History of the Czech Language

Czech is a West Slavic language, along with Polish, Serbian and Slovak, spoken by about 11 million people. There are 10 million Czech speakers who live in the Czech Republic and 1 million who live in North America. Czech is closely related to Eastern Slavic languages like Russian and Southern Slavic languages like Croatian. Czech is classified as an Eastern Indo-European language. Its dialects vary across the regions of the Czech Republic: Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

The Early History of the Czech Language

Czech has roots in Old Church Slavonic, a language brought to the area by Byzantine missionaries in the 9th century. Latin and German have also influenced Czech.

Czech in the Middle Ages

Old Czech was used from the 11th-14th centuries. The earliest version of Czech utilized the Latin alphabet. During the 13th century, speakers began to modify the Latin alphabet to accommodate for Czech sounds that did not appear in Latin. Czech literature began to appear in the 13th century.

Czech in the 16th century

Literary Czech became prevalent in the 1500´s. This coincided with the invention and availability of book printing. The first complete Czech translation of the Bible was created during this time. The first Czech grammar books also appeared during this period.

The Battle of White Mountain

This battle caused many Czechs to emigrate in the second half of the 17th century and for much of the 1800´s. During this time, literary Czech was not used widely except by expatriates. Only the spoken dialect was used in the country which resulted in an exaggeration of the differences between literary and spoken Czech.

The National Renaissance

This period in Czech history, from the late 1700´s to the mid 1800´s, is marked by an attempt to "purify" Czech by removing from the language any words with German roots. Also at this point the Czech vocabulary was renewed through the publication of the Czech-German dictionary. Czech scientists also worked to create a standardized Czech scientific terminology.

Czech and Governmental Transition

During World War II, Czech went underground because German was the official language. During communist rule, many of the similarities between Czech and Russian were identified and the communist government used this as a propaganda tool. After the fall of communism, Russian was not as widely spoken in the Czech Republic.

Modern Czech

Modern Czech has many Anglicisms, especially in the realm of business, computers, retail and popular culture. The two dialects of Czech, literary and spoken, began to resemble each other in the 20th century. Artistic literary works were written in a language closer to the spoken dialect. Journalism also developed. Common Czech, the spoken dialect, extended into regions of the Czech Republic where it had not previously been in use as a result of the media´s influence on Czech society.

Czech Grammar

Czech - Synthetic Language

Czech is a Slavic language that dates back to the 11th century. It belongs to the "synthetic" language group, which means that unlike English and other "analytical" languages, different grammatical aspects are expressed in one word by changing the structure of that word - adding an ending or prefix, modifying the core of the word, etc. In analytical languages such as English, the same is achieved by using separate auxiliary verbs, pronouns or adjectives while the actual word remains unchanged. In Czech, one word is often sufficient to express what English can only achieve by using multiple words.



In this example, the English verb "go" does not change and needs 1 - 3 "assistant" words (the pronoun and the auxiliary "will", "not" or "do"), whereas in Czech, the verb acts like an all-in-one package:
I go - jdu I will go - půjdu
you go - jdeš you will go - půjdeš will you not go? - nepůjdeš?
we go - jdeme we do not go - nejdeme

apple - jablko little apple - jablíčko
house - dům little house - domeček
Due to the synthetic nature of the language, Czech uses a rather complex system of declension and conjugation. Declension (modifications of a word to express various grammatical categories) affects nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and numerals, while conjugation relates to verbs.

Czech Orthography
The Czech language uses the Latin alphabet, expanded by several specific characters that are used only in Czech. These characters are:
Long vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú/ů, ý
Softening vowel: ě
Soft consonants: ď, ť, ň, ž, š, č, ř

Czech Pronunciation
Unlike English, Czech words are pronounced the way they are written. This is good news. It means that once you learn how to pronounce individual Czech characters, you will be able to pronounce any Czech word.

Stress is always on the first syllable of a word. That syllable is slightly emphasized, like in the English words "table", "memorize" (unlike the English words "December", "Barcelona").