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Czech Language


Czech (ceština) is one of the West Slavic languages, along with Slovak, Polish, Pomeranian (Kashubian), and Lusatian Sorbian. It is spoken by most people in the Czech Republic and by Czechs all over the world (about 12 million native speakers in total). Czech is very close to Slovak and, to a lesser degree, to Polish. Czech and Slovak are usually mutually intelligible, however people born after ~1985 may have difficulty understanding the few words that differ significantly, or understanding fast spoken language. Most adult Czechs and Slovaks are able to understand each other without difficulty as they were routinely exposed to both languages on Czechoslovak national TV and radio until its dissolution.

As in all Slavic languages (except modern Bulgarian and Macedonian), many words (especially nouns, verbs, and adjectives) have many forms (inflections). In this regard, Czech and the Slavic languages are closer to their Indo-European origins than other languages in the same family that have lost much inflection. Moreover, in Czech the rules of morphology are extremely irregular and many forms have official, colloquial and sometimes semi-official variants. The word order serves similar function as emphasis and articles in English. Often all the permutations of words in a clause are possible. While the permutations mostly share the same meaning, it is nevertheless different, because the permutations differ in the topic-focus articulation. As an example we can show: Ceši udelali revoluci (The Czechs made a revolution), Revoluci udelali Ceši (It was the Czechs who made the revolution), and Ceši revoluci udelali (The Czechs did make a revolution).

The phonology of Czech may also be very difficult for speakers of other languages. For example, some words do not appear to have vowels: zmrzl (froze to death), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), ctvrthrst (quarter-handful), blb (fool), vlk (wolf), and smrt (death). A popular example of this is the phrase "strc prst skrz krk" meaning "stick a finger through your throat" or "Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh." meaning "Morel full of spots wetted from fogs". The consonants l and r, however, function as sonorants and thus fulfill the role of a vowel (a similar phenomenon also occurs in American English, for example bird is pronounced as [brd] with a syllabic r). It also features the consonant r, a phoneme that is said to be unique to Czech and quite difficult for foreigners to pronounce. To a foreign ear, it sounds very similar to zh, though a better approximation could be rolled (trilled) r combined with zh, which was incidentally sometimes used as an orthography for this sound (rž) for example in the royal charter of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1609. The phonetic description of the sound is "a raised alveolar non-sonorant vibrant" which can be either voiceless (terminally or next to a voiceless consonant) or voiced (elsewhere), the IPA transcription being, however this is contested as not representing the r sound properly.

Dialects

In the Czech Republic three distinct koine, or interdialects can be found, all corresponding more or less to geographic areas within the country. They differ from standard Czech, creating some form of diglossia. The first, and most widely used, is "Common Czech", spoken in Bohemia. It has some grammatical differences from "standard" Czech, along with some differences in pronunciation. The most common pronunciation changes include -ý becoming -ej in some circumstances, -é becoming -ý- in some circumstances (-ej- in others), and the insertion of prothetic v- at the beginning of some words starting with o-. Also, noun declension is changed, most notably the instrumental case. Instead of having various endings (depending on gender) in the instrumental, Bohemians will just put -ama or -ma at the end of all plural instrumental declensions. Also pronunciation changes slightly, as the Bohemians tend to have more open vowels than Moravians. This is said to be especially prevalent among people from Prague.

The second major interdialect is spoken in Moravia. This dialect has some totally different words from standard Czech. Unlike in Bohemia, Moravia tends to have more local dialects varying from town to town. For example in Brno, tramvaj (streetcar or tram) is šalina (originating from German "ElektriSCHELINIE"). Everyday spoken form in Moravia would be a mixture of given interdialect, remnants of old local dialect, some Standard Czech forms and sometimes also Common Czech. The most notable difference is a shift in used prepositions and case of noun, for example k jídlu (to eat - dative) becomes na jídlo (accusative). It is a common misconception that the use of Standard Czech in everyday situations is more frequent than in Bohemia. The Standard Czech became de-facto standardized with a new translation of the Bible (Bible of Kralice) using an older variant of the then-current language (for example, preferring -ý- to -ej-). These older forms are still prevalent in Moravia. Moravians, however, tend to say that they use "proper" language, unlike their Bohemian brothers.

The third major dialect - Teshen Silesian - is spoken in Silesia, centered around the city Ostrava. This dialect, too, is grammatically sound and closer to Standard Czech, but in this dialect people speak very quickly, and the long vowels become the same as their short counterparts. These shortened vowels are also sometimes emphasised, as opposed to emphasising the initial syllable as common in all other variants of Czech.