The first written records in Slovenian language can be traced as far back as the 8th century AD. The collection of documents known under the name Brižinski spomeniki (Freising manuscripts), written in 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, are the first examples of lithurgical texts in Old Slovenian. More texts of similar nature were written in the following centuries, evidently intended for Slovenian congregations.
The beginning of Slovenian language literacy occurred in the 16th century, brought about by the Protestant religious reform in Slovenia, in the person of Primož Trubar (1508-1586), undoubtedly the father of Slovenian letters.
Slovenian language burst forth with twenty-two books written by this great and extraordinary man. They were primarily translations of religious literature – He began in 1550 with Cathechism and Abecedarium, by 1555 he had published the Gospel of St.Mathew, Calendar, Letters of St. Paul to Corinthians and Galatians, Prayer and Hymn books, complete New Testament by 1977, the innovative Slovenian Church Rules, King David Psalms and others. They were intended to bring the word of god to the common uneducated people of Slovenian lands – in his forewords he addressed them as »moji lubi Slouvenzi« (my dear Slovenes) – so that they could read them in their own language and understand the teaching. It was religion and education at the same time, and he published the ABC reader along with Cathechism, to assist in the reading.
It was an incredible achievement. Primož Trubar had to make a choice among the diversity of Slovenian dialects that would set the standard for the literary language. He chose the Ljubljana speech, the central dialect, spoken by the majority of Slovenian population of the time, fundamentally a combination of major dialects of Dolenjska (Lower Carniola), where Trubar was born, Gorenjska (Upper Carniola) and Notranjska (Inner Carniola).
He also had to select the script – having the choice between the gothic and the latin script. His first two published books were printed in gothic script, the subsequent ones in latin alphabet. He also had to make a decision about the writing of the sounds š, č, ž (eng. sh, ch, zh). The feat of translating the New Testament, Song of David and Pauline Letters into a language spoken by the common people, in a way which they would understand, was astounding. Trubar is by right called the father of Slovenian literature. His influence was enormous. His books marked the beginning of national awareness with language as unifying element.
Trubar lay the foundation for written Slovenian. Before the end of the 16th century Jurij Dalmatin completed the Old and New Testament. It was published and distributed in 1584 – the first complete Slovenian bible, numbered among the first twelve bibles of the reformation in national languages.
During the anti-reformation the publications in Slovenian language slowed down. The language of administration and commerce was German, the language of learning Latin. Slovenian was spoken in the country and in the church, in the towns both Slovenian and German was used in communication.
It took the upheavals of the French revolution and humanism, for another upsurge of national awareness in Slovenian lands at the beginning of 19th century. Napoleon’s occupation of Slovenia stands out as a significant event in Slovenian history, in that it became for short space of time part of an Illyrian, i.e. Slavic state with Ljubljana as the capital. Slovenian language for the frst time began to be used by the townspeople. It also received the recognition by the official introduction of Slovenian as language of instruction in elementary school. Beside confirming Slovenian identity for the townspeople, this move brought the education within the reach of the country people.
It was a time of a great upsurge for Slovenian language. The priest and poet Valentin Vodnik(1758-1819) published Yearbooks with calendar and practical advice to farmers and wrote fresh and memorable Slovenian patriotic poems. The librarian and linguist Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) published the first definitive Slovenian grammar in 1808. The lawyer France Prešeren (1800-1848), the first and greatest Slovenian poet, published a string of brilliant poems, that marked the first great peak of Slovenian literature.
By the end of the 19th century Slovenian literature reached another peak with the four poets of the so-called Slovenska moderna, on the par with the highest European literary achievements.