Linguist: “I don’t like Czechia – but I think it will be adopted”

Karel Oliva

Proponents of “Czechia” got a boost this month, when Olympic officials in Prague asked the International Olympic Committee to register it in its database of country names. But will the short name ever replace the official “the Czech Republic” in common speech? I discussed the matter with leading Czech linguist Karel Oliva.

Czechoslovakia in 1919 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

“The first time when Czechia was used was in the 17th century. The story is that in the 17th century it already used to be used, in parallel with Bohemia, in Latin.

“I don’t know about English. I’m a little bit reluctant to say that it was used in English; I don’t think so, but I’m not sure

“The story is, however, that at that time it was really a synonym of Bohemia, so actually it did not also comprise Moravia and Silesia.

“Today, however, the usage should be – as I understand it – different.

“It should be the whole of the Czech Republic, which means Bohemia and Moravia and the part of Silesia which remained after the wars with Prussia.”

Photo: Official site of the Czechia initiative

A lot of people are invested in this issue and I see a lot of arguments online. People get really angry about the history of the name Czechia, whether it’s fake, whether it’s real. But if you’re introducing a new name like this, does it really matter if it has a history?

“I’m not so sure that people are so agitated by the English name.

“As far as I know, the problem is in Czech, with the Czech word Česko, which corresponds to Czechia.

“Then the discussions are really fervent, mostly between the older and the younger generations.

“I myself have two positions. I’m kind of schizophrenic.

“On the one hand I’m a native speaker of Czech, and on the other I’m a linguist.

“As a linguist I can say, It doesn’t matter, the name is just a name, there’s nothing particular in it.

“On the other hand, I didn’t grow up with Czechia or Česko.

“And then there are the connotations with the word Tschechei used by the Nazis.

“So I would say professionally, or rationally, I don’t mind.

“But so to speak aesthetically I don’t like it.”

Photo: Official site of the Czechia initiative

Is it possible to push people, to force people to change their usage? Or do the linguists kind of have to follow how the public speak?

“Generally, it should be the second option.

“Linguistics is just the study of language. This is, so to speak, a professional viewpoint.

“On the other hand, if the Foreign Ministry decides to use Czechia in official papers, then I think, OK.

“The real problem with the official name, the Czech Republic, is that it’s too long for everyday usage.

“So even though I don’t like it, I guess that during some decades it will simply be adopted.”