A Very Slovenian Scuffle – The Slovenian Alphabet Wars


In 1584, a Protestant preacher from the small town of Brezanica published a book. The preacher’s name was Adam Bohorič, and the book came with the title ‘Articae Horulae Succisivae’. What was it, I hear you scream? Well, it just so happened to be the first attempt to codify a Slovenian alphabet, the language that first found itself in print some 30 years prior when Primož Trubar printed his religious assistance books. I know, finally, right?!

The counter-reformation pretty much obliterated Protestantism in the Slovene lands, but Bohorič’s alphabet survived. The Slovenian language lay somewhat dormant all the way until late 18th century, when some patriotic souls dug it up and proceeded to give it life once more, not unlike those two kids in Jumanji albeit with less knowing winks and colonial-era hunters.

It was clear to all and sundry that Bohorič’s alphabet had grown somewhat obsolete over the previous 240 years, and the 1820’s saw a number of attempts to create a new Slovenian ABD to fit in with the fashion at the time. There were many attempts, but only two really gained any sort of popular traction. 1824 and 1825 saw alphabets published by Peter Dajnko and Fran Metelko respectively. Dajnko’s alphabet (dajnčica) was used for a decade or so without much controversy in the eastern part of Slovenia, although the reason for this is clearly because nobody noticed eastern Slovenia in any way back in the early 19th century.

Metelko’s version (metelčica) had influential supporters in the shape of Jernej Kopitar, but the biggest issue with the latin-cyrillic mix script was the folk it royally pissed off. Bishop Slomšek and the Catholic church weren’t too chuffed with it, understandably worried about the Eastern cyrillic script finding its way into the mix. The biggest anti-Metelčica voices came from the cultural world however, and these voices would crow loud enough to guarantee its downfall.

The Slovene literary historian and linguist Matija Čop led the charge, ably backed up by Slovenia’s favourite poet and drunk France Prešeren. The duo vehemently defended the traditional alphabets, and by 1831 the various provinces of Slovenia were using different alphabets. Seeing as language was the most influential weapon Slovenia had in its desperate fight for cultural and ethnic individuality this was obviously somewhat worrying, and as such the Alphabet Wars broke out.


Čop and Prešeren had the gift of the gab so to speak, and the gab was the most important gift one could get back in the early 19th century. Čop revealed a brand new literary and cultural program for the Slovenes, a program designed to thrust Slovenian literature into the brave new European world. There was no space for any damned cyrillic hybrid alphabets here, and Prešeren’s poetic grandeur all but hammered the final nail into the coffin of poor Fran Metelko’s creation. In 1833, it was banned from all schools.

If we strip away any and all nonsense, the Alphabet Wars were basically an argument between literary conservatives and progressives. Despite being one of the major players in the wars Prešeren wrote a couple of poems about how dumb they were, most notably one entitled ‘How To Write The Word Porridge’. The Alphabet Wars would ‘rumble’ on for another decade before approaching an end in 1843, when Janez Bleiweis began using Ljudovit Gaj’s gajica alphabet in his influential journal. Gaj was the leading voice in the Illyrian Movement, which was the precursor to the Yugoslav movement of the mid to late 19th century, and it was at this time that he recognised the opportunity to develop a common South Slavic language.

Gaj’s efforts were met with a fair amount of resistance outside of his native Croatia, but Slovenia was fairly sympathetic. As a result his alphabet became the official ABC in Slovenia in 1848, a state of affairs that continues to this day. This also had the knock-on effect of ramping up the Slovene language lovers due to the fear of it becoming marginalised by the Illyrian Movement.

Some mental fools attempted to revive Bohorič’s alphabet in the 1980, but nobody paid them any attention. The Slovenian Alphabet Wars ended with an outsider dictating terms to the nation, which sort of makes sense for a Slovenian scuffle. The alphabets of Dajnic and Metelko were consigned to the bin of history. Metelko can take solace in the fact that Metelkova, Ljubljana’s alternative cultural centre and favourite haunt of drunken 21 year olds, is named after him. Well, he would take solace, but he died 156 years ago.

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