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Do you speak Interslavic?

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Warsaw, Poland – Slavs of the world, unite! But first, from Prague to Moscow, Warsaw to Kyiv and Sofia to Skopje, a common language might prove a useful step in bringing together Slavic nations.

Have you heard of Interslavic?

That at least is the premise for the invention of Interslavic (Medžuslovjanski), a made-up and artificial language – like Esperanto, whose first manual was incidentally published in Warsaw in the late 19th century – created more than fifteen years ago to facilitate communication and mutual understanding between Slavic speakers.

Spearheaded by Czech professor of computer science Vojtěch Merunka and Dutch linguist Jan van Steenbergen in 2006, Interslavic is designed to be instantly intelligible for speakers of Slavic languages, without requiring in-depth study or arduous learning.

The language has ancient roots, dating back to the Old Church Slavonic of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century.

Updated with a modern approach to linguistics, Interslavic used computer software and mathematics to identify the vocabulary, grammar, syntax and spelling that can be intuitively understood and spoken by the greatest number of speakers of a dozen Slavic languages (Czech, Slovak, Polish, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian).

According to co-creator Vojtěch Merunka, there had already been more than 50 attempts at creating a common Slavic language in the last 300 years, with most of them failing at formulating clear grammatical rules, and doing the mistake of using it as a “high-level language for the Arts” which, as he explains, “always will be the domain of national language because each national language has its own spirit, its own nature and its own culture.”

Interslavic, on the other hand, is mainly designed as a helping tool to facilitate communication and understanding in practical, daily life situations, by determining the most common denominator between a group of languages which, as they stand now, are only partially mutually understandable.

Bringing Interslavic to life

In 2012, a real-life test offering leaflets written in Interslavic to groups of tourists from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Russia was relatively successful, as most of them didn’t have too much trouble understanding the texts.

Although initially used with the Latin alphabet, Interslavic is now also available in the Cyrillic alphabet to be accessible throughout the entire Slav world, with the ambitious goal of replacing English as the region’s lingua franca.

But with only several thousand registered fluent speakers, Interslavic still has a long way to go to facilitate communication between hundreds of millions of people.

In 2019, its use in the World War II drama The Painted Bird, directed by Czech filmmaker Václav Marhoul and based on a 1965 novel by Polish-American author Jerzy Kosiński, may be the kind of initiative needed to increase its appeal as fictional works did with other invented languages like Elvish, Dothraki, Klingon or Nadsat (A Clockwork Orange’s idiom, interestingly also largely inspired by Russian and Slavic languages).

Would you like to get started? Many books and tools are available for both Slavic and non-Slavic speakers to get acquainted with the language, as well as an online dictionary to get a feel of how Interslavic has been constructed.