I once had a Slovak lawyer as an English student who disappeared one summer for a study stay abroad and came back gabbing in colloquial English. She had had a love affair with a Canadian, and opined most provocatively, "You never learn the language until you sleep with the language."
Yes, the dizzying throes of incipient love (láska) are prime training ground for budding linguists. Just as babies babble, lovers have an infantile repertoire of their own (believe it or not, a professor at my alma mater did a study that established a psychological parallel between baby noises and the cooing of lovers). If you've got a compassionate, captive audience, and half of what you're saying is already nonsense, the conditions for learning a foreign language may be ideal.
Euphonious, playful, and suitable for constant repetition, pet names (maznavé slova, lit. caressing words) are a fun entry into Slovak. Common examples include miláčik (darling), srdiečko (sweetheart), zlato (lit. golden), and pusa (lips).
As in any language, just about any word, in the proper context, can become a maznavé slovo. A random office survey turned up: fúzik (moustache), pipík (wee-wee), pipi (the peeping sound chicks make) and bubáčik (little ghost). Slovaks are also adept at putting the animal back into pet names. Almost any offspring will do: chrobáčik (little beetle), kuriatko (chick), mačička (kitten), macko (baby bear).
But before you can coo, you have to woo, and to do that in Slovak you'll need to understand the four phrases that cover the emotional continuum that is English's "I like you," and "I love you". Páčiš sa mi (lit. you please me, see grammar note) is the weakest form of I like you. It may be said directly to a person on whom you have a crush, although it would be strange to say about a friend. Mám ťa rád, on the other hand, ups the emotional ante when speaking directly to your miláčik, but may also be used casually to characterise your feelings for a friend or co-worker.
You'll know things are getting serious when you hear ľubim ťa, the colloquial, playful equivalent of I love you. Milujem ťa is stronger and more formal. You may tell a Slovak you ľubiť your mother or father, but you will draw at best a bemused stare if you admit you milovať your parents.
In my experience, Slovaks take longer to fall in love (zamilovať sa), but in the end fall harder (buchnúť sa). Which means if you make it past two or three dates to the first kiss (bozk), your momentum may unwittingly carry you into the moving-in-together stage, at which time you'll want to focus on the language's utilitarian expressions. Nechráp means 'don't snore', although saying so in any language does little good. Bolí ma hlava (I have a headache) can be used to rebuff an amorous overture, which may be announced by poď ku mne (come over to me) or poď sa ku mne pritúliť (come snuggle).
When meeting the parents becomes inevitable, the main thing to remember is to vykať, i.e. use the formal second person plural, instead of tykať, the familiar second person singular. "Nice to meet you" is rád Vás spoznávam, and not rád Ťa spoznávam. This may require extensive training in advance of your visit. And remember: if the parents tykať you, it doesn't automatically permit you to tykať them.
To my student's proposition that "you never learn a language unless you sleep with a language", I add: "You never really sleep with the language until you know the language." Taking the time to learn your partner's language sheds light on the nooks of his or her heart, soul, and wit that otherwise stay hidden.
Start studying the following phrases now, so when the big moment comes, you'll be ready.
Man to a women: Vydáš sa za mňa?
Women to man: Oženíš sa so mnou?
Unisex: Vezmeš si ma?
Man to parents: Chcel by som Vás požiadať o ruku Vašej dcéry. (I would like to ask for your daughters hand in marriage.)
Man to rich parents: Aké má veno? (What's her dowry?)
Grammar note: The phrase páčiť sa (lit. to please), when teamed up with the dative (to or for) means to like. When a Slovak asks páči sa ti na Slovensku? (lit. Is it pleasing to you in Slovakia?), they are simply saying Do you like Slovakia? Other common expressions using this case include:
Doesn't it bother you?
Je mi zle
I feel sick
(lit. It is bad to me)
Je mi zima/teplo
(lit. It is hot/cold to me)
Additional slovenčina by Martina Pisárová
Slovak Matters is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping ex-pats and foreigners appreciate the beautiful but difficult Slovak language.The next Slovak Matters column will appear on stands May 28, Vol. 7, No. 21.
14. May 2001 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds