Written vs. Spoken Czech

Discussion in 'Čeština (Czech)' started by Imants, Oct 1, 2008.

  1. Imants Banned


    The Czech textbook I read said that there's considerable differences between written and spoken Czech.
    For example it said that ý is usually replaced by ej.
    Speaking the standard written language in day to day situation would sound stilted or too bookish.
    How true is that?
    Is the situation comparable to Arabic, where practically no native speaker speaks MSA in most of the daily situations?

  2. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Good question!

    I think, generally speaking and considering any languages, as a foreigner one should speak the standard Czech.
    And there are not so big difference as there are in Arabic at all.
  3. That's right. In common Czech you won't hear adjectives ending on ''ý''
    for example: written: ,,Strom je zelený.'' (The tree is green)
    spoken: ,,Strom je zelenej''

    You may hear this difference: written: ,,Dělal jsi.'' (You've been doing)
    spoken: ,,Dělals'.''
    And so on: written: ,, Co jsi dělal?'' (What have you done?)
    spoken: ,, Cos' dělal?''

    There are so many differences between spoken and wirtten Czech. I'll edit my post when I remember some others. :)
  4. Tagarela Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
    Português - Brasil

    Well, the books I have comment on it, but they say that these differences, as the ý -> ej, are more common in Bohemia than in Morava, where people tends to speak more closely to standard language.

    Na shledanou.:
  5. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member


    the ý-ej (týden-tejden) change is never used in Moravia. The usage of certain sound changes in Moravia is really closer to the formal Czech. You will never hear in Moravia: voko (oko), zejtra (zítra), hezký ženský (hezké ženské), mlíko (mléko).
    But the spoken Czech includes also different vocabulary (dneska, Pražák instead of dnes, Pražan), changes in conjugation and declination (píšu - píši, děkuju - děkuji, s chlapy - s chlapama).

    Até. :)
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2008
  6. Ayazid Senior Member


    Well, this is a quite complex question, but let me to to write a few basic things about this issue.
    There are really various differences between formal/written and informal/spoken Czech, but they are - I think - roughly equal to those which exist in English, French or German (here I mean only Hochdeutsch). There are various registers of spoken Czech and one's way of speaking and the degree to which it is influenced by the written language and close to it always depends on his/her education, age and region.

    Virtually all Czech speakers use in their daily life some sort of Common Czech, since the original dialects have died out but usually left some imprint on contemporary forms of common spoken language. As the dialects differed from Standard Czech phonetically mainly in the pronunciation of vowels, it is also the chief difference between spoken and standard Czech (together with some differences in vocabulary and word choice - high vs low register). Just like in German, where you have some differences between written Hochdeutsch and its spoken version, especially in the use of certain tenses and cases and its different regional pronunciations and accents. But altogether these two variants are not widely different, unlike the spoken and written language in the Arab world or for example in Switzerland.

    I don't think that it would sound very stilt or unnatural to use for example the vowel endings of formal Czech in spoken language, but it would also depend on circumstances. The standard language is certainly a good start and with time you will incorporate in your speech more and more elements of colloquial Czech.

    Never? Well, not really... I think that what you wrote might be true for Eastern Moravia, where the dialectical pronunciation of vowels used to be similar to that in the standard language and consequently influenced speech patterns of local people, but certainly not for the Western and Central part and especially big cities like Brno, where I live. Here, the Common Czech vowel endings (-ý/í instead of and -ej instead of ) are quite common and normal, especially among middle aged and young people, so it would be just as natural to say "hezký ženský" as "hezké ženské", whereas the first variant would be more colloquial.
    However, as for the other words, the pronunciation of most people would be really closer to the formal one. Here in my region isn't common to add the v- to words beginning with o- like in Bohemia (maybe in Western Moravia it's different, I am not sure now), neither to say zejtra instead of zítra, but on the other hand mlíko is pretty common.
  7. winpoj Senior Member

    It seems to me that to some extent two different things are being confused in this thread: non-standard Czech (nespisovná čeština) and spoken Czech (hovorová čeština). For example "zejtra" or "vokno" are non-standard. By contrast, forms such as "píšu" or "cos dělal" are informal but still part of standard Czech.
  8. werrr Senior Member

    I second this. There are regional differences in common Czech and the worst thing you can do is to mix the common language from different regions. Speaking the standard written language in day to day situation is the second best option at worst.

    While the “ej” could be more frequent in common Czech it’s far of being an absolute. There are regions, and not only in Moravia, where the standard “ý” prevails.

    Except that the clitic “-s” is perfectly literal. It’s frequent as auxiliary and bookish and infrequent as the verb of meaning.

    And there is no apostrophe. Apostrophe marks omissions, not clitic short forms.

    This particular difference is a Bohemian one.

    The Moravians like to say they speak better Czech, but it is not true. I fact, the Moravian variants of common Czech are more distinct from the standard Czech (no wonder, since the standard is based on Central Bohemian). On the other hand, the bigger discrepancy between standard and common language makes the Moravians to use the standard Czech more commonly in formal situations. The Bohemians are careless in this respect.

    And by the way, Encolpius and Ayazid, the word “zítra” is not good example when discussing standards. It was standardized by mistake. The correct standard form should be “zejtra”, the substandard Moravian form is “zajtra”.

    Yes, we should define the terms at first, and the English mapping of the terms as well.
  9. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Before beginning to write I have to confess that I don't speak Czech; I only can read it to some extent. So if I get something wrong I do excuse beforehand, and please correct me immediately.

    I've read a Czech author on the linguistic situation - Zděnek Starý -, and in 1998 (when I was in Ljubljana for two months) I had a talk with a fellow student from Brno.

    But hovorová čeština is not the same as obecná čeština, right?

    Zděnek Starý in his works: Ve jménu funkce a intervence (Praha 1995) and the short version in English: In nomine functionis et standardisationis (1990; International Journal of the Sociology of Language) suggested a move towards obecná čeština as this is the spoken variety of a majority of Czechs (which he set apart from hovorová).

    My friend from Brno however didn't like that idea (of Starý) at all - Moravians do not share obecná čeština it seems but speak different regional varieties, or if they don't speak regional varieties they seem to prefer either standard language or hovorová čeština which is significantly closer to standard language, right?
    Probably the reference of werr to Moravians claiming that they speak the 'better Czech' refers to this behaviour of choosing standard language in situations where regional language is not considered appropriate: that is, that Moravians were to use a (more distinct) regional language on the one hand and (spoken) standard language on the other one while Bohemians tend to use more their regional language = obecná (= Bohemian colloquial speech): just an idea.
    It is of course for native speakers to comment if my guess has any truth in it or is complete nonsense.

    (Another author I've read even claims that hovorová čeština 'doesn't exist' anymore, that is that no one really would speak hovorová: Jiři Kraus 1993: Does Spoken Literary Czech Exist? in: Eckert (1993): Varieties of Czech.)

    Note that I don't want to - or even can't - be part of a discussion here (to do that I would have to learn the language first really ;-).

    But probably this helps with definitions of spoken Czech - that is, if this distinction between hovorová and obecná even is made still.
    (For example it would be possible that hovorová nowadays means what obecná was standing for in the 1990ies. That is, it could be that what Starý promoted then already had come true. Or it could be that the linguistic situation didn't change much since, if at all. I really can't tell because I don't know - my knowledge, the little I have, is about the situation at around 1990-95.)

    Just wanted to add: my textbook says that too. (Yes, I have one. I only never made it past lesson 2 ...)
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2008
  10. Tagarela Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
    Português - Brasil

    Let me see if I got the things right:

    Spisovná čeština: Strandard written Czech - not used in daily conversation. Used mainly in literature.

    Hovorová čeština: Standard spoken Czech - colloquial Czech, used in daily conversation, but in agreement with the most aspects of standard grammar

    Obecná čeština: Non-standard spoken Czech - more relaxed colloquail Czech

    Please, correct me if I am wrong.
    And I still have some doubts, newspapers and school textbooks are written in spisovná or in hovorová?

    Na shledanou.:
  11. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Yes, Tagarela, this is how I have understood this (with the addition that obecná is the colloquial Czech of Bohemia, or more precisely if linguists speak of obecná usually they mean the Bohemian variety - there's a Moravian obecná čeština too which differs significantly from the Bohemian one).

    But it might be that this is outdated already, or that I have got something wrong - so let's for native speakers' opinions. ;)
  12. Imants Banned

    Thanks a lot for your replies!
    Czech is a rich language indeed!
  13. risa2000 Junior Member

    Exactly. For the learners, I believe there are two points of interests. To speak Czech correctly and to understand what others are saying.

    The Czech, which is taught in schools, is the same one for the whole country - standard Czech. Also, it should be noted that in formal communication, one is expected to use this one. TV news and other "informative" programs are broadcast in standard Czech. The same is true for newspapers or journals. Even when for example common people speak in TV they make an effort to speak standard.

    I know people (foreigners) who learned Czech for example in Prague vicinity and they carry typical Prague dialect. The strange thing about this is that it sounds sometimes funny from them, even though it would sound perfectly normal from some natives.

    Also, when traveling around Czech regions the spoken form can differ significantly. For example: Oni spí (the standard for they are sleeping), can be heard as oni spěj (western part), or oni spijó/spijou (south-eastern part). Now, using the colloquial form in "wrong part" could either be perceived as inability to speak standard (or "our local" language) or in most dire case could even not be understood (though not probably in this particular example).

    So, the point is, learning/using standard language should be fine. It may not sound natural in particular environment, but it will by understood well and it has little or none prejudice attached to its usage. If you come to shop or pub anywhere in Czech and speak perfect standard, you will be served without question. However, in particular, coming to pub and speaking "the other" non-standard might get you into trouble ;).
  14. Tagarela Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
    Português - Brasil

    Riso, vitej ve fora!

    I see your point, it really makes sense.
    But by your examples, it seems that the variety of spoken Czech is bigger than I imagined. Which would be the areas where one can find some important differences compared to standard Czech?

    Na shledanou.:
  15. edwardssr New Member

    Layton, Utah, USA
    English - American
    Here is another one for someone. I hear "jsi" and "jseš" interchangeably, but wonder if one is more colloquial or not. Other examples, the dictionary gives, of variants, I wonder if are more colloquial or not. Můžou/mohou, or even the more common děkuji/děkuju. Perhaps someone out there knows the answer. Maybe some of these are simply a question of register? Thanks for your help!
  16. risa2000 Junior Member

    "jsi" (the 2nd person singular of the verb "býti", i.e. "ty jsi") is "canonical" (or standard) Czech, "jseš" is the form more frequent in spoken Czech. The difference can be subtle, but I guess, lot of people will say "ty jseš", but they will most likely not write it, and will use the former "ty jsi". So "jseš" is colloquial (as informal), while it is not exactly more familiar, because when you address someone with pronoun "ty" you are already familiar with him/her.

    However there is also "jsi" in construction of the past tense as an auxiliary verb, for example "dělal jsi" (you did), which never uses "jseš".
    Both Můžu/Mohu (můžou/mohou) is apparently considered standard (even in written form) the only difference is in register. "Můžou" is less formal.
    See http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=240469
  17. edwardssr New Member

    Layton, Utah, USA
    English - American
    Thanks Risa! You're the greatest! Totally answers my questions.
  18. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    Yes, this is true, it's called diglossia.
    You can google Czech & diglossia for more details.

    Other examples of diglossia:

    Swiss German
    Belgian Dutch
    Brazilian Portuguese

    These things happen when a more archaic norm (or the norm imported from another country) is chosen as the literary norm, and not the language modality most people speak.

    Slovak people chose the most modern form possible for their literary norm, therefore Slovak write the same way they speak, no diglossia, just like in nonSouthern American English or in Hannover German.
    It's a bit of an paradox that Czech people have the most modern Slavonic society (well, except for the Slovenian one) yet their language is so diglossic and puristic.

    The specific diglossia in Czech:

    Discusión sobre la existencia de diglosia en la lengua checa


    Even professors of Czech use the word diglossia: http://www.ffzg.hr/zslav/pdf/opceceski.pdf

    But at least they don't call the spoken Czech ''language of ignorants'' (which is what is done in Brazil by many grammarians like Sacconi :().
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2011
  19. vianie Senior Member

    I don't know exactly (and I hope I get an answer here) why Czechs see the gap between their written and spoken language so dramatically. I've got not any pronounced aversion to colloquial Czech, I just want to avow that literary Czech is for me for about ten times more magnetic. It has the spirit I like.

    The situation inside the Slovak language territory is quite divergent. Slovaks don't have a standardized version of spoken language. For this function assertively aspires speech of Bratislava, but it lacks the necessary quality and hence the strength of the all-society avowal. Many Slovaks like the corroborant talking about their dulcet language, but I don't hear it anywhere. We're careless in any upkeeping of our language.

    Do you understand me?
  20. baruchrademacher New Member

    I've seen the "ej" thing many times in Czech songs. I listen to Czech bands like Skwor and Krucipusk....and met that "ej" in some of the songs, cant remember exactly. I never knew why this happens, anyway. Now I know. Thank you for talking about this!
  21. Sherpot New Member

    Czech language (český jazyk)
    Y is replaced by EJ in something what we call Middle-Bohemia dialect (Bohemia is west part of republic), it is variant of czech language originaly spoken in middle of Bohemia and which spreads to other parts of Czech Republic. But I live in east part of republic and there we never used EJ instead of Y or V before O (okno -> vokno) (In east we make jokes about dialect from Prague). There are differences between written and spoken langueage also in English, French, ... , but there are more variants of speaken language then only one in all of countrys.

    Petr (Czech Republic)

Share This Page