The New International Encyclopædia/Czech language

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Edition of 1905. See also Czech language on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CZECH (chĕk) or BOHEMIAN LANGUAGE. The Czech language, like the Polish, Kashubian, and Sorbian, belongs to the northwestern group of the Slavic languages (q.v.). The number of persons speaking Czech, exclusive of the Slovaks, is about 6,000,000. Of these 3,650,000 are found in Bohemia, 1,550,000 in Moravia, 130,000 in Austrian Silesia, 300,000 in other Austro-Hungarian provinces, 30.000 in Russia, 100,000 in Germany, and 250,000 in America. The Czechs occupy the quadrangle bounded by the Bohemian Forest, the Erzgebirge, the Sudetic Mountains, and the Little Carpathians. They are thus surrounded on three sides by Germans, and only on the eastern side do the Czechs come in contact with Slavs: in Silesia with the Poles, and in southeastern Moravia and Hungary with the Slovaks, their nearest kindred, with whom the Czechs are usually grouped into the Czecho-Slovakian division. Within the quadrangle the Czechs are interspersed with Germans, against whom they have maintained a continuous struggle. (See Czech Literature.) Literary Czech is most nearly related to the dialect of the Prague district, but taken as a whole the Czech language presents a great variety of well-defined dialects.

The first mention of the existence of Czech dialects is found in Jan Blahoslav's Grammar (1571), published by Jireček in 1857. The Slavic alphabets used in the earliest times were superseded by the Roman characters on the establishment of Roman Catholicism instead of the earlier Greek Orthodox faith. The Latin alphabet was insufficient to reproduce all the native sounds, and diacritical letters were introduced. Thus, č = Engl. ch, ž = Engl. zh (as in pleasure), š = sh, while the acute accent is used to denote long vowels. Among the phonetic characteristics of the language may be noted: (1) Disappearance of the old Slavic sounds ŭ, ĭ, and their transition into e: Old Church Slavic sŭnŭ, sleep, dĭnĭ, day, lĭvŭ, lion, lĭva (id., gen. sing.) = Czech sen, den, lev, lva. (2) Substitution of open sounds u, ú and a, ě, e for the old Slavic nasal vowels a and e : muka, torture, nesu, I carry = Old Church Slavic maka, nesa; patero, five, deset, older desět, ten=Old Church Slavic petero, deseti. (3) The so-called transvocalization, whereby a becomes ě (e), á, ie (é, í): zeme, land, for zemía, dušě, soul, for *dušía, while u, ú = iu, iú, become i, í: duši for *dušu (acc. sing., ep. Russian dushu), duši for dušú (abl. sing., ep. Russian dushoyu), lid for *lud, people (Russian lyud). (4) The obliteration of distinction between y (=Engl ĭ) and i (Engl. ē) in pronunciation: býk, bull, mýš, mouse, sýr, cheese, are pronounced as if spelled bik, miš, sir; byl, I was, and bil, I beat, are pronounced precisely alike. (5) Syllabic or vocalic r, l, m, n: zrno, grain, srdce, heart, vlna, wave, wool, slny, strong, correspond to Russian zerno, serdtse, volna, silniy; Rožmberg Licmburk, represent German Rosenberg, Luxemburg. This peculiarity is common also to the Slovakian and Serbo-Horvatan (Serbo-Croat). (6) Long and short vowels: Short, a, e, i, o, u, y: long, á, é, í, ó, ú, ý. (7) The primary accent is expiratory or stressed, and is always on the first syllable of the word, as in Slovakian, Serbo-Lusatian, and South Kashubian. This accent has been proved to be an historical development of the primitive Slavic free accent. See Slavic languages.

The quantitative system of versification based on the Latin has been almost entirely superseded of late by the tonic system—more proper to the spirit of the Slavic languages. Among the inflectional pecularities of the language the following are most noteworthy: In declension of nouns—loss of dual; confusion of various stems; confusion of case-endings; change of quality and quantity of the root-vowels. In conjugation it comes very close to the primitive Slavic, retaining both the infinitive and the supine. All past tenses are periphrastic, and the forms of the future are either periphrastic—in verbs of incomplete or imperfective action—or are represented by the present in verbs of completed or perfective action.

From the point of view of euphony, the Czech language stands lower than the Russian or Polish, although superior to the latter in some particulars, as in the comparative rarity of sibilants and the absence of nasal vowels.

Slovakian. Along with the Czech language must be mentioned the Slovakian language, spoken by 2,500,000 persons in northwest Hungary and in America. Its literature is only a century old, and its independent development was entirely due to the great wave of national reawakening that swept over Europe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. The movement, communicated to the Czech language, spread to the kindred Slovakian. In spite of the serious opposition on the part of such prominent Bohemians as Havliček, Šafařík (q.v.), and Kollar (q.v.), himself a Slovak, a Slovakian literature was established. The pioneer of the movement was Antonin Bernolák (1702-1813), whose Dissertatio Philologica-Critica de Literis Slavorum, Grammatica Slavica (Presburg, 1790), and Lexicon Slavicum Bohemico - Latino - Germanico - Hungaricum (6 vols., Buda, 1825-27) supplied the foundation for Slovak literature. The other great names are: the poet Jan Hollý (1785-1849), Ljudevit Štur (1815-56), Josef Hurban, and Michael Hodž, who brought the language to its high standard of literary perfection. Among the more recent writers the following deserve especial mention: the famous Martin Hattala, one of the foremost of Slavic linguists; Svetozár Hurban Vajansky, son of Josef Hurban; the lyric poet Orsag Hvězdoslav, and the novelist Kukučin, a powerful portrayer of popular life and manners. The language in the works of these writers, though closely kindred to the Czech, exhibits many well-defined peculiarities which justify its classification as a separate branch. There are numerous works that are not found in the Czech language, and many features bring it nearer to the Russian, Polish, and Servian than to the Czech. Ethnographically considered, the Slovaks are yielding before the march of the stronger and politically dominant Hungarian nationality; but Sloaoak literature has received too strong a start to allow of any doubt as to its future development.

Bibliography. Grammars of the Czech language: Dobrovský, Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache (Prague, 1819); Hattala, Srovnávací mluvnice jazyka českého a slovenského (ib., 1857); Gebauer, Hláskosloví jazyka českého (ib., 1876); id., Mluvnice česka pro školy střední (ib., 1890), excellent; id., Historická mluvnice jazyka českého (ib., 1894, 1896-98),—in all four volumes are promised by the author of this epoch-making work; Vymazal, Böhmische Grammatik für deutsche Mittelschulen und Lehrerbildungs - Anstalten (Brünn, 1881)—although somewhat behind latest philological researches, a most practical and simple handbook; Masařík, Böhmische Schulgrammatik (5th ed., Prague, 1890).

Dictionaries of the Czech language: Jungmann, Slovník česko-německý (5 vols., Prague, 1835-39); Čelakovsky, Additions to Jungmann's Dictionary (Prague, 1851); Kott, Böhmisch-deutsches Wörterbuch, especially Grammatico-Phraseological (7 vols., Prague, 1878-93); Sumavský. Böhmisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (3d ed., Prague. 1874); Rank, Taschenwörterbuch der böhmisch-deutschen Sprache (6th ed., Prague, 1895).