Czech language

Czech language (chĕk) [key], in the past sometimes also called Bohemian, member of the West Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). The official language of the Czech Republic, it is spoken by about 11 million people, of whom over 10 million reside there and close to 1 million of whom are in Slovakia and North America combined. Grammatically, Czech has seven cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, instrumental, and vocative) for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. It is not necessary to use personal pronouns with verbs since person and number are clearly shown by the verb endings; however, personal pronouns may be used for emphasis. In the pronunciation of Czech the stress always falls on the first syllable of a word, but this accentuation is not shown by diacritical marks such as accents. A sharp distinction is made between long and short vowels, and an acute accent (´) is used to indicate where vowels are lengthened, i.e., where their pronunciation is relatively protracted. A hook or inverted circumflex (ˇ) over a consonant is the sign that the consonant is palatalized, or pronounced with the tip of the tongue on the palate. The earliest surviving record of Czech is in the form of glosses in a Latin manuscript of the 11th cent. A.D. The period of Old Czech, the oldest stage of the language, is usually placed in the 11th to 14th cent. At that time there were many dialects. A Czech literature began to take shape in the 13th cent. Standardization of the spelling and pronunciation of the language occurred during the Middle Czech period of the 15th and 16th cents., largely as a result of the work of John Huss, the celebrated Czech religious reformer, who made the Prague dialect the basis of his far-reaching linguistic reforms. The modern period of Czech began in the 17th cent. The domination of the Czechs by the Hapsburg rulers of Austria from 1620 to 1918 seriously hampered the development of the Czech language and literature, although a national literary revival began in the 18th cent. After independence was regained in 1918, the language and literature of Czechoslovakia again began to flourish. Czech was one of two official languages (the other being Slovak) of Czechoslovakia, and remained the official language of the Czech Republic after Czechoslovakia was dissolved in 1993. A modified version of the Roman alphabet is used for writing Czech.

See W. E. Harkins, A Modern Czech Grammar (1953); R. G. A. de Bray, Guide to the Slavonic Languages (rev. ed. 1969); M. Heim, Contemporary Czech (1982).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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