What is Interslavic?
Interslavic is a language for communication between Slavs of different nationalities, rooted in centuries of geographical proximity, shared history and common cultural heritage. More than anything else, it is based on linguistic similarity, because the Slavic language family is essentially one large continuum of closely related dialects with a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility. Throughout the centuries, Slavs have explored the centre of this continuum in various ways: ordinary people learned to talk to their neighbours by means of simple, improvised language forms, while linguists and others have attempted to describe a generic Slavic language that would be understandable to all Slavs alike, often, albeit not always, taking Old Church Slavonic as a starting point.
In other words, Interslavic is a language with three different aspects:
- it is an improvised ad hoc language that evolves spontaneously in Inter-Slavic contacts
- it is a scientific extrapolation of the hypothetic language at the very centre of the Slavic languages
- it is a modernised continuation of the common ancestor of the Slavic languages (Proto-Slavic) or its close relative, Old Church Slavonic
Although the Slavic languages share enough characteristics in grammar, vocabulary and syntax to allow for some basic mutual understanding, each language has idiosyncrasies that stand in the way of full understanding. To enhance communication between speakers of different Slavic languages, Interslavic removes these idiosyncrasies and focuses on the numerous words and forms that the Slavic languages have in common. It can be learned and used as a Slavic Esperanto, but it can also be treated as a set of recommendations for altering any Slavic language as to facilitate communication with other Slavic speakers. As a result, every piece of newly acquired knowledge can be put into practical use immediately; knowledge that is helpful not only in making yourself understandable, but also in getting a better understanding of texts written in any other Slavic language.
We are aware that the Slavs are perfectly able to find a common language without our help – by using English, by writing and/or speaking in their own languages, or by improvising their own Interslavic pidgin. However, many Slavs find it shameful to communicate with each other in English, and besides, a lot of of them know English only at a very basic level or not at all. Texts written in natural Slavic languages can be hard to follow for other Slavs, and especially the longer chunks of text are likely to be ignored. For those who write in an improvised Interslavic pidgin language, it would be useful to know that they won't make themselves better understood by using, for example, infinitives only.
It is not our purpose to build a community of Interslavic speakers and we do not ask anybody to actually learn it; we merely offer suggestions that will enable people to make themselves understandable to (other) Slavs in a language that is essentially their own. Given the character of the Slavic language family, it should be possible to speak or write in such way that ca. 90% of it will be readily understandable for virtually every Slavic speaker.
The goals of Interslavic are covered by the keywords communication and education. They can be summarised in the following points:
- to be well understood by speakers of any Slavic language without any prior study;
- to be learned and/or used easily by speakers any Slavic language;
- to help those who have learned it in getting a better passive understanding of other Slavic languages;
- to provide non-Slavs with a useful introduction into the world of the Slavic languages.
It should be emphasised that Interslavic is not related to any religion, ideology or political movement. Neither is it intended to ever replace any living language, nor to become a universal second language of any kind. We merely hope to provide a useful tool to those who wish to engage in any form of Interslavic dialogue, and those who hope to achieve a better understanding of the Slavic languages as a whole.
A heterogeneous language
Over the centuries, numerous attempts have been made at an umbrella language for Slavs, carrying names like „Pan-Slavic“, „Common Slavic“, „Inter-Slavic“, „Modern Slavic“ or simply „Slavic“. Some of them have elaborate grammars, others are mere sketches. Some were meant to serve as a language for a unified pan-Slavic state or to enhance communication between Slavs of various nationalities, others were created just for fun. Some of them put more weight on simplicity than others. Some are based on Old Church Slavonic or reconstructed Proto-Slavic, others draw their material from the modern languages. What all these proposals have in common though, is that they simplify grammar to a certain degree, use an orthography that is more in line with contemporary needs and possibilities, replace archaic features with modern material, and seek the middle point between multiple, if not all, Slavic languages. Obviously, these projects are not identical to each other, but the differences between them are not significant in the sense that understandability is dramatically affected. A language based on comparating the modern languages will differ from a modernised Proto-Slavic only in details; both approaches can easily be combined in one dictionary. Because there is so much overlap between all naturalistic projects, they can impossibly be considered separate languages, rather attempts at the very same language.
Differences between them are mostly due to the fact that their authors make choices between several options provided by the Slavic languages, and more often than not these choices are coloured by their own native language. For example, South Slavic authors consistently distinguish between hard
L and soft
LJ, while Czech authors tend to find this distinction irrelevant and use only
L, as Czech does. Differences in pronunciation, however, occur between different dialects of natural languages, too. In some parts of Russia, the word молоко is pronounced mɔlɔ'kɔ, in other parts məlɑ'kɔ, yet everybody knows that it is the same word in the same language. Similar differences occur between the Slavic languages: Russian пять pʲætʲ, Polish pięć pʲɛɲt͡ɕ and South Slavic pet pɛt are all locally coloured versions of one and the same word.
Interslavic, one might say, is a language that was never successfully standardised, despite many attempts in that direction. Every user writes differently, following his own preferences and/or possibilities. Some adhere strictly to the rules of one particular project, others combine elements from multiple projects, others again follow their own unwritten rules. What matters though is that they all operate within certain „margins“.
Interslavic as presented on these pages is not the only possible way of speaking and writing Interslavic. Yet, its current form is the fruit of years of collaboration, gradual convergence and ultimately the merger of the two most active and elaborated projects from the last decade, Slovianski and Neoslavonic, incorporating material from older projects as well. It is intended to be inclusive: whenever two possibilities are equally understandable to Slavs, there is no point in enforcing one of them and forbidding the other. But on the other hand, because a certain level of standardisation is inevitable to prevent the language from becoming needlessly confusing for learners, the grammar always suggests one preferred option.
Categorising Interslavic is not an easy task. First of all, is it a natural or a constructed language? Natural (or ethnic) languages are languages that have evolved slowly and gradually as a result of constant social interaction between their speakers against the background of a culture. For that reason, Interslavic is not strictly a natural language, because it never had any native speakers. By contrast, constructed languages are always created within a relatively short time span by a specific, usually identifiable person or group. Because forms of Interslavic have been a naturally existing phenomenon for centuries, it can hardly be considered an artificially constructed language either. Despite many efforts at standardising it, Interslavic is primarily what those who use it, make of it themselves.
There is no binary distinction between natural and constructed languages. Instead, both are extremes on a broad scale of artificiality. Some natural languages contain more invented elements than others, and especially language standardisation often involves top-down engineering by a regulating body. Several standardised languages, such as Modern Hebrew and Rumantsch Grischun, even have an author and a year of creation, but nevertheless, they are always listed among the natural languages. Languages of this type belong to the grey area between natural and constructed languages and could be called "semiconstructed languages". Other examples are Katharevousa (an extremely archaic type of Greek that was created in the late 18th century as a compromise between ancient Attic and the modern vernaculars), Nynorsk and Revived Cornish.
Before the 20th century, Interslavic undoubtedly belonged to the same category. Pan-Slavists considered the Slavic languages dialects of one Pan-Slavic language, in other words, an umbrella language or Dachsprache. Later, however, the idea of a common literary language for all Slavs was abandoned. Instead, the purpose of Interslavic became serving as an aid in communication between Slavs of different nationalities, a "Slavic Esperanto". Even academic research into Interslavic is divided over two entirely different fields: Slavistics (notably the development of standard national languages like Slovene and Serbo-Croatian) and interlinguistics.
From a utilitarian point of view, Interslavic belongs to the family of zonal auxiliary languages, languages created for communication among/with speakers of a family of related languages (unlike international auxiliary languages like Esperanto and Interlingua, which are intended to be used globally).
Naturalism and flexibility
Those familiar with constructed auxiliary languages will probably be surprised about many features that are highly unusual in languages of this type, like grammatical gender, verbal aspect, noun cases, distinctions between hard and soft consonants, irregular verbs, etc. One should realise, however, that it's the target group that dictates what is simple, and for Slavic speakers these things are perfectly natural. In general, we can distinguish three types of constructed auxiliary languages. Quoting Wikipedia:
A schematic planned language is a type of language whose grammar and morphology have been deliberately simplified and regularised, with idiosyncrasies from source languages (if any) removed, in order to be simpler and more streamlined than those of the ethnic languages, even if this should make the language's vocabulary relatively unrecognizable to newcomers to the language.
A naturalistic planned language is specifically devised to reproduce the commonalities in morphology and vocabulary from a group of closely related languages, usually with the idea that such a language will be relatively easier to use passively — in many cases, without prior study — by speakers of one or more languages in the group.
A pidgin language is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. Fundamentally, a pidgin is a simplified means of linguistic communication, as it is constructed impromptu, or by convention, between groups of people.
If Interslavic were meant to be equally easy for speakers of English or Chinese, it would need a simple phonology, orthography and a schematic grammar: all they would need to know is some basic vocabulary and a small set of grammatical rules. However, sacrificing Slavic grammar on the altar of regularity and simplicity would render the language strange and unfamiliar to Slavic speakers. Besides, communication in a schematic language requires that both sides (speaker/writer and listener/reader) know the rules, whereas a well-designed naturalistic language has the advantage of being understood by virtually anyone who knows a Slavic language, which makes it particularly suitable for one-way communication. For that reason, almost all Interslavic projects past and present have chosen the naturalistic approach. Non-Slavs will definitely need more time to master it, but once they do, it will give them instant access to millions of people who may not even know what language it is but can understand it anyway.
This does not mean that Interslavic cannot be simplified. Just like it would be pointless for Slavs to use an un-Slavic grammar, there is no reason why non-Slavs who only wish to make themselves understandable to Slavs, should plough his way through tables with Slavic declensions and conjugations. Interslavic needs to be flexible enough to offer solutions to both. To achieve this, we also provide a simplified grammar and orthography level, intended mostly for beginners and non-Slavs. It has a minimalistic grammar and phonology, and is based on the improvised ad hoc languages that have existed for centuries in multi-Slavic environments, nowadays also on the Internet.
Because speakers of pidgin languages do not know each other's native language, they do not know what their languages really have in common either. However, our team of linguists has both the knowledge and the experience to tell how one side can make themself optimally understandable to the other, thus providing Interslavic with a well-researched structure. This structure is not a closed system of rules, but only a toolbox: elements from both levels can easily be mixed with each other and also with elements from the natural Slavic languages, so that learners can gradually expand their knowledge while putting it to use immediately. This flexibility also allows for flavourisation, the possibility to adapt Interslavic to a specific target audience by adding local or regional colour.
Although Interslavic is a naturalistic and not a schematic language, it includes various tools for schematic word building, so that a writer does not have to look up every single word in the dictionary. Even if the resulting word does not actually exist in any Slavic language, it will be understandable, because its components are generally known.
The name Medžuslovjansky
Interslavic has gained most of its fame under the name Slovianski, a name that is understood as „Slavic” by all Slavs. This name, however, causes one problem: Slavic is universally known as the name for a family of languages, not of one language in particular. That's why several alternative names have been proposed and/or used as well:
- Medžuslovjanski means „Inter-Slavic“ and evokes connotations of a language that serves for communication between Slavs of different nationalities.
- Vseslovjanski means „All-Slavic, Pan-Slavic“ and therefore echoes the belief that the Slavs are essentially still one nation.
- Novoslovjanski means „New Slavic, Neo-Slavonic“, suggesting that it is a modernised version of either Proto-Slavic or Old Church Slavonic.
In 2011, Medžuslovjanski was chosen as the common moniker for all Interslavic projects. After the merger of Slovianski and Neoslavonic in 2017, this became Medžuslovjansky.
Why Slovjansky instead of Slavjansky, Slověnsky or something similar? All of them are possible, and all will be understood. But Slovjansky is the most common outcome. First of all,
slav- is used in Russian, Belarusian, Rusyn, Croatian, Bosnian and Bulgarian, but
slov- is used in Ukrainian, Polish, Cashubian, Upper and Lower Sorbian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Serbian and Macedonian. Furthermore,
-jan- exists in Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Rusyn, Polish, Cashubian, Upper Sorbian and Bulgarian,
-an- in Czech, Slovak and Slovene, and
-jen-) in Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, Macedonian, Lower Sorbian and Old Church Slavonic. In other words,
-jan- are the most frequently encountered forms, and in addition, they are both represented in all three subbranches of Slavic.
So, who is behind this project? Well, many people in fact. Some would argue that the Interslavic language goes back to St. Cyril and St. Method. But whether we consider Old Church Slavonic to be an artificial language or not, one could hardly treat it as anything else but an attempt at a written standard for a number of Slavic dialects. However, if we treat Interslavic (Pan-Slavic) as one language and not as a number of individual language projects, then Juraj Križanić has been the first person to actually give a description of it as early as the 1660s. His example was followed by Blaž Kumerdej, Stefan Stratimirović, Samuel Linde, Ján Herkeľ, Matija Ban, Radoslav Razlag, Božidar Raič, Václav Bambas, Matija Majar-Ziljski, Anton Budilovič, Ignác Hošek, Josef Konečný, Edmund Kolkop, Bohumil Holý, Ladislav Podmele, Richard Ruibar, Štefan Vitězslav Pilát, and many others.
Obviously, not all of them have had a direct impact on the content of these pages. This, however, cannot be said of Matija Majar-Ziljski. His Uzajemni Pravopis Slavjanski is more than just a precursor of modern Interslavic, it has also been a major inspiration and an excellent resource. Just like we do, Majar based his conclusions on comparing the whole range of Slavic languages known in his days, and perhaps most importantly, he presented a flexible system that enabled people to write in such way that they could easily take their own language as a starting point. Although sometimes our choices are differ from Majar's, Medžuslovjansky can still be seen as a direct continuation or modernisation of it. In addition to that, Majar left us an excellent grammar and orthography, but no dictionary, an omission we hope to correct by providing a list of words that are generally understandable to all or most Slavs.
The people who originally initiated the Slovianski project were, in chronological order: Ondrej Rečnik, Gabriel Svoboda, Jan van Steenbergen and Igor Polyakov. Slovioski, which merged into Slovianski in 2010, was created by Steeven Radzikowski, Andrej Moraczewski and Michal Borovička. Neoslavonic was created by Vojtěch Merunka and Martin Molhanec. Others who have significantly contributed to the project are: Rostislav Levčenko, Maciej Pawłowski, Rolf Arvid Rökeness, Waldemar Kubica, Katarzyna Majda, Dražen Buvač, Obren Starović, Moreno Vuleta, Jan Vít, Arkadiusz Danilecki, Josip Bibić, Vladimir Romanov, Brunon Kozica, Mateusz Kopa, Cxiril Slavjanski, Roberto Lombino, Michał Swat, and several others.
The current version of Interslavic was established in the Summer of 2017 by a committee consisting of: Vojtěch Merunka, Jan van Steenbergen, Roberto Lombino, Michał Swat and Pavel Skrylev.
From the very beginning, Slovio creator Mark Hučko has been displaying an extremely hostile attitude towards other Interslavic projects. Among his actions is the purchase – with the obvious purpose of confusing potentially interested people – of several domain names with the names of our projects (slovianski.eu, novoslovianski.com, interslavic.org, slovianto.com). Their content is nothing but a mix of plagiarism, parody, misinformation and hatred, or sometimes just a modification of Slovio under a name similar to ours. It should be emphasised that none of these pages are in any way related to our projects, and that neither Interslavic nor its predecessors are based on Slovio, as Mr. Hučko claims. For more information, see the Memorandum of the Interslavic community about Slovio, Slovianski and Neoslavonic from September 2011.