I love saying the word Czech. Even more so, I’m excited to review it, if only to find other possible words to repeat.
I’m not the only one either. About a month ago, my friend Patrick, who has visited the Czech Republic during his time abroad in Europe, distinctly remembers it as one of the most beautiful languages he’s ever heard. I hope I have that experience!
So, let’s check in with Czech. Did you know that the modern day republic is the original land of Bohemia? You might have guessed Germany like I did. Historians trace the beginning of the Czech state to founder Praotec Čech and his tribe, who settled there in 644. For several centuries, Bohemia was known as a kingdom and later became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Around the 13th and 14th centuries, Bohemia saw a rise in German immigration, which would make up a large portion of the population for centuries.
One of the biggest events to hit Bohemia were the Hussite Wars, predecessor to the Protestant Reformation. In the 1400, Jan Hus, a professor from Prague, criticized the Church’s power and influence at the time. Although the King went along with Jus’s claims, Jus didn’t back off on his criticism, which ignited a fury from the Catholic Church and unfortunately led to Hus’s execution, in which he was burned at the stake. Even after Hus’s death, war raged between Catholic supporters and Hussites for the rest of the 15th century. The wars were brutal to the population.
Eventually the Hapsburgs, who controlled Austria-Hungary, took control of nearby Bohemia. During their rule, this period would be known as the Dark Age in Czech history. The Hapsburg rulers banned Protestants and made Catholicism the only religion, which caused the population to drop dramatically. Bohemia’s population also suffered greatly from war, famine and invasions from the Ottoman Empire.
Thousands more would lose their lives in WWI, before Czechoslovakia, the mother of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, was formed in 1918. The period after this had just as much strife, as Czechoslovakia was essentially annexed by Hitler, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Czech citizens and many more who were sent to concentration camps. After WWII, Old Bohemia would fall under the wings Communism, becoming part of the Iron Curtain. It wouldn’t be until the late 1980s when Czechs formed a new democracy and later two separate countries, known as the Velvet Revolution. Despite its rough patches, the Czech Republic has become the most successful ex-Communist country of all of Europe, with a very healthy economy and high Human Development Index.
WRITING SYSTEM: Much credit to the modern Czech language can be given to Hus, who modified the already existing Latin alphabet by adding letters with diacritics, which appear below. A lot of the letters resemble the ones in English, so I just added pronunciation only for some consonants but all the vowels (thanks to Phespirit). All the letters with diacritics are long vowels and are highlighted:
A a – uh as in huh
Á á – a as in draw
C c – cz as in czar
Č č – ch as in check
Ď ď – du as in duel
E e – e as in bet
É é – ai as in pair
*Ě ě – a “ye” sound as in yes
CH ch – ch as in loch
Í í – e as in me
J j – a y sound
Ň ň – a “nya” sound as in onion
O o – o as in hot
Ó ó – aw as in yawn
Q q (only in loan words)
R r – r as in rat, but rolled like a Spanish r
Ř ř – (a rolled “er” sound as in bourgeois, crossed with ž below – no similarities in English)
Š š – sh as in shut
Ť ť – tu as in tune
U u – u as in push
Ú ú / Ú ú – oo as in fool
W w (only in loan words)
X x (only in loan words)
Y y – i as in bit
Ý ý – e as in me
Ž ž – su as in pleasure
*Ě ě is not actually a vowel. It’s in the Czech alphabet only for historical reasons.
Czech is also influenced by Old Church Slavonic, which you might remember from the South Slavic languages, like Bulgarian and Macedonian. We can also sprinkle in some German, as the huge population of immigrants there throughout contributed to the Czech language.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Patrick, you were right — this language does sound beautiful, if not sexy (can I say that?). It sounds a lot softer than its Slavic cousins, although you can still tell its from that branch in the Indo-European family. I am, however concerned about the ability to actually pronounce words so beautifully. For example, Czech words are known for not having vowels (take for example vlk, which means wolf), in which an r or l functions as one. But this is the only possibly issue I see.
Has Czech swept me off my feet? I don’t know yet. But here’s a really interesting video by a Czech band called Kryštof.