Q: How did the Slovaks write?
The Kingdom of Hungary's language of administration and higher education was Latin until the late 18th–early 19th century, Slovaks often published in that language until then. A few of their academic works came out in German in the 19th century. The first brief non-Latin notations by the Slovaks began to appear in the 14th century, the first known printed book came out in the 16th century.
The written standard stabilized in the early 17th century, split into two standards (Catholic and Lutheran) toward the end of the same century, the Catholic standard was modified in the late 18th century, and both written standards were consolidated and shifted to a single substantially altered written standard in the mid-19th century, which has been maintained through the present.
Early written standard
The first comprehensive texts from the 15th century adopted the written standard of Prague. Most of them were record-keeping and correspondence. The earliest such comprehensive text is the municipal law of the Town of Žilina from 1473, shorter ones have been preserved from the 1420s on. Standardization of the European languages other than Latin remained much looser than it is now through the 18th century, a number of the texts written by Slovaks diverged from the adopted standard too.
1581 First print
The first printed book came out in Bardejov in 1581. It was a translation of The Small Catechism by Martin Luther, quickly followed by a new translation in 1585 that has been preserved only as a manuscript. The first book says nothing about how the translator, perhaps Severinus Sculteti (Severín Škultéty in modern spelling), viewed its language. The translator of the second one, Ján Pruno, said he was using "Latin-Slovak."
1620s Modified local standard
While still largely based on the written standard of Prague, Slovak writing developed features that never occurred in the original standard and also ceased adopting its new features that began to appear in the Kingdom of Bohemia. A translation of Luther's Small Catechism published in Bytča in 1612 called its language "Czech," its translation published in Levoča in 1634 was labeled "Slovak" and so was the hymnal published there in 1636.
1660s+ Dual standard
As the persecution of the Lutherans by the Habsburgs intensified, the written standard used by the Slovaks bifurcated. From the first Catholic book, a hymnal, in 1655, the growing numbers of the Catholic clergy adopted and honed the standard that had taken root by the 1620s (also retained by some Lutherans in informal writing), while religious strife impelled them to break resolutely with one of its sources (see next).
The same circumstances altered the trajectory of the written standard used by the now reduced numbers of those who fought to remain Lutheran. The Kralice Bible, a Protestant translation in a style that was already archaic when it was published in the neighboring Margraviate of Moravia in 1579-1594, became an article of survival for them, which they now began to imitate scrupulously in their high literature, but also in other writing.
1746 Lutheran manual of style
Pavol Doležal (spelled Paullus Doleschalius in the book) published his manual of style in Bratislava, where he was a pastor at that time. It retained the archaic style based on the Kralice Bible, which he called the "Slovak-Czech language," as the written standard for the educated and noble Slovaks in the Kingdom.
Doležal's manual both acknowledged that the written language of the Slovak sophisticates differed in certain features from the strict Kralice Bible standard and rejected changes in the Prague written standard that had taken place in the Kingdom of Bohemia in the preceding centuries.
1750-1758 Zemplín standard
As an isolated occurrence, five religious books were published in Debrecen for the needs of about 10,000 Slovak Calvinists in Zemplín County. The language was anchored in the local dialects, the spelling was adopted from Hungarian.
Writing in a mixture of eastern vernaculars with limited features of the Štúr-Hattala standard (see "Unified standard" below) and in Hungarian spelling resurfaced in schools in Spiš, Šariš, and Zemplín counties in the 1870s-1910s when the Kingdom's authorities tried to fracture the standard negotiated by the mid-19th century.
The mixture of styles was used in the first Slovak-American periodical, Bulletin, that began to appear in Pittsburgh in 1885. It was picked up by its influential successor Amerikanszko-Szlovenszke Novini (American Slovak Newspaper) launched in Pittsburgh in 1886, which cautioned in its first issue that it was not using "pure Slovak" and gradually converted to the Štúr-Hattala standard (Amerikánsko-Slovenské Noviny) between 1888 and 1891.
Anton Bernolák (Antonio in his works), a nobleman and student at the Bratislava seminary then, published his manual of style that reinforced the Slovaks' local written standard largely respected from around the 1620s, later mainly by the Catholics (also some Lutherans in their informal writing).
Bernolák said he chose the written works typical of Central Slovakia as his model. Because of the origins of the Slovaks' writing and because of Bernolák's profession, few of the features he standardized were from conversational Central Slovak – most were anchored in the written tradition as used by most Slovaks, including those he selected, and in the south-western regional variety of Slovak used in Trnava, the seat of the Kingdom's Jesuit University until it was transferred to Budapest in 1777. Many of them had already been part of the written standard in use from the early 17th century.
Pure Slovak or True Slovak?
A few years after the first Slovak newspaper began to publish in 1783, it carried a discussion in readers' letters whether it was more appropriate to publish it, as it was, in the standard some described as "pure Slovak" (Lutheran), or in what some others called "true Slovak" (Catholic).
Activists among the Lutherans and the Catholics agreed on a unified standard anchored in the conversational language used by the educated in the north-central counties of Liptov (especially around Liptovský Mikuláš) and Turiec. The reform was conceived and the first manual of style written by Ľudovít Štúr (spelled Ludevít then), a linguist, activist, and former assistant professor of Slovak at the Lutheran Lýceum (preparatory high school and college) in Bratislava.
Some controversy followed until 1852 when, after yet another agreement among activists including Štúr, it was replaced with a modified manual of style by Martin Hattala, a Catholic theologian and later professor of linguistics in Prague. His manual made the spelling more archaic and substituted some of the Central Slovak features with West Slovak features typical of earlier standards. (See "Zemplín" above for schools in the eastern counties in the 1870s-1910s.)
The essence of Štúr's written standard modified by Hattala has remained in effect through the present.