Slovene phonology

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This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Slovene language.


Slovene has 21 distinctive consonant phonemes.

Slovene consonant phonemes[1]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x
voiced z ʒ
Approximant ʋ l j
Rhotic r

All voiced obstruents are devoiced at the end of words unless immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a voiced consonant. In consonant clusters, voicing distinction is neutralized and all consonants assimilate the voicing of the rightmost segment. In this context, [v], [ɣ] and [d͡z] may occur as voiced allophones of /f/, /x/ and /t͡s/, respectively (e.g. vŕh drevésa [ˈʋəɾɣ dɾɛˈʋeːsa]).[8]

/ʋ/ has several allophones depending on context.

  • Before a vowel, pronunciation is labiodental, [ʋ][4] (also described as [v]).[9][10]
  • After a vowel, pronunciation is bilabial [w] and forms a diphthong.[4][10]
  • At the beginning of a syllable, before a consonant (for example in vsi 'all'), the pronunciation varies more widely by speaker and area. Many speakers convert /ʋ/ into a full vowel [u] in this position.[4][10] For those speakers that retain a consonantal pronunciation, it is pronounced [w] before a voiced consonant and [ʍ] before a voiceless consonant.[4][10] Thus, vsi may be pronounced as disyllabic [uˈsi] or monosyllabic [ʍsi].

The preposition v is always bound to the following word; however its phonetic realization follows the normal phonological rules for /ʋ/.

The sequences /lj/, /nj/ and /rj/ occur only before a vowel. Before a consonant or word-finally, they are reduced to /l/, /n/ and /r/ respectively. This is reflected in the spelling in the case of /rj/, but not for /lj/ and /nj/.

Under certain (somewhat unpredictable) circumstances, /l/ at the end of a syllable may become [w], merging with the allophone of /ʋ/ in that position.


Vowels of Slovene, from Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:137). /ɐ/ is not shown.

Slovene has an eight-vowel[11][12] (according to Peter Jurgec nine-vowel)[13][14] system, in comparison to the five-vowel system of Serbo-Croatian.

Slovene vowels
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Near-open (ɐ)
Open a

The close front vowel /i/ is regularly pronounced as lax [ɪ] when /r/ follows, so that e.g. mira 'measure' is pronounced [ˈmɪ̀ːɾa].[15]

According to Jurgec (2007), /ə/ is inserted epenthetically, and its distribution is fully predictable. He also says that "[d]escriptions of schwa distribution are offer[ed] in lexical rather than grammatical terms. These were also based on historical data and did not consider actual speech of educated speakers in Ljubljana, nowadays considered standard."[16]

The dialectal distribution of /e/ vs. /ɛ/ and /o/ vs. /ɔ/ is inconsistent with the distribution in Standard Slovene. This influences the way speakers of such dialects speak Standard Slovene.[17]

Slovene has been traditionally described as distinguishing vowel length, which correlates with stress and is therefore discussed in the prosody section, below. The distinction between /ɛ/ and /e/, and between /ɔ/ and /o/ is only made when they are stressed and long. When short or unstressed, they are not distinguished: short stressed variants are realized as open-mid [ɛ, ɔ], while the unstressed variants are, broadly speaking, true-mid vowels [, ]. In fact, however, the unstressed mid vowels have two realizations:

  • Lowered close-mid (between close-mid and true-mid) [e̞, o̞] before a stressed syllable;[18][19]
  • Raised open-mid (between true-mid and open-mid) [ɛ̝, ɔ̝] after a stressed syllable.[18][19]

The unstressed mid vowels are never as close as the stressed close-mid vowels /e, o/ and never as open as the stressed open-mid vowels /ɛ, ɔ/.[18] However, Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999) report true-mid allophones [, ] of the close-mid vowels /e, o/ occurring in the sequences /ej/ and /oʋ/, but only if a vowel does not follow within the same word.[20] One could therefore argue that the unstressed mid vowels are simply allophones of the close-mid vowels, whereas the open-mid vowels do not occur in unstressed positions. Another argument for transcribing the unstressed mid vowels as /e, o/ is that these symbols are easier to write than /ɛ, ɔ/.

In the colloquial spoken language, unstressed and most short stressed vowels tend to be reduced or elided. For example kȕp ('heap') > [kə́p], právimo ('we say') > [prâwmo].[9]


Scholars[21] have found that vowel length in standard Slovene is no longer distinctive,[4][16][18][22] and that the only differences in vowel length are that the stressed vowels are longer than the unstressed ones,[18][23] and that stressed open syllables are longer than stressed closed syllables.[18] Stressed syllables are characterized by amplitude and pitch prominence.[23]

In tonemic varieties, stressed syllables also have a distinction of phonemic tone (high or low).

All dialects of Slovene have phonemic stress, but the same word can be accented quite differently in different dialects. Most words have a single syllable that carries stress. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stresses, inherited from the parts that make up the compound. There are also a few small words and clitics, including prepositions, that have no inherent stress at all and attach prosodically to another word.

In traditional pronunciation

In non-final syllables, quantitative accent (increased syllable length) is also present in almost all words. In tonemic varieties, stressed syllables also have a distinction of phonemic tone (high or low). Stress and vowel length are closely intertwined:[24]

  • A non-final syllable that bears stress will automatically have a long vowel. Conversely, at most one vowel in a Slovene word is long, and it automatically bears the stress.
  • If a word has no long vowels, the stress usually falls on the final syllable. However, a limited number of words have non-final stress on short syllables.
  • The combination /ǝr/, although phonetically short, may be stressed and behaves as a long vowel in that case. In particular, it may carry tonal distinctions.
  • Schwa /ǝ/ in other positions can also carry the stress, but does not have tonal distinctions and thus behaves as a short vowel.

Note that vowel length is clearly phonemic in stressed final syllables, which can be either long or short. In other syllables, however, whether vowel length or stress, or both, are phonemic depends on the underlying phonological analysis. Generally speaking, stress and length co-occur in all but the final syllable, so one feature or the other is phonetically redundant in those words.


The standard language has two varieties, tonemic and non-tonemic. These differ only in the presence of phonemic tonal distinctions on stressed syllables (i.e. pitch accent) in the former. Phonemic tone exists only in a north-south band of dialects in the center of the country (the Upper and Lower Carniolan dialect groups and part of the Carinthian dialect group).[25] However, because the Slovenian capital city Ljubljana is located within the central tonemic dialect area, phonemic tone was included in the standard language, and in fact the tonemic variety is more prestigious and is universally used in formal TV and radio broadcasts.

The exact distribution and phonetic realization of tonemes varies locally.[26] In Standard Slovene, some words with the traditionally long vowels /aː, eː, oː, iː, uː/ may have either a high or low tone.[27]

Unless otherwise noted, this article discusses the tonemes as they are realized in Standard Slovene spoken in Ljubljana.

In the tonemic variety, the following additional rules apply to stressed vowels (unstressed vowels never carry tonal distinction):

  • Long vowels as well as tautosyllabic stressed /ǝr/ (i.e. stressed /ǝr/ not directly followed by a vowel in the same word) can bear either a high or low tone. (The terms falling or circumflex are sometimes used in place of high; likewise, rising or acute may be used in place of low.)
  • High-tone low-mid /ɛ́ː, ɔ́ː/ are uncommon.
  • Short vowels other than /ǝ/ are always high-tone.
  • /ǝ/ (when not part of a stressed /ǝr/ combination) is normally tonemically high in final syllables and low elsewhere.

This leads to the following possible combinations of tone/length and vowel quality:

a ɛ e i ɔ o u ər ə
Long low tone àː ɛ̀ː èː ìː ɔ̀ː òː ùː ə̀r
Long high tone áː ɛ́ː éː íː ɔ́ː óː úː ə́r
Short low tone ə̀
Short high tone á ɛ́ í ɔ́ ú ə́
Unstressed a ɛ i ɔ u ər ə
tonemic diacritics
a e i o u r ə
Long low tone á é ẹ́ í ó ọ́ ú ŕ
Long high tone ȃ ȇ ẹ̑ ȋ ȏ ọ̑ ȗ ȓ
Short low tone ǝ̀
Short high tone ȁ ȅ ȉ ȍ ȕ ə̏
Unstressed a e i o u r ə

Note that tautosyllabic stressed /ǝr/ behaves like a long vowel in terms of the tones it can bear, and in fact it is notated as such in the tonemic writing system (see below). Examples: pr̂stnica ('phalange') with high tone vs. pŕstanǝc ('finger') with low tone. However, since it does not have any length distinction, it is equally valid to class it as a short vowel.

The non-tonemic system is identical to the tonemic system above in terms of vowel length and stress, but lacks any phonemic tone. This means that, for those dialects, the first and second rows merge, as do the third and fourth.

Similarly, for many[4][18][22] speakers who don't distinguish short and long vowels, the first and third rows merge, as do the second and fourth. An exception to this is the traditional /á/, which does not merge with /áː/. Instead, the former is realized as [ɐ́].[14]


The sample text is a reading of The North Wind and the Sun. The transcription is based on a recording of two speakers, a female and a male, from Ljubljana.[2] It does not indicate tone.[20]

Phonemic transcription

/ˈseʋərni ˈʋetər in ˈson͡tsɛ sta sɛ prɛˈpirala | kaˈteri ɔd ˈnjiju jɛ mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃi | kɔ jɛ ˈmimɔ priˈʃɛʋ pɔˈpotnik | zaˈʋit ʋ ˈtɔpəʋ ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || dɔɡɔʋɔˈrila sta sɛ | da bo ʋɛlˈjaʋ za mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃɛɡa ˈtisti | ki mu bo ˈpərʋɛmu uˈspelɔ | da bo pɔˈpotnik ˈslekəʋ sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || ˈseʋərni ˈʋetər jɛ zaˈpixaʋ z ˈʋsɔ mɔˈt͡ʃjo || toda ˈbol kɔ jɛ ˈpixaʋ | ˈbol təˈsno jɛ pɔˈpotnik | ɔˈʋijaʋ sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ ɔkoli ˈsɛbɛ | ˈkɔnt͡ʃnɔ | jɛ ˈseʋərni ˈʋetər pɔˈpustiʋ || naˈto jɛ ˈsont͡sɛ tɔˈplo pɔsiˈjalɔ | in pɔˈpotnik jɛ taˈkoj ˈslekəʋ sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || in taˈko jɛ ˈseʋərni ˈʋetər ˈmoraʋ priˈznati | da jɛ ˈsont͡sɛ mɔˈt͡ʃnejʃɛ ɔd ˈnjɛɡa/[28]

Phonetic transcription

[ˈseʋəɾni ˈʋetəɾ in ˈson͡tsɛ sta sɛ pɾɛˈpiɾala | kaˈteɾi ɔd ˈnjiju jɛ mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃi | kɔ jɛ ˈmimɔ pɾiˈʃɛw pɔˈpotnik | zaˈʋit u ˈtɔpəw ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || dɔɡɔʋɔˈɾila sta sɛ | da bo ʋɛlˈjaw za mɔt͡ʃˈnejʃɛɡa ˈtisti | ki mu bo ˈpəɾʋɛmu uˈspelɔ | da bo pɔˈpotnik ˈslekəw sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || ˈseʋəɾni ˈʋetəɾ jɛ zaˈpixaw z uˈsɔ mɔˈt͡ʃjo || toda ˈbol kɔ jɛ ˈpixaw | ˈbol təˈsno jɛ pɔˈpotnik | ɔˈʋijaw sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ ɔkoli ˈsɛbɛ | ˈkɔnt͡ʃnɔ | jɛ ˈseʋəɾni ˈʋetəɾ pɔˈpustiw || naˈto jɛ ˈsont͡sɛ tɔˈplo pɔsiˈjalɔ | in pɔˈpotnik jɛ taˈkoj ˈslekəw sʋoj ˈplaʃt͡ʃ || in taˈko jɛ ˈseʋəɾni ˈʋetəɾ ˈmoɾaw pɾiˈznati | da jɛ ˈsont͡sɛ mɔˈt͡ʃnejʃɛ ɔd ˈnjɛɡa][28]

Orthographic version

Severni veter in sonce sta se prepirala, kateri od njiju je močnejši, ko je mimo prišel popotnik, zavit v topel plašč. Dogovorila sta se, da bo veljal za močnejšega tisti, ki mu bo prvemu uspelo, da bo popotnik slekel svoj plašč. Severni veter je zapihal z vso močjo, toda bolj ko je pihal, bolj tesno je popotnik ovijal svoj plašč okoli sebe. Končno je Severni veter popustil. Nato je Sonce toplo posijalo in popotnik je takoj slekel svoj plašč. In tako je Severni veter moral priznati, da je Sonce močnejše od njega.[29]


  1. Herrity (2000:15–16)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:135)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Pretnar & Tokarz (1980:21)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:136)
  5. Greenberg (2006:17 and 20)
  6. Priestley (2002:394)
  7. Reindl (2008:56–57)
  8. Herrity (2000:16)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Priestley (2002:394)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Greenberg (2006:18)
  11. Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:136–137)
  12. Toporišič (2001:69)
  13. Jurgec (2007:1–2). He transcribes /ɐ/ as /ʌ/, but the vowel chart on page 2 shows that the phonetically correct symbol is /ɐ/.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jurgec (2005:9 and 12)
  15. Jurgec (2007:3)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Jurgec (2007:1)
  17. Jurgec (2005:11)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Tatjana Srebot-Rejec. "On the vowel system in present-day Slovene" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Šolar (1950:54), cited in Srebot-Rejec's paper
  20. 20.0 20.1 Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:138)
  21. For example Srebot-Rejec (1988) and Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999)
  22. 22.0 22.1 Srebot-Rejec (1988)
  23. 23.0 23.1 Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:137)
  24. Priestley (2002:390)
  25. Priestley (2002:449)
  26. Greenberg (2006:22)
  27. Greenberg (2006:23)
  28. 28.0 28.1 Based on the transcription in Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:138). Authors state that indicating both vowel length and stress is "considerably redundant".
  29. Šuštaršič, Komar & Petek (1999:138–139)


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