as the basis for writing our own books. All will rightly expect from us a complete explanation of the reasons we had for taking this step; therefore, we consider it proper to give our audience an account of why we decided on Slovak, for which, as will be seen in our explanation, we had sufficiently serious reasons.

  • 1 From Greek: above all, especially.

14Foremost, we have to turn our attention to the multi-tribal nature [kmenovitosť] (die Gliederung in Stämme, divisio in stirpes) of our Slavic nation which is of a higher level and more extensive than in any other nation. Thus, the Slavic nation is tree-like katexochen,1 as they say, and of a diverse character. This multi-tribal nature represents in every nation, where it exists, a sign of great spiritual power, vitality and healthy progress. […]

15The multi-tribal nature is thus a praiseworthy and distinguished feature of a nation, testifying to its higher spirituality and spiritual vitality, and it must be, therefore, as far as possible preserved, protected and carefully developed anywhere it exists. Where there is this multi-tribal nature and it is allowed to develop on its own, there will always be found in a nation a flowering and unfolding spiritual life which resembles a budding and healthy tree. We must care deeply for the multi-tribal nature of our nation if we want to realize the capability hidden in its roots and promised by world history, otherwise the Slavic nation will not prosper and will, instead of richly flowering, suffer in its numerous branches, like a plant which grows in unfertile soil, seeming to grow but in fact, as we Slovaks say, only rotting and scraping along. When it is considered properly, we have to demand firmly that our Slavic nation develops in the same way as it has grown, that is, that it grows in a multitude of branches, as only in this way will its existence be independent, neither scrubby nor unnaturally lanky, but grown truly organically and successfully. Therefore, our most deeply felt request is that the Slavic tribes be allowed to build their spiritual life upon their own dialects, that is, that they would write in their dialects and thus through them demonstrate in front of God, the world, and Slavdom what they truly are. There are eleven Slavic tribes and living dialects. To the southeast Slavs belong: 1. The Great Russians, 2. The Small Russians, 3. The Bulgarians, 4. The Serbs, 5. The Croats, 6. The Slovenians; to the northeast Slavs belong: 7. The Poles, 8. The Czechs, 9. The Upper Lusatians, 10. The Lower Lusatians and finally 11. we, the Slovaks, with our own Slovak dialect. We do not mean that every small and weak tribe should write in its own dialect; but we demand that each tribe which has something specific and spiritual, whose dialect is still pure, untainted and unspoiled, and is capable of written form, and which is able to sustain spiritually and materially its own literature, in short, that every such tribe should develop its own dialect, produce in it its spiritual fruits and present itself to the face of the Slavic world. […]

16The self-understanding of a nation is like a secure fortress which will endure and survive all possible attacks. Since a nation which has reached self-understanding is integrated by a powerful spiritual force, such a nation will not allow itself to be dishonoured and besmeared, it will insist on its existence and on its just standing among the other nations, since it is a spiritually vital nation. In our days, after centuries of drowsiness the Slavic tribes have awakened to spiritual life as if called by the trumpet of an archangel. And the Slovaks too were awakened and began to see themselves as a nation. And even though there are still many things to endure and survive we will eventually be able to exclaim with a clear voice after centuries of passivity or of mere survival: We have overcome the greatest danger! Oh, our time has finally come too! Our age has arrived too! But if we had had no other protection against the danger than the bond with the other tribe through the literary language, we would not have been safe, as this bond is still rather posited outside of us. The true bond is the spiritual bond, and the best shield against danger is our own strength—which is precisely what we want to awaken in our Slovak tribe, speaking to it in its own dialect, which speaks to the heart and speaks to the soul. For these reasons, therefore, we believe that Kollár’s mutuality, limited to the four tribes, is no longer valid and no longer needed, and we extend the delineation of the mutuality among our tribes, as he himself deep in his heart wanted, but never articulated in the way we did above.


1 From Greek: above all, especially.


Petr Roubal (Traducteur)
Gordon MacLean (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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