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Czech (čeština)

Czech is a Western Slavic language spoken by about 10 million people in the Czech Republic (Česká republika). There are also Czech speakers in Portugal, Poland, Germany and the USA. Czech is closely related to Slovak, Polish and Sorbian.

Czech at a glance

  • Native name: čeština [ˈt͡ʃɛʃcɪna]; český jazyk [ˈt͡ʃɛskiː jɛzɪk]
  • Linguistic affliation: Indo-European, Balto-Slavic, Slavic, West Slavic
  • Number of speakers: c. 10 million
  • Spoken in: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Poland, Germany and the USA
  • First written: 11th century
  • Writing system: Latin alphabet
  • Status: official language in the Czech Republic, claims minority language status in Slovakia

The region where Czech is spoken is traditionally called Bohemia (Čechy) and was named after the Boii tribe who, according to Roman sources, have inhabited the area since at least the 1st century AD. The dialects spoken in Moravia (Morava) are also considered forms of Czech. The language of Bohemia was known as Bohemian until the early 20th century, when it became known as Czech.

Czech literature started to appear in the 13th century. The first printed book in Czech, the story of the Trojan war (příběh o Trójské válce), was published at Plzeň (Pilsen) in 1468. After many years of Austrian rule, during which German was the main language of literature and government, there was a revival of Czech literature at the end of the 18th century.

The most prominent writer during the early period of Czech literature was Jan Hus (1369-1415), a religious reformer who also reformed Czech spelling (české hláskování). He created the system of having one grapheme (letter) for every phoneme (sound) in the language by adding accents (čárka) to some of the letters. As a result, written Czech looks very different to written Polish. For example, in Czech the sound ch, as in church, is written č, but the same sound is written cz in Polish.

Czech alphabet (česká abeceda) & pronunciation

Latin alphabet for Czech

A recording of the Czech alphabet by Zbyněk Bambušek


  • dlouhé á is also know as á s čárkou. The same is the case for the other long vowels: é, í, ó, ú and ý.
  • ě = [je] after p, b and v, [e] after d, t and n (which become palatalized: ď, ť, ň). After m, ě = [mɲe], but it is pronounced [mje] in some regions.
  • When they come after d, t and n, i and í cause palatalization: ď, ť, ň
  • ú in normally used at the beginning of root words and in onomatopoic words, while ů is used elsewhere, except in interrogatives and loan words.
  • Word-final voiced consonants are pronounced unvoiced, even in loan words, e.g. chléb [xle:p], jazz [ʤes], rub [rup].
  • Voiceless consonant groups are voiced before voiced consonants (except n, m, n, r, and l) and vice versa within a word: e.g. zpít "(get) drunk" [spi:t], sbít "hammer together" [zbi:t]. v becomes devoiced as /f/ before a voiceless consonant, eg. předevčírem ['pr̝̊ɛdɛ,ftʃi:rem] "day before yesterday", but does not cause preceding voiceless consonants to become voiced, eg. kvalita ['kvalita] "quality".
  • l, r, n, m all can be syllabic. The following words all contain two syllables: jedl, kapr, sedm
  • f and g are used in words and names of foreign origin
  • Primary stress falls on the first syllable, and there is secondary stress falls on long vowels. When one, two or three syllable words are preceded by a preposition, stress falls on the preposition, e.g. na střeše [ˈnastr̝ɛʃɛ] (on the roof), while stress falls on the first syllable in a word containing four or more syllables preceded by a preposition. e.g. na nástupišti [naˈnaːstupɪʃtɪ] (at the train stop). In some Eastern dialects stress falls on the 2nd or 3rd syllable.

Recordings in the text by Jan Jurčík

Sample text in Czech

Všichni lidé se rodí svobodní a sobě rovní co do důstojnosti a práv. Jsou nadáni rozumem a svědomím a mají spolu jednat v duchu bratrství.

A recording of this text by Vaclav Dekanovsky


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

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Information about the Czech language

Online Czech lessons and other resources for learners

Learn Czech online with CzechClass101

Online Czech dictionaries

Czech Electronic talking dictionaries

Tlumočení a české překlady cizích jazyků

Online Czech language radio

Online Czech news and magazines

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