Czech 101

Czech [ˈʧɛk] (čeština [ˈʧɛʃ.cɪ.na]) 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 (especially those of Hungarian origin) 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 the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Czech television, in particular the commercial Czech TV channels, are still quite popular among the audience in Slovakia. On the other hand, due to some immigration from Slovakia, the Slovak language is being propagated throughout the Czech Republic.

As in most Slavic languages (except common nouns in 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: Češi udělali revoluci (The Czechs made a revolution), Revoluci udělali Češi (It was the Czechs who made the revolution), and Češi revoluci udělali (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 solid), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), čtvrthrst (quarter-handful), blb (fool), vlk (wolf), and smrt (death). A popular example of this is the phrase "strč 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 ř, 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 [r̝], however this is contested as not representing the ř sound properly.

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