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Country and Language

Czech as a Slavic Language

Czech belongs to the Slavic languages (which are a part of the Indo-European language family), which are characterized by richly developed flexion, i.e. the principle of "bending" of words. One word (e.g. pes = a dog) exists in a number of other forms (psa, psovi, psem, psi, psy, etc.) depending on its grammatical or syntactical function. Czech has two numbers (singular and plural), in which seven cases are distinguished (one word can have up to 14 different forms, but in reality, many forms are homonyms and the word function is derived from the context). In verbs, there are (like in other Indo-European languages) three personal forms (the first, which refers to the speaker, the second that refers to the listener, and the third, which refers to the subjects that are currently not participating in communication), two numbers (singular and plural), and three tenses (past, present and future).

Slavic languages are divided into three groups: a) West Slavic group which includes: Czech, Polish, Slovak (also Sorbian Kashubian), b) East Slavic group (Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian), c) South Slavic group (Serbian, Montenegrin, Bosnian, Croatian, Macedonian and Bulgarian).

The language which is closest to Czech is Slovak. It is reported that speakers of one language are able to understand 95% of the other language without ever having to study it. Among other reasons, this is because the Czech Republic and Slovakia were part of one country with two official languages from 1918 till 1992. Even mass-media were broadcasted in Czech and Slovak - radio (from May 18th, 1923) and TV (regularly from February, 25th, 1954).For Slavic speakers, it is relatively less difficult to learn to speak Czech thanks to the similarity of their mother tongue to Czech and their systemic resemblance. On the other hand, it is harder for them to unlearn a number of Slavic differences, typically various endings of the inflective system or an accent. Non-Slavic speakers who are learning Czech, on the contrary, do not have this problem, they are learning Czech "from scratch". Metaphorically, the process of learning the Czech language for non-Slavic speakers can be likened to building a house on an empty field (more or less, according to the country of origin and knowledge of other languages), in the case of Slavic speakers it is rather a home remodeling.

Vocabulary is predominantly of Slavic origin. Czech and related Slovak retain 98% of the Proto-Slavonic vocabulary, more than any other Slavic languages. Czech borrowed a series of words from other languages, especially (as regards professional terms) from Greek and Latin (e.g. filozofie nebo škola), from German (šunka), from Russian (vzduch), from Italian (musical terminology), from French (expressions in fashion) and from English (sports terms and recently expressions in the field of IT).

It is not possible to say how many words Czech has (Czech - like every living language - is still developing). However, it is said that Czech has 300,000 root words (kinds of word stems from which specific forms of words are made by using endings). So far the largest dictionary {i}Příruční slovník jazyka českého{/i} (The Handy Dictionary of the Czech Language), gradually issued in the years 1935-1957, has about 250,000 entries. It includes words that are rarely used and, on the other hand, does not contain some words commonly used. This is because it based on extracts from fiction, magazines and partially from newspapers.

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