Czech: Ahoj!

Talk about great expectations.

My thrill of Czech is mostly gone. I still think the language is beautiful and lovely, but there was one thing that completely slapped me in the face …


Yes, Czech noun cases made my head spin! But more about that later.

SUMMARY: The original tongue of the Bohemians, Czech dates back the the 7th century, in which its namesake founder Praotec Čech and followers first settled in the region. Like the other Slavic languages I reviewed, it draws a lot of history from Old Church Slavonic, a liturgical language. Much of the credit for modern Czech can be given to Jan Hus, who not only founded a religious movement that rivaled Catholicism at the time, but reformed the language’s alphabet from its Latin base. Soon, Czech became more widely used and became a language of intellects and literature. When the 20th century arrived, modern Czech had begun to resemble its spoken form.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: Like I mentioned before, I liked everything I had read and heard about Czech. But when I got to declensions, I tuned out.

First, let’s talk about gender in nouns. There are three: words can either be masculine, feminine or neuter. For masculine words, there’s even another sub-category: animate or inanimate.

There are seven noun cases:

1) nominative (general who/what subjects)

2) genitive (possessive)

3) dative (usually indirect objects)

4) accusative (think of the word “whom”)

5) vocative (an indicator, like “Come here, Jan” with Jan being in the vocative case)

6) locative (indicates a noun’s location)

7) instrumental (when a noun shows that the subject uses that noun to complete an action)

Of these, genitive, accusative, locative and instrumental don’t really appear in English, which could make it a challenge to learn Czech nouns. (Although one could say we don’t really deal with declensions in general because we use prepositions for everything.) For each case, there are different suffixes that attach to words. There are also singular and plural forms of these; which one to use depends on the gender and nominative form of the the noun. Adjectives are a little simpler because they change according to the gender; possessive adjectives are made through a noun’s animate, singular form (e.g., mother to mother’s would go from matka to matčin in Czech).

Despite these complexities, Czech has a really simple tense system: past, present and future. The future tense is slightly confusing because some Czech words don’t have a present tense (some actions are already done or have yet to be completed), so the future tense form mistakenly looks like it would be present tense.

I think Czech has the most complex declining system I have ever seen, hands down. To be honest, I’m not sure if I summarized everything or if I even get the gist of it. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the types of declensions that exist (grammar 101), which threw a wrench in trying to get acquainted with the language. I think this would be a huge hurdle in trying to actually learn Czech.

Random: What does Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” sound like in Czech? I bet you’re dying to know …

Anyway …

Intelligibility: 2
Complexity: 2
Resonance: 2
Continuation: 2

COMING UP: Albanian

7 thoughts on “Czech: Ahoj!

  1. I actually think that verbs are much harder than declinating nouns, adjectives and pronouns. Yes, we do have many cases but they aren’t impossible to understand. It just takes a lot of memorazing of suffixes, I guess. What I do see as a problem for foreigners that want to learn Czech is the fact that verbs fall into two cathegories: perfective and imperfective. As you had mentioned, there are only 3 tenses in Czech, which means that we often use an different word (mostly formed by adding all kinds of prefixes, but sometimes entirely different) to express the same action but in a different tense. I think that concept might be quite hard to grasp because it requires you to adapt a different style of thinking when forming a sentence.

  2. I would tend to agree with Bitter Chocolate. I’ve been speaking Czech all my life but still couldn’t explain the concept of perfective/imperfective verbs to someone else. I just use them instinctively. Still, I can see how to a native English speaker the noun declensions would be daunting. (But I seem to recall hearing once that Finnish has 14 noun cases?)

  3. Enjoying plowing through this… belatedly, of course.
    Genitive does occur in English: ‘s (John’s).
    And Finnish has about 15 cases, so it’s a bit more complex than Czech!

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