0.1 Location and number of speakers
Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic, which is bordered by Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia (see map in 0.3). In 1996 the population of the Czech Republic numbered over 10.3 million, and there are significant emigre populations abroad, particularly in the USA, Canada, and Australia. The Czech Republic began its independent existence in 1993 when its separation from Slovakia broke up the former Czechoslovakia.
0.2 Relation of Czech to other languages
Genetically, Czech is a West Slavic language (West Slavic includes Czech,
Slovak, Sorbian, and Polish; East Slavic includes Russian, Belarusian,
and Ukrainian; South Slavic includes Slovene, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and
the language traditionally known as Serbo-Croatian). The people of Moravia
were the first Slavs to achieve literacy in their own tongue when, in 862,
two Byzantine missionaries, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, arrived to baptize
them and translate for them liturgical texts into what we now know as Old
Church Slav(on)ic, a South Slavic language comprehensible to all Slavs
at the time. The saints mission was short-lived and Moravia, increasingly
under Frankish control and the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome, soon established
the use of Latin and the Latin alphabet. The introduction of diacritical
marks to make the Latin alphabet more versatile (s and sh could now be
distinguished by s versus š), is associated with the early 15th century
theologian Jan Hus. In 1526, the crowning of Ferdinand I as King of Bohemia
marked the beginning of the control of the Czech lands by the Habsburg
dynasty, and the pressure to enforce the use of German at the expense of
Czech mounted over the following century until, after the defeat at White
Mountain in 1620, the Czech language went into a period of two hundred
years of decline and disuse. Not until the National Revival beginning in
the early 19th century did Czech begin to reassert itself as a literary
and official language.
The long period of domination by German-speaking authorities, during which Czech was eclipsed from the public arena, and the fact that much more than half of the perimeter of the nation borders on German-speaking lands, resulted in a pronounced German influence on Czech which, though particularly apparent in slang and colloquial lexicon and also manifest in calques and syntactic loan-translations, has also had a pronounced influence on the languages grammar and syntax.
Czechs closest genetic relative is Slovak, and until the 18th century Czech served as the literary language for both nations. Since 1918, up until the Velvet Divorce of 1993, Czech and Slovak were fairly equally represented in the Czechoslovak media, so that Czechs and Slovaks could acquire at least a passive knowledge of each others languages. Still, Slovak was certainly influenced more by Czech than Czech by Slovak, though the former did adopt a few words from the latters lexicon.
Between 1948 and 1989 the political dominance of the Soviet Union and years of compulsory Russian classes in Czech schools brought Russian words into Czech despite considerable resistance to this influence. At the present time, though, English is by far the largest source of borrowings into Czech.
As will be noted from the map, most of the peripheral zones of the Czech Republic belong to no specific dialect group. These border areas (the so-called Sudeten lands; gray areas on map) were formerly inhabited by German speakers ousted at the end of World War II and then resettled by Czech speakers from various other parts of the country. Although there are many other features in the dialectal differentiation, the two largest dialect groups can be classified according to their differing treatment of certain etymologically long vowels (length is indicated by acute accent mark) as Bohemian (the central and western dialects upon which the standard language is based) and Hanák Moravian (the eastern dialects). Both dialect groups have raised original long mid vowels, but whereas Hanák Moravian has also lowered original long high vowels, Bohemian has diphthongized these vowels:
ý > ej
é > ý/í
ú > ou
ó > ú
ý > é
é > ý/í
ú > ó
ó > ú
These two dialects can be seen as two stages in the development of high and mid vowels, where the Moravian dialects show the more complete evolution:
Diphthongizations in Czech
(dotted lines indicate changes completed in Hanák dialects)
The Lachian Silesian and mixed Polish-Czech dialects of the northeast serve as a transition to Polish, characterized as they are by loss of vowel length, penultimate stress and consonantism similar to Polish. The Moravian-Slovak dialects of the southeast serve as a transition to Slovak, characterized by retention of ú and of back vowels after palatal consonants.
After the protracted domination of Czech by German in the 17th-18th
centuries, Czechs went back to their Kralice bible of the 16th century
as a model for constructing their modern literary language in the 19th
century. Vernacular Czech had, of course, continued to evolve in the intervening
two centuries, and there is, hence, a pronounced gap between the spoken
and literary languages in all aspects of the language: phonology, morphology,
syntax, and lexicon. In comparison with the vowel shifts experienced in
the Bohemian dialects, for example, only ó > ú(ù) has been fully realized
in the literary language; ú > ou is almost entirely restricted to noninitial
positions, é > ý/í is not realized in most phonological and morphological
environments, and ý > ej is entirely absent. Recent orthographic manuals
have suggested acceptance of certain phonological and morphological colloquial
features in written texts, and a number of previously samizdat
dictionaries of slang and colloquialisms have been published addressing
lexical issues, but the gap between the two codes remains considerable.
This grammar of Czech will focus primarily on Literary Czech (LCz), but
will note some of the most important deviations common in Colloquial Czech