Sunday, November 19, 2006

More on Czech Nouns:
Czech has borrowed a lot from German vocabulary over the centuries, but various reformers have tried to correct this defect in the past. The first was the famous Jan Hus (yea team) who was a linguistic as well as a religious reformer. Hus taught at the university founded by Holy Roam Emperor Charles IV in 1348. What Hus did was not just to try and eliminate German and Latin loanwords but also to provide a phonetic spelling that contrasts with Polish and even Russian in its accuracy in regards to the spoken word. After the 'Battle of White Mountain' in 1620 when the Czech Protestants (Hussites) were defeated by the armies of the Emperor and the Catholic League the Czech endured a virtual "linguistic reign of terror" under the thumb of the Jesuits. An entire national literature was the victim of an attempt at eradication as anything written in a language other than German or Latin was considered heretical. One monk named Konias was reported to have single-handedly burned 30,000 books in Czech.
The Czech language and its situation began to improve under the rule of Emperor Josef II who followed Maria Theresa on the Austrian throne in 1780. Czech teachers were allowed to teach in Czech again. This led to the Ceske narodni obrozeni, The Czech Peoples' Revival. In 1809 Josef Dobrovsky published the Ausfurrliches Lehrgebaude der bohmische Sprache (note the German title) that established the rules of modern Czech. later Josef Jungmann published a 'History of Czech Literature' and a Czech/German dictionary in five volumes.
Today Czech actually consists of three language subsets rather than one. There is "literary Czech" which is even more formal than literary or legal English or French(Spisovna cestina), 'spoken Czech', the usual "good language" form (Hovorova cestina) and "Common Czech" (Obecna cestina), the ordinary "street language". The latter has a simpler grammar, and it also has the greatest number of "loan words" from languages such as German, especially in swear words and insults. It also produces a large number of neologisms that take much longer to reach the other two versions of Czech. The street language of Czech shows the usual evolution of language away from inflexion.
The Polish language also apparently has 7 cases for its nouns just as Czech does (nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, instrumental, locative and vocative) , and, like Czech the declension is complicated by "animate" and "inanimate" variations. Russian, by contrast, has only six cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental and locative). It has the three genders and even three declensions but is less complex than either Polish or Czech.
One wag has commented that, "Czech may drive foreigners trying to learn it to utter despair. They can, however, take comfort in the fact that the language poses problems even for the Czechs themselves" and, "...Czech is so rich,precise and,unfortunately, also complicated that a foreigner trying to learn the language may be driven to suicide. Either because he or she never manages to learn it, or because of the utter depression that follows when the foreigner realizes how primitive his or her own mother tongue is".
Czech also has the "bizarre" character that consonants such as "r" can serve the function of vowels in many words. Thus it is possible to say a sentence in Czech such as "Strc prst skrz krk " -"Put a finger through your throat" that contains not a single vowel.
All told an interesting and unique experience in being introduced to such a language. More on Czech later.


No comments: