All Slovaks are passive bilinguals, linguist says

Thirty years after divorcing, Czechs and Slovaks still understand each other without hesitation.

Sibyla MislovičováSibyla Mislovičová (Source: Ramon Leško)

The thirty years of Slovakia's existence as an independent country is also mirrored in the Slovak language, opines popular Slovak linguist Sibyla Mislovičová. There are words we do not need anymore and the choice of vocabulary and phrases reflects what our society is like.

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An independent Slovak Republic will soon celebrate 30 years. Was 1993 a groundbreaking year in the development of Slovak? Would Slovak have developed differently if Slovaks had continued to share one country with the Czechs?

These are two very different questions. 1989 was especially ground-breaking in terms of language. This is because language mirrors the life of its bearers. Our life significantly changed after the Velvet Revolution, not only due to social and political changes, but also due to the fact that we opened to the world more. Such a change was quickly visible mainly in vocabulary.

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Regarding your other question, I don't think that Slovak would have developed differently. Slovak and Czech are cognate languages. It's quite extraordinary that we understand each other without the need to learn the language of the other. We are all passively bilingual. This means that Slovaks understand Czech but they do not need to speak Czech when meeting Czechs. Our contact with the Czech language has not ceased or diminished after gaining independence. We still follow Czech media, read Czech books and communicate with our Czech friends. It's perhaps less intensive on the Czech side, but we understand each other and I believe that we will continue to understand each other.

What words come to mind that used to be commonly uttered in the public 30 years ago, but would not be suitable today?

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