Facts About the Czech Language
Czech belongs to the Slavic languages of the Indo-European language family, and it has more than 11.5 million speakers around the globe. It is the oldest of all Slavic languages. Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic, but it is also spoken in the USA, Austria, Canada, Slovakia, and Germany. Czech is also one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. 96% of the Czech Republic’s population speaks Czech.
The Czech language has three main dialect groups: Czech, Hanakian, and Lach, which are further divided into subgroups. There are four dialects: Bohemian, Cieszyn Silesian (spoken in southern Poland and sometimes considered a Polish dialect with strong Czech influences), Moravian, and Silesian.
The origins of Czech date back to around the 10th century when, just like other Slavic languages, it started to split off from the old Slavic parent language.
Until the end of the 13th century, Czechs used the Latin alphabet without any modifications; however, to accommodate the growing volume of texts, they developed a writing system that allowed them to represent intrinsically Czech sounds with no equivalents in the Latin alphabet more accurately. It was introduced in the early 15th century. For several centuries both digraphs (pairs of letters representing the same sound) and letters with diacritical marks were used. Diacritical marks are still used in the Czech language today, while the only remaining digraph is ‘ch’.
The literary Czech language developed during the 14th–16th centuries on the basis of the Middle Czech, or Prague, dialect, but it was during the 18th century that it flourished into what we know it for today.
The first book in Czech was already printed in 1468, which is also the very first book in any of the Slavic languages. The first grammar book was published in 1533. After the suppression of the reformation movement in the 17th century, Latin re-established itself as the primary language in Czech writing. Books in Czech were destroyed, and the secretly published texts were rewritten as manuscripts.
Due to historic reasons, the Czech Republic’s legislation regarding the use of language in the country is rather strict: both the official and mass media communication shall be in Czech only. Efficient Czech language learning programmes are offered to non-residents in all of the biggest cities for a symbolic fee. Only a few national universities and separate faculties (natural and technical sciences) offer studying in English.
Literary Czech is very different from colloquial speech. The writing system is based on the Latin alphabet and consists of 42 graphemes, including letters with diacritical marks. Czech spelling is largely phonetic – each sound is represented by a certain letter. The alphabet includes: A, Á, B, C, Č, D, Ď, E, É, Ě, F, G, H, Ch, I, Í, J, K, L, M, N, Ň, O, Ó, P, Q, R, Ř, S, Š, T, Ť, U, Ú, Ů, V, W, X, Y, Ý, Z, Ž. Double consonants in the middle of words are pronounced short, for example, in ‘Anna’ [ana]. Some words are particularly difficult for foreigners to pronounce due to clusters of consonants. This language has an advanced system of declensions and conjugations, while word order in sentences is relatively free.
Nouns have a gender, number and case. Gender is either neuter, feminine, or masculine. Number is either singular or plural. Nouns have seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, locative, and instrumental. Some nouns are exclusively singular and some, plural, while other nouns (mostly body parts that come in pairs) still retain their old plural forms.
The Czech language distinguishes between hard and soft nouns. Hard nouns are mostly the ones with stems ending in hard consonants, while soft nouns are the ones with stems ending in soft consonants. Masculine nouns are declined differently: they are divided into nouns that refer to living beings and nouns that refer to objects.
Loan words are usually adapted, inflecting them according to Czech grammar rules. Adjectives have three comparative forms. Interestingly, the superlative form is also used to indicate a lower degree of a certain quality.
The Czech language consistently stresses the first syllable of the word. Every odd syllable in multisyllabic words receives a secondary stress. There are some exceptions that are never stressed: short forms of personal pronouns and all forms of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’.
Speakers of the Czech and Slovak languages have no trouble understanding each other as these two languages are very similar.
Language code: ISO 639-1: cs