Skip Menu

Country and Language

Czech Language History

Czech is a Slavic language and so it has developed from the old Slavic language, Proto-Slavic, at the end of the first millennium. At that time, literature already existed in the Czech territory thanks to Slavic apostles Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius, who brought the new script (Glagolitic script) to Great Moravia in 863 on a mission and translated several Christian texts into Old Church Slavonic. The Old Church Slavonic language was probably based on a south-Slavic dialect (Cyril and Methodius came to Great Moravia from Thessaloniki), while Proto-Czech was a western dialect of Proto-Slavic language. In this period, however, the Slavic languages (more precisely the dialects of Proto-Slavic) were still mutually intelligible. Old Church Slavonic is still used under the name "Church Slavonic Language", but only as a liturgical language of the Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Church. The use of Old Church Slavonic as a religious language lasted only until 1097 on the Czech territory, when count Břetislav II ordered Slavic monks to be expelled from the Sázava Monastery. From that time on, Latin was used as a religious and a literary language, along with Latin script.

At that time, the level of education and literature was confined to a narrow group of people, especially the clergy. The first Czech written documents are two sentences from the foundation charter of the Litoměřice Chapter of 1057, which are likely to be older, probably from the 12th century. They are: Pavel dal jest Ploškovicích zemu. Vlach dal jest Dolas zemu Bogu i svjatemu Scepanu se dvema dušníkoma Bogucos a Sedlatu. Further, annotations of the choral book of St. George (St. George's annotations) survive from the late 13th century. These texts were written with primitive spelling, using the Latin alphabet even for those sounds that did not exist in Latin.

In the 14th century, Czech was gaining ground both in literature and in official communication. The books written in Czech have been preserved from this period. Charles IV commissioned the first translation of the Bible into Czech. Diacritic orthography started being used. At the turn of the 14th and 15th century, Jan Hus supported the Czech orthographic reform which lead to implementing diacritic marks into Czech.

The substantial development of Czech written literature occurs after the invention of the printing in the 15th century. The Bible was translated (i.e. the Bible of Kralice - the first translation of the Bible into Czech. It was not translated from Latin but from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew).

After the defeat of the Lords Rebellion in 1620, there was a gradual decline of the literature written in Czech, especially due to the emigration of Czech non-catholic intellectuals (Jan Amos Comenius, Pavel Stránský etc.). At this time Czech literature was subject to strict censorship. In 1627 and 1628 the Renewed Provincial Establishment introduced German as the second official language in Bohemia and Moravia. Efforts to introduce German as the official language in all countries of the Habsburg monarchy were attempted in the 18th century (under Maria Theresa, Joseph II). These efforts, however, were unsuccessful. Then the abolition of serfdom facilitated a development of a movement known as the National Revival in the late 18th century.

The National Revival represents an era in the 19th century during which there was a major restoration of the Czech language as a literary language and as an official language. An important milestone was the publication of a Czech Grammar book in 1809, created by Josef Dobrovský (an irony of history is that the book is written in German). Further efforts are associated with the name of Josef Jungmann, who led a group of revivalists, thanks to whose efforts a Czech-German Dictionary in five volumes was created from 1834-9. There was the development of modern literature (e.g. the work of Karel Hynek Mácha, in the spirit of Romanticism) and journalism. The reform of the literary language was performed based on the Bible of Kralice, and the form of Czech at this time more or less corresponds to today's Czech. However, due to the Revivalists' reverence for the outdated language of the Kralice Bible, which they used as a model for their grammars and dictionaries, a gap emerged between the everyday, colloquial language, and the learned language of literature

The collaborators of Dobrovský, thanks to their specialisation, helped restore the Czech language to such a degree that it was possible to express modern scientific and philosophical knowledge in Czech. This was largely due to the creation of specialized Czech terminology, which until then did not exist. The work of the brothers Jan Svatopluk and Karel Bořivoj Presls should also be mentioned. The former focused mainly on mineralogy, chemistry, zoology and botany. Much of Svatopluk's terminology is still in use today, for example: kopretina, kukuřice, tuleň, vorvaň, myš domácí or klokan (= marguerite, corn, seal, sperm whale, house mouse or kangaroo). Czech, along with Croatian, which borrowed Presl´s word for kangaroo, are reportedly the only languages in the world that do not use the original term derived from the language Guugu Yimithirr, in which kangaroo is gangurru.

Up