Our Mother Tongue: The Sticna
by Janizo Moders
Excerpted from Rodna Gruda, English Section December 1985
Today, too, we are going to talk about the constancy of our
mother tongue. We know, from experience, that languages change
relatively quickly. We have already discussed how, for instance,
an emigrant returns to his native-land after a number of years'
absence and finds, all of a sudden, that people are telling
things in a different way to the way that he was used to, and
that articles in the newspapers are written in a different way
to the way he was used to when he was still their regular reader.
In this way he realizes that it is only apparently that languages
don't change with time, in fact they change in many aspects
already in the course of one generation.
But now we shall discuss the constancy of language, the constancy
of the Slovene language, and not its changeability.
If one compares Trubar and Dalmatin's translation of the Bible,
one finds that whole sentences have been repeated in the latest
Slovene translation of the Bible, i.e. after 400 years.
And this comparison gives us a new idea: curiosity makes us
wonder how it was before Trubar and Dalmatin, before the first
Slovene books were printed, since we know that the printed word
gives a language a kind of constancy and preserves it. The written
or printed word remains whereas the spoken word is lost.
So what was the position of the Slovene language before the
first printed words? We have already stated that Trubar and
his collaborators would not have been able to translate the
Bible into Slovene if the latter language had not existed at
that time. It would have been impossible to invent !it. Neither
did they have to invent it since it was spoken all around them.
The people around them spoke it, and as childen they had spoken
it as their mother-tongue, until they went to school when, all
of a sudden, it was the end of their Slovene, since at school
it was German and Latin that were in charge. And even after
they had left school and joined a profession or taken up a trade,
the situation was not much different: most of the time they
were not out in the country where there were strong Slovene
settlements, but were mainly in everyday contact with Germanspeaking
people, particularly state and government employees, immigrant
traders and citizens.
Thus Trubar and his collaborators had to return, during their
translation of the Bible, to their youth and to contacts with
Slovene life, and tried, through their cultural work (translating
of the Bible and other works into Slovene and printing Slovene
books in general) to establish a spiritual equilibrium and to
attain equal rights for the Slovene language and culture with
the dominating foreign powers and ecclesiastical authorities.
We know, at the same time, that the everday language, about
everyday needs, differs to a great extent from the literary
language and in particular from the Bible, which is an account
of a very rich culture and history.
The language of everyday is the language of objects, the language
of the natural environment surrounding Man, of animals and plants,
of the weather and of moods, of the earth and the air, of fire
and water ' of work and rest, of health and illness, of good
luck and of unlucky accidents, of happiness and sadness. Each
of these observed things has, in fact, its own name, but we
are apt, when talking to our relatives friends or neighbours
to connect them together into relatively short sentences, linked
together in longer chains, e.g. >>How's the work going?<<
>>Not too bad, not too bad. just the weather has been
poor, Matej has fallen ill, the ox has drowned, and the earth
is very hard ... <<
It was by means of this language of objects that Trubar and
his collaborators created the language of literature and culture,
and carried out work of which we can still be proud today, and
which places our knowledge of Slovene far back into the past,
into the second half of the sixteenth century. How was it, for
instance, one hundred and fifty years earlier, around the year
Luckily, one manuscript from this period, too, has been preserved.
It is not printed, but written on a sheet of paper torn out
of a Latin or German book: >>Jaz se odpovem hudicu inu
nega dejlam ... << (>>I renounce the devil and all
his works<<). This sheet of paper was found among the
books at the Sticna monastery, so this is why it is called the
Here it is written using modern printed letters, but following
faithfully the written record, so that we come face to face
with a homelysounding Dolenjsko dialect, as we call it today,
i.e. not far from the area where Trubar, Dalmatin and Bohoric
Although this record is perfectly understandable, today we
write it, in the modem Slovene language, as follows: >>Jaz
se odpovern hudicu in njega delom ... <<. We can see that
the sentence involved is the beginning of the General Confession,
and that not only can we understand it perfectly, but even today
we would use a very similar sentence to express (in spoken or
written word) the same thought. This means that our present
mother-tongue reaches back mainly and in many aspects six hundred
years in history, not only in everyday conversation, but also
in words written for ecclesiastical use.
Thus Sticna Monastery, which is celebrating, in 1985, the 800th
anniversary of its establishment, has shifted our knowledge
of Slovene more than one hundred years further back than Trubar's