Časopis Slovo a slovesnost
en cz

Prague functional stratification of language in Slovene linguistics

Ada Vidovič Muha



Pražské chápání jazyka ve slovinské lingvistice

1. Functionalism as an immanent element of Prague Structuralism[1] influenced Slovene linguistics, in terms of its content, in two concentric circles. The theory of language stratification with a particular emphasis on literary language received intellectually strong, but not widely popular response as early as in 1930s[2] (Vodušek, 1932/33), i.e., immediately after its first appearance. In the early 1960s, due to the combination of unique linguistic as well as broader socio-political circumstances, the instrumentalization of language in the sense of limiting its interpretation mainly to communication was added to the findings about stratification of language based on its various primary functions.


1.1. However, the linguistic situations[3] in Bohemia and in Slovenia in the 1920s and the early 1930s, when structuralism was taking root, were fundamentally different.


1.1.1. The methodology of language research derived from the „objectivization“ of language – language becomes an „object“ of observation and research –, which was with Geneva structuralist ideas then topical in Europe, was met with a wide response in the contemporary intellectual and broader socio-political environment of the new Czecho-Slovak state. Saussure’s methodological notion of language as an object of research was put into operation by the concept of means: „Language as a means of communication of a certain – particularly national – community“ (Havránek, 1963).

This type of instrumentalization of language can, naturally, be understood mainly as a research methodology. Leaving the methodological framework, particularly in unfavorable, ideologically charged social circumstances, means narrowing the complex concept of language while establishing a questionable dichotomy: language as man’s means of expression vs. language as a way of expression unique to man or, rather, on a higher level of abstraction – language as a means of expression of a particular linguistic community (e.g., nation) vs. language as a way of expression unique to a particular linguistic community. The consequence of the alienation of language by its absolute instrumentalization (man’s means/tool) could be ideologically charged interventionism, e.g. on the level of semiotic emptying of its certain communicative functions (Vidovič Muha, 1998).

[277]Within the Prague Linguistic Circle (PLC) the pragmatic discovery of the key functions of language was built into Saussure’s concept of (linguistic) system vs. speech, which means that the differences between those functions can be recognized on the level of (sub)systems (langue) as well as on the level of their realization in speech (parole). The functional aspect is included, as was underscored by recent Czech reviews (Nebeská, 1995), already in the concept of language intention (Theses of PLC), and represents, as was previously stated, one of the fundamental linguistic-analytical premises within the Prague Structuralist School. This aspect automatically singles out literary language as the one that is from the standpoint of its functions within language not only the most variegated, but also the only one that is loaded extra-linguistically, i.e., with a nation-unifying function as well as a nation-representative function, which is derived from the former (Havránek, 1963). Particularly in certain historical situations, e.g., when a particular linguistic community builds its national recognition mainly on language or when the statehood of a particular (national) community is being formed, a literary language is particularly defined by these two extra-linguistic functions.

Within the Prague Structuralist School so-called linguistic interventionism (Starý, 1995) still existed on the level of literary language, but next to the language system and usage only as one of its obvious functionalist normative elements, which in the social conditions of the time had every opportunity to be congruent with the intentional nature of language. Linguistic-functional interventionism thus surpassed Ertl’s literary normative criterion of „good author“ (Havránek, 1963; Nebeská, 1995).


1.1.2. The Slovene linguistic situation, which at least formally, e.g. with the institution such as national university (1919), received an important boost, could not be compared to the Czech situation. The end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s are on the level of language marked by radical unitaristic efforts; particularly in schools and science, Slovene was supposed to be gradually abolished through common (Serbo-Croatian) terminology. The linguistic situation was thus characterized by the explicit, here called interlinguistic-parasite functionalism: the language of the (numerical) majority in the multinational state receives, by an illocutionary and perlocutionary key, the functions of the language of (numerical) minority. In simpler terms: this is the relationship between the majority language (language of the majority), which was de facto and in principle also formally the official language of the country – mandated as such by the fact that it was the obvious choice for use in all communicative situations and areas – and between the language of the minority (numerically smaller community), the usage of which was restricted depending on the importance and visibility of these situations and areas.


1.2. The reaction to the ghettoization of Slovene was somewhat twofold: particularly in the literary language, in terms of the level of response the predominant reaction was so-called linguistic-amateur interventionism, based on preserving the criterion of a „good author“, which in concrete terms means even the possibility of grammatical „corrections“ (Breznik, 1967). This type of intervention into literary language was [278]regulated mainly from the standpoint of daily political events. This raised the level of language frustration and weakened the major dimension of language, i.e. to be an authentic expression of man in all communicative situations.

Despite the lack of wider response among Slovenes, another reaction is worth noting. It originated in then topical European linguistic bases and had recognizable elements of Prague functionalism. Its main proponent was the linguist and poet B. Vodušek. Key theses in his essay with the revealing title „For a Transformation of Views on Language“ (1932/33) are related, for instance, to the interpretation of the origins of language, its Saussurian division into speech and system, to verbality and nominality of the linguistic expression, to its stratification or, as Vodušek, following the Prague theory, puts it, stylistic divergence. Another linguist who about ten years later intensely dealt with some of the aforementioned topics, particularly the general-linguistic ones, was the Slovene functional structuralist, R. F. Mikuš.[4] Their positions on these and perhaps even some other issues indicate that both employed the ideas of European Structuralism, particularly from Geneva Structuralism, Vodušek probably also from the Prague School. In Mikuš’s relatively extensive linguistic opus, this is clearly evident from the author’s citations, which also indirectly establish the origins of Vodušek’s essay as conceived rather as a statement than as a linguistic analysis.

In terms of relevance for its time, what is the main point of Vodušek’s understanding of language, particularly of its literary variant? In other words, what are the main elements with which Vodušek attempted to transform views on language? He radically cut into the prevalent idea about the evaluative relationship between literary language vs. an elevated variety of folk language[5] with the thesis that literary language is an artificial creation, with separate, idiosyncratic, even extra-linguistic roles.[6] Literary language is a result of man’s higher intellectual needs. Because of the roles it has to perform it is semantically diverse in its expression. Nominality and the resulting abstractness of the expression, for instance, define scholarly language with respect to then normative verbality, which defines the expression of the language of fiction.

In the framework of literary language Vodušek discusses linguistic norm and codification, language policy and language culture – concepts which, as elements of language system, originate in Prague Structuralism. Particularly important for Vodušek’s [279]understanding of the Slovene literary language is its nation-unifying role, therefore he finds the interference of daily politics with its normative foundation unacceptable. This kind of interference transforms language into an instrument of momentary broader political interests. In Vodušek’s opinion the prerequisite for the dynamics of linguistic development is a constant productive interaction between spoken or, rather, „folk language“,[7] and its literary form; if this natural connection is interrupted, language loses basic elements of its culture.[8]

Vodušek considers language an immanently human feature, awareness of oneself and of others or, rather, awareness of oneself as a social being. At the same time language is a basic phenomenon of the human society determining a nation – according to Humboldt – as a historically and locally defined (social) unit. Vodušek points out that among Slovenes, language has an additional social role, since it is a sine qua non of national consciousness. This grew from the awareness of a common language, i.e. the fate of the nation depends on the fate of Slovene and not vice versa. Similar ideas can be found in Slovenia once again in the 1960s, also authored by the writer, essayist, and at certain point important politician E. Kocbek.

Slovene linguistics of the 1930s is marked by A. V. Isačenko’s introduction of the new structural methodology in linguistic analysis of dialects (1939). As the theoretical-methodological basis of his work he points out the following elements:

– its different (linguistic) function distinguishes dialect particularly from literary language;

– the diachronic method, which was the basis of the previous linguistic analysis of dialects, as opposed to the synchronic method, inevitably leads at least in some linguistic circumstances – coexistence of dialects – to their unnatural classification;

– differentiation between the concepts of system and speech is an important methodological principle of the linguistic research;

– an important improvement of the research methodology is also (phonological) binarism – elimination and/or characterization with a number of negative features.

Functionalism of language stratification, as was creatively planted into Slovene linguistics particularly by B. Vodušek and A. V. Isačenko (although each of them emphasizing different points), coupled with other elements of Geneva and Prague Structuralism in R. F. Mikuš’s works from the 1940s and 1950s, to some extent also in A. Breznik’s work (Vidovič Muha, 1988; 1993; 1994a; 1994b), represents a part (in Slovenia lesser known) of Slovene linguistics that can be incorporated into the broader framework of the contemporary European linguistic developments.


1.3. Heated debates through which the functional aspect of language stratification was becoming a part of general awareness in the early 1960s can be explained on the one [280]hand by the aforementioned specific Slovene language and linguistic situation, and on the other hand possibly by – considering its origin – selective appearances of linguistic functionalism in Slovenia. In the given circumstances, with the imperative to go beyond the language of fiction as an absolute evaluative criterion, particularly Jakobson’s poetic function of language was neglected. The instrumentalization of language and the narrowing of its ontological dimensions fostered technocratic comprehension of language, which could have automatically meant a new form of its ideologization, appropriate for the current social and political situation (Vidovič Muha, 1998).

Digressions were overcome to a large extent on the pragmatic-linguistic as well as on the broader philosophical level. The concept of the new dictionary of the Slovene literary language, that was able to integrate positive trends in the current Slovene linguistic situation – constructive elements from the reviews of the Slovene Orthography (1962), Trial Fascicle of the Dictionary of the Slovene Literary Language (1963), direct collaboration with the lexicographic section of the Institute of Czech Language, Slavic linguistics graduates from Slovenia studying at the Charles University in Prague, etc. – established the Slovene variant of functionalism of language stratification. The philosophic-linguistic essay by E. Kocbek (1964) contained an indirect warning about the dangers of linguistic technocracy underlying the narrowing of the ontological dimensions of language to plain functionalism.


1.3.1. During this period, the functionalist stratification of language in Slovenia took its recognizable shape. With respect to the whole spectrum of language functions, particularly in the early 1960s the trend recognizing the choice of different options is prevalent. Its emphasis is on communicative function with the intention (among other things) to finally go beyond the language of fiction as the only evaluative (normative) criterion. The proponents of functionalist language stratification do not discuss the peculiarities of the language of fiction (particularly R. Jakobson), while the opponents depart from the generalization of only its normative features.

Particularly after the publication of the Slovene Orthography in 1962, which still maintained the elite status of the language of fiction, B. Urbančič, also by harshly criticizing this orthography, introduced the Prague theory of language stratification to the Slovene milieu (1960/61; 1961/62; 1963). Besides the belletristic style he distinguished scholarly, business, journalistic, and conversational styles.[9] He justified his anti-puristic views particularly by strongly emphasizing language as (just) a „means of communication“. A similar instrumentalist understanding of language can be found in some other, particularly (then) younger and youngest Slovene linguists.

The final approval of the conception for the Dictionary of the Slovene Literary Language (DSLL) in the second half of the 1960s and its successful emendation during the compilation of the dictionary’s first volume (published in 1970) bore a complete Slovene theory of language styles/registers. From the standpoint of Kocbek’s understanding of language, DSLL distinguishes itself by a relatively balanced – considering [281]the given social and political circumstances – documentation of styles/registers. The literary language becomes recognizable on the level of its subsystems of functional styles (technical, journalistic, belletristic) as well as on the level of social registers, i.e. with respect to all other (social) registers (dialects, colloquial language).[10]

It was important for the viewpoints of Slovene linguists that in the reviews of the Trial Fascicle of DSLL (1963) authors of the dictionary of Czech literary language, whose compilation was then under way, based on literally the same concept, addressed similar issues to Slovene reviewers (1964). For this paper the most relevant points from the reviews of the Trial Fascicle of DSLL, made by Czech as well as by Slovene reviewers, deal with the necessity of taking the actual linguistic norm, based on „linguistic reality“, into consideration. As far as the stylistic qualification of lexicon is concerned, DSLL should remain a synchronic reference tool.


1.3.2. Thirty years after Vodušek’s criticism of linguistic provincialism Kocbek’s criticism of the instrumentalization of language – language is only the means and not the way of communication – appeared. In appropriate social and political circumstances the instrumentalization of language opens the possibility of its ideologization. Here the concept of democracy towards language becomes relevant; democracy, which prevents so-called ideologization of language, is a basic prerequisite for reasonable fitting of any, also Geneva-Prague interpretation of language into its whole ontological framework. What does one mean with democracy as it can be recognized through language? It essentially means accepting and/or understanding language in all three Kocbekian dimensions: the expression of man’s personal and human – particular (national) and common.

Some of Kocbek’s key notions: He actualizes language with speech, which is understood mainly as an ability of immanently human consciousness – an ontological aspect. From the structuralist point of view his understanding of language in a narrower sense is interesting: he considers it a system of man’s personal expression „arranged on the basis of national experience“; it is based on dictionary and grammar. To both concepts, i. e. speech and national language, qualitatively defined as mother tongue, Kocbek adds the concept of word as an affirmation of individuality and „an appeal to a fellow human being“. This is in effect a sociological aspect of language, which Kocbek presents with Bühler’s idea of language as a triple sign: the expressive and representative functions with respect to the speaker are automatically appelative with respect to other people.

One of the important motives of Kocbek’s reflection on language is, as was already mentioned, the realization that the ideology might fill up referential world of the most influential part of the literary language, i.e. the language of public communication. In that case language would automatically cease to be a wholesome semiotic ex[282]pression of all people, including those who could not or would not want to identify with its potential ideological content. Language would thus cease to perform its basic function, i.e. of being a way of self-presentation and self-affirmation of an individual. For many it would become a source of social semiotic alienation.

Therefore, what does language mean to Kocbek? Through the concept of word it means man’s self-realization: the capability of consciousness (speech) is realized through a specifically (with respect to the nation) arranged system. One of the fundamental messages of his reflection is derived from the realization of the power of language, the power of „word“, because „the word explains the world“ and is therefore „more powerful than reality“. Through the word, language acquires profound ethical dimensions, since the value of language is at the same time „the value of the speaker“. For that reason to Kocbek the fight for the truth of language is basically the fight for truth in general.

By placing language in the center of discovering man as such – of the identification of man – in the early 1960s Kocbek wrote a critique of perception or, rather, the illusion of truth, resulting from some of the key political ideologemes of the time. In his critique of the illusion of truth Kocbek also included a criticism of the technocratic reduction of language to the bare linguistic functionalism. Kocbek’s text essentially means a criticism of the de-humanizing approach to language. In that moment he was able to connect the concept of language, its norm and codification with the evaluative concept of man and/or his word. In that respect he gave a fundamental dimension to the current developments also within linguistics of the time.


2. To sum up: the functionalist aspect of defining language, as founded in the framework of the Prague Linguistic Circle and built in the methodology of linguistic research, remains with its main findings, as was pointed out by J. Kořenský (1997), relevant even today. The continuous stream of new communicative possibilities only confirms its basic direction. In the current European and broader context – as under the influence of international languages, particularly English, certain communicative areas (science) of national languages are shrinking or even being abolished – the nation-representative and nation-unifying functions of literary language as its immanent features, defined already within the Prague Linguistic Circle, retain their fundamental meaning.

Translated by Marta Pirnat Greenberg.




BREZNIK, A.: Novejše napake slovenskega sloga (1918). Življenje besed. Obzorja, Maribor 1967, p. 82–96.

HAVRÁNEK, B.: Úkoly spisovného jazyka a jeho kultura (1932). In: Studie o spisovném jazyce. ČSAV, Prague 1963.

HELCL, M. – JANSKÝ, L. – MACHAČ, J. – SOCHOVÁ, Z. – ZIMA, J.: Pripombe k Poskusnemu snopiču Slovarja slovenskega knjižnega jezika. Jezik in slovstvo, IX, 1964, 7–8, p. 254–262.

ISAČENKO, A.: Govor vasi Sele na Rožu. Znanstveno društvo, Ljubljana 1939.

JEDLIČKA, A.: Spisovný jazyk v současné komunikaci. Univerzita Karlova, Prague 1974.

[283]KALIN GOLOB, M.: Jezikovnokulturne smeri na Slovenskem: romantiki in realisti oz. puristi in protipuristi. In: Jezik in čas. Znanstveni inštitut Filozofske fakultete, Ljuljana 1996.

KOCBEK, E.: Misli o jeziku. Sodobnost, XI, 1963, 6, p. 205–222.

KOŘENSKÝ, J.: Procesualna slovnica in linearnost besedila. In: Slavistična revija, 1997, 3–4, p. 421–428.

MEČKOVSKAJA, N. B.: Social’naja lingvistika. Aspekt Press, Moscow 1996.

NEBESKÁ, I.: Jazyk, norma, spisovnost. Univerzita Karlova, Prague 1995.

Poskusni snopič SSKJ. SAZU, Ljubljana 1963.

Slovenski pravopis. SAZU, Ljubljana 1962.

STARÝ, Z.: Ve jménu funkce a intervence. Univerzita Karlova, Prague 1995.

TOPORIŠIČ, J.: Slovenski knjižni jezik, 3. Obzorja, Maribor 1967.

URBANČIČ, B.: O kriterijih pravilnosti v knjižni slovenščini. Jezik in slovstvo, 1960–61, p. 81–87, 241–246; 1961–62, p. 36–40, 200–209.

URBANČIČ, B.: O jezikovni kulturi. Delavska enotnost, Ljubljana 1972.

VIDOVIČ MUHA, A.: Slovensko skladenjsko besedotvorje ob primerih zloženk. Znanstveni inštitut Filozofske fakultete, Ljubljana 1988.

VIDOVIČ MUHA, A.: Strukturalitične prvine v slovenskem jezikoslovju prve polovice dvajsetega stoletja. Obdobja, 14. Filozofska fakulteta, Ljubljana 1994a, p. 103–115.

VIDOVIČ MUHA, A.: O izvoru in delovanju jezika ali teorija sintagme v delih R. F. Mikuša. Slavistična revija, 42, 1994b, 2–3 (Ramovšev zbornik), p. 229–249.

VIDOVIČ MUHA, A.: Razvojne prvine normativnosti slovenskega knjižnega jezika. Jezik in čas. Znanstveni inštitut Filozofske fakultete, Ljubljana 1996.

VIDOVIČ MUHA, A.: Dynamika normatívnych kritérií v slovanských jazykoch. Jazykovedný časopis, 1998, p. 1–2.

VODUŠEK, B.: Za preureditev nazora o jeziku. Krog, 1932–33, p. 66–76.



Pražské chápání jazyka ve slovinské lingvistice

Funkcionalistický přístup k chápání jazyka založený na východiscích Pražského lingvistického kroužku se jeví bezesporu jako stále aktuální. Komunikační orientace současné lingvistické metodologie, jak bylo ostatně ukázáno při různých příležitostech (srov. např. Kořenský, 1997), je v plném souladu s klasickými pražskými metodologickými východisky. Zejména pokud jde o výzkum integrativních a národně reprezentativních funkcí jazyků, uplatňují se přístupy založené na pražské tradici tam, kde se jinak projevuje výrazný vliv jiných přístupů, nebo i tam, kde se některé klasické typy společenských funkcí jazyka pod vlivem mezinárodních jazyků – především angličtiny – proměňují, popř. zanikají či dochází k jejich limitaci.

[1] Nebeská (1995) maintains about PLC that functionalism is general approach to language and fundamental principle of its regulation.

[2] In the 1930s and beyond Slovene culturally-aware public was kept up-to-date linguistic developments in Bohemia particularly by the literary critic, essay-writer, and cultural worker B. Borko (Kalin Golob, 1996).

[3] A. Jedlička basically ties the concept of linguistic situation to the linguistic-communicative dynamics of a particular language (communicative) community. N. B. Mečkovskaja (1996) defines it as a sum of social-functional styles/registers, used within particular political-territorial units or states.

[4] In the second half of the 1940s and in the early 1950s Radivoj F. Mikuš attempted to bring the ideas of Geneva functional Structuralism to Slovenia. The articles particularly on the theory of the syntagm and his polemical linguistic reviews mainly on this topic in European and other international linguistic journals, such as Word, Lingua, Cahier Ferdinand de Saussure, Voprosy jazykoznanija, etc., secured him a prominent place among the European structuralist linguists. In Slovene linguistic community he became known in 1952, when SAZU published its polemical book, writen in French (with an extensive Slovene summary), titled A propos de la syntagmatique du professeur A. Belić. Because of his harsh criticism of the syntagmatic theory of the prominent Serbian linguist, combined with a host of unfavorable circumstances – the illness and death of the SAZU president F. Ramovš, as well as the political and broader social situation – Mikuš’s work was condemned (Vidovič Muha, 1994b).

[5] The elevated variety of folk language was mainly based on the puristically supported superiority of the rural language over its urban counterpart.

[6] A distinctive feature of literary language as an artificial structure is, accordingly to B. Havránek, the possibility of extra-linguistic regulation of its norm (codification of norm), naturally, according to its functions.

[7] B. Havránek (1963) defined natural folk speech by the fact that its norm is not affected by extra-linguistic regulation, which naturally follows from the lack of extra-linguistic roles (with respect to the nation, representative and unifying roles).

[8] From this standpoint Vodušek reacts with particular criticism to the 19th century purism, whose idea of Pan-Slavicism interrupted the natural foundation of the literary norm, derived from natural folk speech, as well as to the purism of the 1930s, which targeted everything originally Slavic.

[9] J. Toporišič (1967, p. 95, 96) introduces the term „language of practical communication“ instaed of „conversational language“ and „practical technical“ instaed of „business“ language.

[10] It is worth noting that from the editorial experience gathered in the course of compilation of the first volume of DSLL there appeared some interesting articles dealing with language stratification and normativity of literary language, e.g. T. Korošec, J. Müller, A. Vidovič-Muha (collected bibliography Vidovič Muha, 1996). DSLL galvanized Slovene linguistic climate also from the standpoint of a broader, modern reflection on language.

Oddelenek za slovanske jezike in književnost
Filozofska fakulteta Univerza v Ljubljani, Slovenija

Slovo a slovesnost, volume 61 (2000), number 4, pp. 276-283

Previous Igor Němec: Česká slova odboje

Next Jana Hoffmannová: Konference na počest jubilea prof. Jána Horeckého