10 Facts About Czech: Vowels, Cases and Slovak

The Czech language, previously known as Bohemian, is a Slavic language and the official language of the Czech Republic. It’s also an official language of the European Union and a recognized minority language in several other countries!

The Czech Republic (or Czechia and formally Bohemia) borders Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. It’s a landlocked country with no sea access. After the Second World War, the Nazi-occupied European territories in the area were reinstated as a country named Czechoslovakia. By 1993, both Czechia and Slovakia had returned to their status as individual countries, but their linguistic influence remained.

A Few Interesting Facts About Czech

1. Czech is a minority language in several countries with high Czech populations

These countries are: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

2. Slovak is so similar to Czech that the two are almost entirely mutually intelligible (with some differences)

To a smaller extent, both languages are also very close to Polish.

3. Within the Slavic Languages, Czech belongs to the West Slavic group

Starting with the Indo-European origin language, Czech can be traced as so:

Indo-European (Eurasia and North Africa, pre-colonial)
Proto-Balto-Slavic (Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia, parts of Central Asia)
Balto-Slavic (as above)
Proto-Slavic (Southern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, and the Russian Far East)
Slavic (as above)
West Slavic (Central Europe)
Czech-Slovak (Dialect continuum)
Czech (Modern)

Within the West Slavic branch there are also Slovak (Czech-Slovak branch), the Sorbian branch (Upper and Lower Sorbian, and the Lechitic branch (Polish, Pomeranian, and Polabian [now extinct], and the Pomeranian sub-branches of Kashubian and West Pomeranian [now extinct]).

4.Czech words sometimes don’t have any vowels at all

Because of the sounds and the 25 consonants in their alphabet, words tend to be made of complicated combinations of consonants.

5. The Czech alphabet uses Latin letters and is made up of 42 letters

Upper caseLower caseSounds like
Aa“u” as in “bun”
Áá“a” as in “blather”
Bb“b” as in “bat”
Cc“ts” as in “tots”
Čč“ch” as in “chip”
Dd“d” as in “drum”
Ďď“dy” as in “Duel”
Ee“e” as in “bed”
Éé“ai” as in “stair”
Ěě“ye” as in “yeti”
Ff“f” as in “fear”
Gg“g” as in “gold”
Hh“h” as in “heat”
CHch“ch” as in “loch”
Ii“I” as in “bit”
ÍÍ“ee” as in “Lee”
Jj“y” as in “yell”
Kk“k” as in “kitten”
Ll“l” as in “loss”
Mm“m” as in “moat”
Nn“n” as in “night”
Ňň“ny” as in “bunion”
Oo“o” as in “bot”
Óó“oh” as in “floor”
Pp“p” as in “pain”
Rr“r” as in “rat”
Řř“rzh” as in “bourgeoise”
Ss“s” as in “son”
Šš“sh” as in “wash”
Tt“t” as in “tan”
Ťť“ty” as in “literature”
Uu“u” as in “bush”
Úú“oo” as in “fool”
Ůů“oo” as in “fool” (as above)
Vv“v” as in “victory”
Yy“i” as in “fit”
Ýý“ee” as in “tree”
Zz“z” as in “zap”
Ž ž“zh” as in “pleasure”
Q / X / Wq / x / wOnly used in words from other languages, pronounced as they are in those languages

6. 98% of the Czech population speak Czech as their first language

This is the third highest number in the European Union to speak their official language as a first language, coming after Greece and Hungary (99% Greek/Hungarian as a first language).

7. Czech is the highest spoken non-English language (apart from Spanish) at home in several US counties

These include Saunders, Butler, and Valley Counties in Nebraska, Republic County, Kansas, and a dozen more in these states as well as Texas, Minnesota, and North Dakota. More Americans speak Czech as their first language than Swedish (as an example).

8. The meaning of a Czech sentence depends on the word order

Though technically a subject-verb-object structured language like English, in reality the Czech language is free flowing depending on meaning. The last word of a sentence is emphasized to distinguish meaning. For example, in the sentence Kočka jí maso (the cat eats the meat) could be emphasized in the following ways:

Czech sentenceEnglish emphasisMeaning
Kočka jí masoThe cat ate the meatThe cat ate meat rather than something else
Maso jí kočka The cat ate meatNobody else ate the meat
Kočka maso jíThe cat ate the meatThe cat ate it rather than doing something else with it
Jí kočka maso?Did the cat eat the meat?A question without any particular emphasis

An upward tone at the end of a statement can also indicate a question.

9. There are seven cases in Czech, as well as genders to words, different words for living and nonliving objects, and other modifications

Pluralization of words also varies depending on the case, type, and group. The seven cases are:

NumberOrdinalCzechEnglishUsed for
1.první pádnominativnominativeSubjects
2.druhý pádgenitivgenitiveNoun adjuncts, possession, motion, time and location prepositions
3.třetí páddativdativePrepositions of motion, indirect objects
4.čtvrtý pádakuzativaccusativeDirect objects, motion and time prepositions
5.pátý pádvokativvocativeForms of address
6.šestý pádlokállocativeLocation, time and topic prepositions
7.sedmý pádinstrumentálinstrumentalPassive, instruments, location prepositions

10. Several English words originate from Czech or Bohemian

Some examples are: pistol, polka, pram, and robot. 

Final Thoughts

As a language of a country with a storied history of assimilation and occupation by different forces, it’s important to learn about and preserve knowledge of Czech as a significant aspect of our global culture. Learning about languages keeps them alive, and it helps bring people closer together.

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