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Our Mother Tongue: The Sticna Manuscript
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 1428?

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 Sticna manuscript.

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 came.

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 works.