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English Grammar Lessons for Czechs

 

Speaking Czech Language in America

Immigration of Czechs from Europe to the United States occurred primarily from 1848 to 1914. Czech is a Less Commonly Taught Language in U.S. schools, and is taught at Czech heritage centers. Large communities of Czech Americans live in the states of Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The American city of "New Prague" is in Minnesota. In the 2000 United States Census, Czech was reported as the most-common language spoken at home (besides English) in Valley, Butler and Saunders Counties, Nebraska and Republic County, Kansas. With the exception of Spanish (the non-English language most commonly spoken at home nationwide), Czech was the most-common home language in over a dozen additional counties in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Minnesota. As of 2013, 70,501 Americans spoke Czech as their first language (49th place nationwide, behind Turkish and ahead of Swedish).

 

The Czech Language

Czech (/ˈtʃɛk/; čeština Czech pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃɛʃcɪna]), historically also Bohemian (/boʊˈhiːmiən, bə-/; lingua Bohemica in Latin), is a West Slavic language of the Czech–Slovak group. It is spoken by over 10 million people and is the official language of the Czech Republic. Czech is closely related to Slovak, to the point of being mutually intelligible to a very high degree.

Czech RepublicThe Czech phoneme inventory is moderate in size, comprising five vowels (each short or long) and twenty-five consonants (divided into "hard", "neutral" and "soft" categories). Words may contain uncommon (or complicated) consonant clusters, including one consonant represented by the grapheme ř, or lack vowels altogether. Czech orthography is simple, and has been used as a model by phonologists.

In 2005 and 2007, Czech was spoken by about 10 million residents of the Czech Republic. A Eurobarometer survey conducted from January to March 2012 found that the first language of 98% of Czech citizens was Czech, the third-highest in the European Union (behind Greece and Hungary).

Czech, the official language of the Czech Republic (a member of the European Union since 2004), is one of the EU's official languages and the 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that Czech was the foreign language most often used in Slovakia. Economist Jonathan van Parys collected data on language knowledge in Europe for the 2012 European Day of Languages. The five countries with the greatest use of Czech were the Czech Republic (98.77%), Slovakia (24.86%), Portugal (1.93%), Poland (0.98%) and Germany (0.47%).

Czech speakers in Slovakia primarily live in cities. Since it is a recognized minority language in Slovakia, Slovak citizens who speak only Czech may communicate with the government in their language to the extent that Slovak speakers in the Czech Republic may do so.

The main vernacular is "Common Czech", based on the dialect of the Prague region. Other Bohemian dialects have become marginalized, while Moravian dialects remain more widespread, with a political movement for Moravian linguistic revival active since the 1990s.

 

West Slavic Language History

The Czech-Slovak group developed within West Slavic in the high medieval period, and the standardization of Czech and Slovak within the Czech–Slovak dialect continuum emerges in the early modern period. In the later 18th to mid-19th century, the modern written standard was codified in the context of the Czech National Revival. The main vernacular, known as Common Czech, is based on the vernacular of Prague, but is now spoken throughout most of the Czech Republic. The Moravian dialects spoken in the eastern part of the country are mostly also counted as Czech, although some of their eastern variants are closer to Slovak.

Czech is classified as a member of the West Slavic sub-branch of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. This branch includes Polish, Kashubian, Upper and Lower Sorbian and Slovak. Slovak is by far the closest genetic neighbor of Czech, and the languages are closer than any other pair of West Slavic languages (including Upper and Lower Sorbian, which share a name by association with an ethnic group).

The West Slavic languages are spoken in an area classified as part of Central Europe. Except for Polish they differ from East and South Slavic languages by their initial-syllable stress, and Czech is distinguished from other West Slavic languages by a more-restricted distinction between "hard" and "soft" consonants.

 

Medieval Czech / Old Czech

The term "Old Czech" is applied to the period predating the 16th century, with the earliest records of the high medieval period also classified as "early Old Czech", but it is also possible to speak simply about "Medieval Czech".

Around the 7th century, the Slavic expansion reached Central Europe, settling on the eastern fringes of the Frankish Empire. The West Slavic polity of Great Moravia formed by the 9th century. The Christianization of Bohemia took place during the 9th and 10th centuries. The diversification of the Czech-Slovak group within West Slavic began around that time, marked among other things by its ephemeral use of the voiced velar fricative consonant (/ɣ/) and consistent stress on the first syllable.

The Bohemian (Czech) language is first recorded in writing in glosses and short notes during the 12th to 13th centuries. Literary works written in Czech appear in the early 14th century and administrative documents first appear towards the late 14th century. The first complete Bible translation also dates to this period. Old Czech texts, including poetry and cookbooks, were produced outside the university as well.

Literary activity becomes widespread in the early 15th century in the context of the Bohemian Reformation. Jan Hus contributed significantly to the standardization of Czech orthography, advocated for widespread literacy among Czech commoners (particularly in religion) and made early efforts to model written Czech after the spoken language.

 

Early Modern Czech

There was no standardization distinguishing between Czech and Slovak prior to the 15th century. In the 16th century, the division between Czech and Slovak becomes apparent, marking the confessional division between Lutheran Protestants in Slovakia using Czech orthography and Catholics, especially Slovak Jesuits, beginning to use a separate Slovak orthography based on the language of the Trnava region.

The publication of the Kralice Bible between 1579 and 1593 (the first complete Czech translation of the Bible from the original languages) became very important for standardization of the Czech language in the following centuries.

In 1615, the Bohemian diet tried to declare Czech to be the only official language of the kingdom. After the Bohemian Revolt (of predominantly Protestant aristocracy) which was defeated by the Habsburgs in 1620, the Protestant intellectuals had to leave the country. This emigration together with other consequences of the Thirty Years' War had a negative impact on the further use of the Czech language. In 1627, Czech and German became official languages of the Kingdom of Bohemia and in the 18th century German became dominant in Bohemia and Moravia, especially among the upper classes.

 

Modern Czech Language

The modern standard Czech language originates in standardization efforts of the 18th century. By then the language had developed a literary tradition, and since then it has changed little; journals from that period have no substantial differences from modern standard Czech, and contemporary Czechs can understand them with little difficulty. Changes include the morphological shift of í to ej and é to í (although é survives for some uses) and the merging of í and the former ejí. Sometime before the 18th century, the Czech language abandoned a distinction between phonemic /l/ and /ʎ/ which survives in Slovak.

With the beginning of the national revival of the mid-18th century, Czech historians began to emphasize their people's accomplishments from the 15th through the 17th centuries, rebelling against the Counter-Reformation (the Habsburg re-catholization efforts which had denigrated Czech and other non-Latin languages). Czech philologists studied sixteenth-century texts, advocating the return of the language to high culture. This period is known as the Czech National Revival (or Renaissance).

During the national revival, in 1809 linguist and historian Josef Dobrovský released a German-language grammar of Old Czech entitled Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache (Comprehensive Doctrine of the Bohemian Language). Dobrovský had intended his book to be descriptive, and did not think Czech had a realistic chance of returning as a major language. However, Josef Jungmann and other revivalists used Dobrovský's book to advocate for a Czech linguistic revival. Changes during this time included spelling reform (notably, í in place of the former j and j in place of g), the use of t (rather than ti) to end infinitive verbs and the non-capitalization of nouns (which had been a late borrowing from German). These changes differentiated Czech from Slovak. Modern scholars disagree about whether the conservative revivalists were motivated by nationalism or considered contemporary spoken Czech unsuitable for formal, widespread use.

Adherence to historical patterns was later relaxed and standard Czech adopted a number of features from Common Czech (a widespread, informal register), such as leaving some proper nouns undeclined. This has resulted in a relatively high level of homogeneity among all varieties of the language.

The modern written standard is directly based on the standardization during the Czech National Revival in the 1830s, significantly influenced by Josef Jungmann's Czech-German dictionary published during 1834–1839. Jungmann used vocabulary of the Bible of Kralice (1579–1613) period and of the language used by his contemporaries. He borrowed words not present in Czech from other Slavic languages or created neologisms.

 

Czech Language Dialects

Czech and Slovak have been considered mutually intelligible; speakers of either language can communicate with greater ease than those of any other pair of West Slavic languages. Since the 1993 dissolution of Czechoslovakia, mutual intelligibility has declined for younger speakers, probably because Czech speakers now experience less exposure to Slovak and vice versa.

Apart from the Common Czech vernacular, there remain a variety of other Bohemian dialect, mostly in marginal rural areas. Dialect use began to weaken in the second half of the 20th century, and by the early 1990s dialect use was stigmatized, associated with the shrinking lower class and used in literature or other media for comedic effect. Increased travel and media availability to dialect-speaking populations has encouraged them to shift to (or add to their own dialect) standard Czech. Although Czech has received considerable scholarly interest for a Slavic language, this interest has focused primarily on modern standard Czech and historical texts rather than dialects.

The Czech dialects spoken in Moravia and Silesia are known as Moravian (moravština). In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, "Bohemian-Moravian-Slovak" was a language citizens could register as speaking (with German, Polish and several others). Of the Czech dialects, only Moravian is distinguished in nationwide surveys by the Czech Statistical Office. As of 2011, 62,908 Czech citizens spoke Moravian as their first language and 45,561 were diglossal (speaking Moravian and standard Czech as first languages).

Beginning in the sixteenth century, some varieties of Czech resembled Slovak; the southeastern Moravian dialects, in particular, are sometimes considered dialects of Slovak rather than Czech. These dialects form a continuum between the Czech and Slovak languages, using the same declension patterns for nouns and pronouns and the same verb conjugations as Slovak.

 

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