Origins and history of the language

Czech is spoken by approximately 12 million people, thereof over 10 million in the Czech Republic. It is a West Slavic language most similar to Slovak and Polish. Czech belongs to the family of Indo-European languages with Slavish origins.

The first Czech language developed short after the first Bohemian state that emerged in the late 9th century when it was unified by the Premyslid dynasty. The oldest development stage of the Czech language called proto- czech can be found at the end of the 10th century despite there being no written texts.

At that time there was no Czech grammar. Texts were written in primitive orthography which used the letters of the Latin alphabet without any modification for sounds which Latin language did not have.

It was not until the 15th century when the number of literary language users increased and the Czech language was also asserted in the administrative sector.

The most significant opus was the Bible of Kralice (1579-1593). It is the first complete Czech translation of the Bible from the original languages by the Unity of the Brethren in the Czech language at the instigation of Charles the IV.

In the Baroque period after the Battle of the White Mountain (Bil á Hora) the Czech intelligentsia emigrated due to the confiscations. The function of the literary language was limited; it left the scientific field first, then the literary world and finally the administration.

Only the spoken language continued its development in the country. As a consequence of strong isolation, the differences between dialects deepened. Especially, the Moravian and Silesian dialects developed divergently from common Czech.

During the National Renaissance, occurring from 1780‘s to the 1840‘s, significant political and social changes caused migration of the rural population to towns enabling the implementation of the ideas of the Czech nationals for the renewal of the Czech language.

At the end of the 16th century Komensky’s work and Dobrovsky’s grammar became the starting point for the new codification of literary Czech. There were also attemps to erase Germanisms from the language. Josef Jungmann’s five-part Czech-German Dictionary (1835–1830) contributed to the renewal of Czech vocabulary.

Since the 1840‘s literary Czech has not been an exclusive matter of the intellectual classes. The spoken language was established in journalism and art. During the 20th century, the orthography of foreign words were "Czechified" with respect to their pronunciation, especially writing z instead of s and marking the vowel length (e.g. gymnasium > gymnázium).

Social changes after World War II in 1945 contribute to a gradual diminishing of differences between dialects. Since the second half of the 20th century, common Czech elements have also been spreading to regions previously unaffected, as a consequence of the media's influence.

Where it is spoken

Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic and is one of the 23 official languages in the EU since May 2004. It is of course spoken by the inhabitants of the Czech Republic and also used by courts and state authorities. It is also spoken as a minority language in Austria, Bulgaria, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Dialects

Czech is divided into four dialects corresponding to geographic areas within the country.

The first, and most widely used, is "Common Czech", spoken especially in Bohemia. The most common pronunciation changes include -ý becoming -ej in some circumstances, -é becoming -ý- in some circumstances e.g. mléko (milk) is pronounced mlýko.There is also a typical unofficial dialect spoken in the capital which contains different words concerning values of money. For exampleis ‘sto korun‘ ( 100 Korunas) is ‘kilo‘.

The second is divided between the middle and eastern Moravian dialect. Despite it being very close to the Bohemian form of Common Czech it contains some words that are different from its standard Czech equivalents. For example in Brno, tramvaj (tram) is “šalina“. The people of Moravia also pronounce the words in a shorter way.

The third one is Silesian dialect which is influenced by both Czech and German.

A special case is the Cieszyn Silesian dialect, spoken in the region of Cieszyn Silesia by the ethnic Polish minority. The dialect itself is a dialect of Polish but with strong Czech and German influences.

Interesting facts

The most interesting fact about Czech language is that it has lot of words which do not contain vowels. There exists a whole sentence without a single one: ‘strĉ prst skrz krk‘(put your finger through your throat). It it also the only language with the letter ‘ř’ which is a kind of soft r. Therefore it is very difficult for foreigners to learn and pronounce the language in a correct way.

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