The Old Slavic Language

The Old Slavic language, known as a Paleo-Macedonian language, is identified in linguistic studies as the first written, recorded, and testified Slavic language. Old Slavic was written in the language spoken by the Macedonian Slavs in the area of Solun (where Suho and Visoko dialects were spoken) in the second half of 9th century of the Common Era, and was based on the Macedonian language.

It is erroneously said that the Old Slavic language is the root of modern Slavic languages. Instead, from a genealogical point of view, Old Slavic belongs to the group of South Slavic languages, particularly in its Eastern subgroup, along with contemporary Macedonian and Bulgarian. All Slavic languages, including Old Slavic, originate from the Great Slavonic language.

Great Slavonic, the root of all Slavic languages

The Old Slavic language is the first language to have been derived from Great Slavonic. The Great Slavonic language was spoken before the 7th century of the Common Era, and arose from the hypothetical Indo-European pre-language, although it is not documented in writing. Scientific research has reconstructed its history by applying the Comparative-Historical Method to the oldest texts written in the Old Slavic language, and the Indo-European languages ​​closest to it: Baltic and German.

According to some linguists, Great Slavonic appeared before a millennium before the Common Era. It is arguable whether it separated directly from the Indo-European language, or if it separated later on from the Pre-Balto-Slavic language.

Benefits for Slavic translators

For translators dealing with the study and interpretation of some Slavic languages, it is of great significance and to their benefit to know the basics of Great Slavonic, because it is the foundation for any other Slavic language. Translating a specific Slavic language, especially when translating conversational style, may put you in very tricky situation. Knowing the basics can only help ease your work. For this reason, the study of Old Slavic is mandatory at all universities in Slavic countries.

History of Old Slavic

At the end of the 6th century of the Common Era, Slavic tribes abandoned their land in the Carpathian Mountains and settled across Europe. The movements of people during this time led to the displacement of many nations and tribes, among which were the Slavs. Resettlement moved mainly in three directions: to the east through the East European lowlands, west to central Europe, and south to the Balkan Peninsula. With the collapse of the tribal community of Slavs, so did the spoken Slavic language, leading to the decay of the pre-Slavic linguistic community.

This established three major dialect groups: Eastern, Western and Southern. Each of these groups have shown and created custom properties that differ from the rest, but it is assumed that these differences were not significant enough to interfere with the direct communication between speakers of different dialects. On the other hand, these groups have their own kind of conglomerates, and regional variants appeared in each group. By the end of the 6th century, the unique pre-Slavic linguistic community was no longer in existence.

The establishment of the Old Slavic language in written form is directly connected with the activity of Byzantine missionaries, namely Saint Cyril (Constantine the Philosopher) and Saint Methodius, known as Apostles to the Slavs.

Important features:

  • Replacing the pre-Slavic consonants tj and dj with шт and жд is appropriate: světja = свѣшта (свеќа), medja = мєжда (меѓа)
  • Initial a without pejoratives: азъ (јас), абиє (веднаш), агнѧ (јагне)
  • Consistently distinguishing ultra-short vowels: (ъ and ь), ъ = o and ь = є
  • O and E with “nose tone”, i.e. nose vocals on and en: on = ǫ, en = ę
  • Not making a distinction between the value of the voice of the jat (ѣ) and a preparative: ѣ = ıa (ја)
  • Absence of etymological difference to e and ѥ: E = ѥ (je);
  • Pre-Slavic consonant groups: tl, dj, and lmetlŭ = мєлъ, radlo = рало, krydlo = кръıло
  • Adjectival forms without curtailing: dobraѥgo (dobrajego instead of dobraago or dobrago)

These are the basic features of the language, which differ from other Slavic languages, and carry some features that turn them into distinct, non-Slavic languages ​​by allowing mandatory use of dividing as grammatical number (for all things that come in pairs, eg. hands, legs, etc.). All syllables are open, (i.e. ending in a vowel, having vocal R and L, ŗ and ļ), palatalization of consonants in the rear palatal k, g and h, equaling the genitive, ablative in favor of the first metathesis (change places) in the Great Slavonic groups: or, ol, er and el, and between consonants or at the beginning of the word before the consonant.