East Slovak schools

Budapest tried to split the Slovaks by imposing on some schools in the eastern counties, namely Šariš and Zemplín, to teach the local varieties of the language, rather than Standard Slovak, and use the Hungarian spelling for them. Most Slovak immigrants came from that part of the country.

The first Slovak-American newspaper, Amerikanszko-Szlovenszke Novini, used that spelling when it began to publish in Pittsburgh on 21 October 1886, but had gradually switched all of its articles to Standard Slovak by mid-1889: Amerikánsko-Slovenské Noviny.

literacyslovakia150

Like the Slovaks in the Kingdom, the Slovak immigrants were largely literate, the circulation of the Slovak press in the U.S. sometimes surpassed that in their home country.

diamond136

The editorial office of the first Slovak-American newspaper was on Diamond Street (now Forbes) in downtown Pittsburgh in the 1880s. Its circulation had reached 30,000 by 1900, more than any other Slovak-American periodical at that time, or any Slovak periodical in the Habsburg monarchy.

Rusyn literacy

Among the ethnic groups in the Slovak majority counties, literacy was the lowest with the Rusyns, whose average literacy was just just 32.4% in the area in 1900.

It is reflected in the lower average literacy in the north-eastern counties of Šariš and Zemplín with a higher percentage of Rusyns, and even more so in Už County (Uzh or Ung in English), partly reaching into Slovakia, which was almost exclusively Rusyn in the east (now in Ukraine).

A barrier some Rusyns faced was that many of their parish schools used the Cyrillic script and taught ornate Church Slavic, not a living language. It put an obstacle on the way to proficient literacy between them and the rest of the Kingdom, whose languages used the Latin letters, like all Central and Western Europe, and were taught in a more conversational form.

Reading skills

While illiteracy has not been an issue for generations of Central Europeans, there are differences in people's ability to comprehend texts of increasing complexity. An OECD survey showed the following average scores for those aged 16-65 (no data for Switzerland, Hungary):

273.3 Slovakia
272.8 Czech R.
267.1 Germany
266.9 Poland
266.1 Austria

The average score was 262 in the U.S.

Historical literacy

Q: Could the Slovak immigrants read?

During the last decades of the Habsburg monarchy, Budapest tried to switch the Kingdom of Hungary's Slovak, German, Romanian, Rusyn, Croatian schools from teaching in their own languages to using Hungarian. Depending on what school they attended, the Slovaks were able to read and write in their own language, or also in Hungarian.

Although the two languages are substantially different, their spelling rules are mutually convertible and match pronunciation very well (for instance, the first sound in the English chip is always spelled č in Slovak and always cs in Hungarian). Those Slovaks who were taught only the Hungarian spelling were generally able to use that capacity to learn to read Slovak texts on their own.

Literacy in 1900

According to the 1900 census, the Slovak majority counties were among those with the highest literacy in the Kingdom – shaded darker and lighter green; modern Slovakia's border is outlined in red in the north-west:

literacy350

Male literacy, 1900 census, Kingdom of Hungary. Green 90%-80%; light green 80%-70%; yellow 70%-60%; amber 60%-50%; red 50%-40%; purple 40%-30%; blue 30%-20%. (Male literacy by state ranged from over 90% to 60% in the U.S. in 1900.)

Literacy was higher in some towns, including Bratislava and Košice, than in their surrounding counties. In the Slovak majority area, literacy was higher in the counties with a higher percentage of Lutherans and lower in the counties with a Rusyn minority (see the right sidebar). In addition to Slovak and (or) Hungarian in grade school, those who went to high school (a minority of the population in the 19th century) also learned Latin and usually German.

Literacy now

The Slovak spelling system with its high match between the letters and pronunciation enables the students to read any Slovak text after the 1st grade, which also applies to the students in Slovakia's schools that teach all the subjects in Hungarian. Intellectual curiosity and education then decide to what level of sophistication people take their literacy from there. In simplified terms (see below), the spelling system generates 99% literacy. Under the circumstances, the Slovak Statistical Office does not trace literacy as a separate category, it is seen as subsumed under "education."

The exception are some of those Roma who did not learn Slovak or Hungarian at home, started school without speaking the language of education (no schools teach all the subjects in Romani), and did not manage to learn its spoken as well as written versions at the same time. Some of them may have remained illiterate in Slovak or Hungarian (as well as Romani) although they do not fall under the category of people with no education in the census. Ivan Mižgár, Mayor of the all-Romani village of Žehra, dropped out of middle school after the 6th grade, but his defense lawyer, Ivan Valko, used the argument of his apparent illiteracy before the mayor was sentenced for misuse of public funds in 2014.

0.36% people said they had "no education" in the 2001 census. The group comprised some old people who should have attended grade school in the Kingdom of Hungary, severely mentally challenged people, and likely pranksters.