Slovene has 21 distinctive consonant phonemes.
All voiced obstruents are devoiced at the end of words unless immediately followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a voiced consonant. In consonant clusters, voicing distinction is neutralized and all consonants assimilate the voicing of the rightmost segment. In this context, [v], [?] and [dz] may occur as voiced allophones of /f/, /x/ and /ts/, respectively (e.g. v?h drevésa ['? d'?e:sa]).
/?/ has several allophones depending on context.
The preposition v is always bound to the following word; however its phonetic realization follows the normal phonological rules for /?/.
The sequences /lj/, /nj/ and /?j/ occur only before a vowel. Before a consonant or word-finally, they are reduced to /l/, /n/ and /?/ respectively. This is reflected in the spelling in the case of /?j/, but not for /lj/ and /nj/. The reduction of non-prevocalic /lj/ and /nj/ occurs in standard Slovene, but not for certain dialects, where speakers use and in this position instead.
Under certain (somewhat unpredictable) circumstances, historical /l/ at the end of a syllable has become [w], the allophone of /?/ in that position. This change has occurred in the endings of all past participles. For many derivatives of words ending in [w] that historically had /l/, both [l] and [w] can be used, sometimes depending on the context it is being used in.
Jurgec proposes the existence of a ninth vowel /?/ that in traditional pronunciation (see below under Prosody) would rather be analyzed as a short /a/. However, since more recent studies indicate that native speakers do not actually phonemically distinguish long and short vowels and yet the distinction between /?/ and /a/ is quite consistently perceived, and moreover there is a noticeable distinction in quality and a lesser distinction in quantity between these two vowels, there is reason to treat these two sounds as two different phonemes.
The near-open /?/ can only appear in the word-final stressed syllable before the syllable coda, as in ?as ['ts] 'time'. Due to the restrictions stated above, the open /a/ usually appears in its place in other declinational forms of the same word: ?asa ['t?asa], not ['tsa], 'time (gen.)'. The analysis as two different phonemes is also reinforced by the fact that in some words the phoneme /a/ appears in the very same position that would permit /?/, leading to a phonemic contrast: pas ['pas], not ['p?s], 'belt'.
Jurgec also states that in the tonemic varieties of the language, the near-open vowel /?/ can carry only the high tone (see below), which is "parallel to the pattern for the [/?/, /?/ and /?/]." He also notes that similarly to /?/, the schwa /?/ likewise only appears in closed syllables, i.e. as the nucleus before the syllable coda. On the basis of these observations he concludes that the near-open vowel /?/ "behaves in a systematic way within the vowel system of Slovenian."
According to Jurgec (2007), /?/ is inserted epenthetically, and its distribution is fully predictable. He also says that "[d]escriptions of schwa distribution are offer[ed] in lexical rather than grammatical terms. These were also based on historical data and did not consider actual speech of educated speakers in Ljubljana, nowadays considered standard."
The dialectal distribution of /e/ vs. /?/ and /o/ vs. /?/ is inconsistent with the distribution in Standard Slovene. This influences the way speakers of such dialects speak Standard Slovene.
Slovene has been traditionally described as distinguishing vowel length, which correlates with stress and is therefore discussed in the prosody section, below. The distinction between /?/ and /e/, and between /?/ and /o/ is only made when they are stressed and long. When short or unstressed, they are not distinguished: short stressed variants are realized as open-mid [?, ?], while the unstressed variants are, broadly speaking, true-mid vowels [e?, o?]. In fact, however, the unstressed mid vowels have two realizations:
The unstressed mid vowels are never as close as the stressed close-mid vowels /e, o/ and never as open as the stressed open-mid vowels /?, ?/. However, ?u?tar?i?, Komar & Petek (1999) report true-mid allophones [e?, o?] of the close-mid vowels /e, o/ occurring in the sequences /ej/ and /o?/, but only if a vowel does not follow within the same word. One could therefore argue that the unstressed mid vowels are simply allophones of the close-mid vowels, whereas the open-mid vowels do not occur in unstressed positions. Another argument for transcribing the unstressed mid vowels as /e, o/ is that these symbols are easier to write than /?, ?/.
In the colloquial spoken language, unstressed and most short stressed vowels tend to be reduced or elided. For example, k?p ('heap') > [kp], právimo ('we say') > [p?âwmo].
Slovene has free stress: stress can occur on any syllable and is not predictable. The same word can be stressed quite differently in different dialects. Most words have a single syllable that carries stress. Some compounds, but not all, have multiple stressed syllables, inherited from the parts that make up the compound. There are also a few small words and clitics, including prepositions, that have no inherent stress at all and attach prosodically to another word.
Slovene is traditionally analysed as having a distinction between long and short vowels. Stress and vowel length are closely intertwined:
Vowel length carries a low functional load: it is distinctive only in stressed final syllables, which can be either long or short. In other syllables, however, whether vowel length or stress, or both, are phonemic depends on the underlying phonological analysis. Generally speaking, stress and length co-occur in all but the final syllable, so one feature or the other is phonetically redundant in those words.
Recently, scholars have found that vowel length in standard Slovene is no longer distinctive, and that the only differences in vowel length are that the stressed vowels are longer than the unstressed ones, and that stressed open syllables are longer than stressed closed syllables. Stressed syllables are characterized by amplitude and pitch prominence.
The standard language has two varieties, tonemic and non-tonemic. Tonemic varieties distinguish between two tones or pitch contours on stressed syllables, while non-tonemic varieties do not make this distinction. The tonemic varieties are found in a north-south band in the center of the country (the Upper and Lower Carniolan dialect groups, part of the Carinthian dialect group, and some dialects in the Littoral dialect group). Dialects in the eastern and south-western part of Slovenia are non-tonemic. However, because the Slovenian capital city Ljubljana is located within the central tonemic dialect area, phonemic tone was included in the standard language, and in fact the tonemic variety is more prestigious and is universally used in formal TV and radio broadcasts.
The two tones are:
The exact distribution and phonetic realization of tonemes varies locally. In Standard Slovene, some words may have either an acute or circumflex tone, with the chosen tone differing by speaker. Unless otherwise noted, this article discusses the tonemes as they are realized in Standard Slovene spoken in Ljubljana.
Not all types of syllables have a distinction between the two tones:
This leads to the following possible combinations of tone, length and vowel quality:
The non-tonemic system is identical to the tonemic system above in terms of vowel length and stress, but lacks any phonemic tone. This means that, for those dialects, the first and second rows merge, as do the third and fourth. Similarly, for speakers who do not distinguish short and long vowels, the first and third rows merge, as do the second and fourth. An exception to this is the traditional /á/, which does not merge with /á:/. Instead, the former is realized as .
The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun.
['sè:rni '?é:t?r in 'só:nts? sta s? p'pì:rala - ka'tè:ri ?d 'njì:ju j? m?t?'nè:j?i - k? j? 'mì:m? pri'? p?'pò:tnik - za'?ì:t ? 't:p 'plà:?t?]
Sverni vt?r in s?nce sta se prepírala, katri od njíju je mo?nj?i, ko je mímo pri? poptnik, zav?t v tópe? plá.