The Czech language is a relatively old language, particularly compared to others in areas near to the Czech Republic. The name Czech, or Cestina, comes from a Slavic word to describe a particular tribe called Cech. They inhabited Central Bohemia, and indeed, “Czech” was called “Bohemian” until the 19th century. The word Bohemian comes from the English word describing the Celtic Boii tribe who inhabited a particular Czech state since around the 4th century BC.
“Czech” is pronounced “check” by English speakers, though it can be referred to as Czechia. The inclusion of the “z” tends to worry or alienate people beginning to learn this language. There are two distinct dialects of the Czech language that are highly dependent on where you are in the country. Common Czech is the version that is spoken majoritively in Bohemia, and is the most popular version.
There are many differences between the two forms, with one of the main ones being the pronunciation of vowels. Common Czech has considerably more open vowels than the other main form of Czech. This other form is spoken predominantly in Moravia and Silesia, and is very musical in sound.
There are over 12 million native speakers of the Czech language, with the majority of them in the Czech Republic. It is the official language of the Czech Republic, as well as one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. It is spoken in many countries around the world, such as Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, and the United States, though even in the Czech Republic not everyone speaks the Czech language.
Other languages spoken in the Czech Republic include English and German, with a little Russian as well, though the majority of the Czech Republic inhabitants are Czech, with 94% speaking the Czech language as their own native language. Aside from Prague and Vienna, interestingly, Chicago is the country in the world with the most Czech speakers, showing that the inhabitants and the language has spread throughout the globe.
Aurally, the Czech language sounds very similar to Slovakian, due in part to the fact that some words actually have no vowels, such as vlk meaning wolf. A popular example to illustrate this is a phrase that has no vowels at all, “strc prst skrz krk”, which humorously means “stick a finger through your throat”, and is also in reference to the sound that the language can often make.
This is not as difficult to pick up as it might seem, and the sounds that are created by this lack of vowels in certain words is actually very similar to certain American pronunciations of words such as “hotter”, where the second syllable is not emphasized very much at all. Perhaps surprisingly, there are still ten vowels in the Czech language, which are considered to be individual phonemes, with five short and five long vowels making up this ten.
There is a little contention as to whether there are really five or ten vowels, but regardless, there are ten differing pronunciations that one needs to get to grips with to begin to handle the Czech language. Words in Czech do not rely on inflection or intonation of the speaker to convey meaning, though stresses do denote boundaries between words.
Why Learn The Czech Language?
Czech itself is very similar in terms of composition and grammar to Slovakian, which means that if you have knowledge of one of these languages then it is very easy to learn the other. There are many beautiful tourist attractions in the Czech Republic, and over 1% of the population are employed by the tourist industry in some way. The city of Prague, as well as the many beautiful spa towns, draws in many visitors. The Czech language is a rich and beautiful one, and is bound to enhance your stay in the Czech Republic.