Introduction to ABC of Czech

Hello and welcome to the first in our new series of programmes dedicated to the Czech language. Every Wednesday, the tune you've just heard will tell you that another mystery of the Czech language is going to be dealt with shortly.

The series is called "The ABC of Czech", partly because we are going to look at the basics, or the "abc", of the language, but also because we are going to follow the letters of the alphabet and choose topics the individual letters stand for. So for example, M is for "money" and that means that in the "M" episode we shall be examining various situations related to money and finances that a foreigner might encounter here in the Czech Republic.

But today's episode is just an introduction, so let me first tell you a few basic facts about the Czech language. Czech is the official language in the Czech Republic. It is a Slavic language, similar in grammar and vocabulary to other Slavic languages, such as Russian, Polish and especially Slovak. In the old days of Czechoslovakia, Czechs and Slovaks could understand each other with no difficulties because they were in everyday contact with the other language of the bilingual state. But almost ten years after the split, the young generation in particular has problems understanding certain words.

The language came to these parts with the first Slavic tribes that started settling here around the 6th century AD. Czech gradually developed into a language of both culture and administration in the Czech Kingdom. In the middle of the 17th century (after the Thirty Years War and approximately 100 years after the Habsburg dynasty came to the Czech throne), Czech started going into decline as a written language and instead, German became the language of the elite - a process which culminated with the centralisation of the Habsburg Monarchy in the second half of the 18th century. However, the 18th and 19th century were the time of many national revival movements in Europe and the Czech lands were no exception. In those days, Czech regained its position in national culture and science. The status of the language was confirmed with the foundation of the independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. During the Nazi occupation, German again became the official language but after the war Czech and Slovak were restored as Czechoslovakia's two official languages. During the 50-year communist rule authorities often used the Czech language as a political tool, emphasizing its closeness to Russian. Since the fall of communism in 1989, the language has opened up to the world and soaked up various influences from other languages, mainly English.

Czech, like every living language has regional varieties, the greatest being between Bohemia and Moravia.

And that's all we have time for today. Next week we'll look at the letter "A" and the alphabet. Until then na shledanou or good bye.

See also Living Czech.