Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Czech Language:
Before going to the Czech Republic I attempted - emphasis on "attempted" to learn a little of the language. Aside from an attempt many years ago to learn Russian, which progressed even less than my Czech, this was my first exposure to a Slavic language. What I did learn certainly endeared me to a variety of people in the country as the Czechs are under the opinion that "nobody tries to learn Czech". I hardly devoted as much time to the study as I should have, and my attempts at learning the language were pretty feeble. It wasn't helped by the fact that the language has a stunning complexity, even in relation to Greek, let alone Romance languages. Let me explain.
Czech is one of the West Slavic languages, a group that also includes Slovak, Polish, Pomeranian (Kashubian) and Sorbian. Polish, spoken by about 46 million people, is the largest of this group. Czech speakers number only about 12 million. Like most Slavic languages, except for Bulgarian and Macedonian, the Czech language is highly inflected ie nouns, verbs and adjectives change their form depending upon person,gender, use in the sentence, etc.. In the case of the nouns this infection is far greater than any of the Romance languages with which I am familiar (though I know little of Romanian- which apparently has three cases- or the more "exotic" items such as Ladin, Rhaeto-Romanche, Galician, Ladino, Sardinian,etc..). All of these have only two genders (I admit a small number of neuter "pronouns"), and "case" is hardly a matter of concern. The variants in plural formation in Spanish, for instance, hardly deserve the name of "declension" because while "villa", "revolucion" and "lux" may form the plural in different fashions, they remain the same in all positions in the sentence. French, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian,etc. have lost the inflections of "case" that Latin had. In Latin there are 7 noun cases, the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, ablative and locative. I had the advantage of having had five years of Latin in my misspent youth so I am at least familiar with the "idea" if not exact usage. The corresponding cases in Czech are nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, locative and instrumental. The differences seem slight, but they contain a world of difference.
More on Czech nouns in future posts.

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