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Stuart E. Mann: Czech Historical Grammar. London: University of London / The Athlone Press 1957. — Table of contents, the text on Slovak separatism (pp. 8–10), and a few sample pages.


The question as to whether Czechoslovak literature would have benefited from being written in a composite language based on Czech, Moravian, or Moravian Slovak is one which belongs to politics, not linguistics. Unification has been achieved in Poland, France, Britain, and Italy by the imposition of a single dialect from a strong political centre. The lack of such a centre in Scandinavia is responsible for the existence today of three similar languages where one might have sufficed. The enfeebled prestige of Prague after 1780, the beginning of the Revival, was insufficient to dominate Slovak culture, which had for centuries been subject to magyarization, and to which the culture of Bohemia and Moravia was largely alien. For better or worse the Slovaks have chosen to propagate a language which is grammatically in contrast to Czech, though its vocabulary is similar. But the survival of Slovak was not achieved without a struggle.

Pioneers of separatism were Antonín Bernolák (1762–1813), J. I. Bajza, and Ján Hollý (1785–1849). Bernolák, a Jesuit writer, operated from Trnava, and used its dialect in his writings; Bajza, a parish priest and pedagogue, and Hollý, an idyll-writer in the classical manner of J. Kollár, represented the dialect of Nitra. Bohemia had a growing literary centre in Prague while Slovakia had none. Sundered by its dialects, and handicapped by the lack of literary tradition, Slovak was slow to emerge.

As early as 1832 Jungmann rebuked Moravians and Slovaks for trying to set up independent literary languages, and praised the Slovaks Palkovič, Kollár and Šafařík for writing in Czech. When certain Slovak writers chose the dialect of Nitra as their medium Jungmann condemned the choice as an act of literary suicide, and pointed to the Slavonic manifesto of Budapest made in 1823 in favour of Czech.

Jungmann was equally harsh with Moravian separatists. He joined Palacký in condemning Fr. Trnka, who, in an apologia entitled O českém jazyku spisovném (Brno and Olomouc, 1831–2), attempted to introduce Moravian Slovak grammatical forms into the standard language. Jungmann did not, however, object to Moravian and Slovak words in Czech settings, indeed the Slovakisms značný, značiti, jarmo, and učeň, and the Moravianisms nářečí and předmět were welcomed by him, and are now part of the literary language.

Continued efforts were made by Czech writers to prevent Slovak from evolving on its own, but by the year 1836 the die was already cast in its favour. In this year there appeared a Slovak journal Zora. After a brief run it lapsed for two years and re-emerged in 1839 with a eulogistic review of Hollý’s epic-style idyll Sláv. The spelling used was little different from that in use today. It signalized the break with Czech by substituting v for Czech w, and by rationalizing j as a consonant, adopting í as the symbol for the long vowel, a reform subsequently made in Czech by Šafařík in 1842. But, as frequently happens, the most zealous propagators were the least gifted; indeed, Zora owed its revival to one Hamuljak, an obscure journalist. A Czech reviewer deplored the Slovak language in which Hollý had composed his poem and quoted the poet against himself in the words ‘nesvornosť ňikdá dobrého nemávala konca’ (disunity never had a happy ending). But the movement was not to be halted. About the year 1844 a Slovak society called ‘Tatrín’ was formed to propagate Slovak writings, and the unrestrained tone of its journal Pozorník made an anti-separatist Slovak, Zaborský, appeal to its editor to prevent the breakaway before it was too late.

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Zaborský’s arguments followed the familiar lines. Which of the dialects could be regarded as standard, since Bernolák’s norm had found no adherents? A break in Czech-Slovak political and literary unity would be disastrous for both. A norm for Slovak grammar was difficult to find, and if established, would not compensate for the poverty of Slovak literary expression. Moreover, a separate Slovak language, being intelligible to Czechs and Slovaks alike, would merely serve to widen the political rift between them; indeed, rather than be irritated by reading works in Slovak, the Czechs might well turn to books written in Polish or Russian. The dearth of Slovak ichools and libraries, the fewness of Slovak books, and the difficulty Slovaks had in finding work among Czechs should decide them against Slovak. The Czech ‘Kralice Bible’ (1579-93) should be their model for all time. To consolidate his arguments, Zaborský established a fund of five hundred florins at Prešov for the study of ‘Czechoslovak’.

An appeal by the journalist and editor of ČCM, J. E. Vocel, came too late to have effect. Ľudevit Štúr, Slovak poet and patriot, published a journal Slovenské noviny which ran till June 1848, when the organ was suppressed, and Štúr’s band of followers was dispersed by the Magyar authorities. To offset Czech influence, the Kossuth regime launched a pro-Hungarian journal at Bratislava under the name of Slovácké noviny, but this came to an end with the invasion of Hungary by Imperial troops. With its disappearance, another journal, Slovenský pozorník, came out under the editorship of Lichard. In the middle of 1849 a semi-official journal appeared in Vienna under the name Slovenské noviny. Whatever the underlying motives, political or literary, Slovak journals continued to appear and disappear, but the Slovak movement had taken root. By 1850 literary Slovak was a reality.

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