Czech/Slovak: Mutual Intelligibility

Ayazid

Senior Member
There are quite a few differences grammatically between Czech and Slovak. Case endings for nouns obviously vary. Despite this, I am not saying that Slovak and Czech are not closer to each than the South Slavic languages. They obviously went through some similar phonetic shifts from common Slavic, despite several pronounced differences as well.

I am saying that your reasoning given above, that you can just say "maso z prasat" is not a good indicator of mutual intelligibility because you can do the same with these other two languages. Your example was poor. That is all.

And yet, despite those differences Czech and Slovak are still much much closer to each other than each of them is to any other Slavic language and they also do not pose a big problem for their mutual intelligibility. And I am still not sure what was poor about my example. I can explain to a Slovak person unknown Czech words by simple resorting to the huge common vocabulary. With a Pole or Serb it would be much more difficult, the lexical and other differences are much greater!
 
  • JamyangNorbu

    New Member
    American English
    To JamyangNorbu:

    Why are you trying to prove that Czech and Slovak are not mutually intelligibile, when it's utterly obvious that they are? You can't change personal experiences of people.

    Spanish and Italian speakers can do much the same as what was mentioned above.

    You also can't change my personal experience, or the experience of others. There are other Czech forums (I can't post URLs here because of post limitations) where Czechs admit to translating Slovak for other Czechs, and vice versa with Slovaks. I have met Czechs, educated ones, who can't follow a lot of what is being said in Slovak. You guys say 90% understanding as if it means you understand the nuanced details of topics of conversations. I doubt for one that it is 90%, and even if it was, 10% is a lot of meaning to miss without having to slow down and speak in definitions rather than words for common objects.

    Anyway, I don't see this conversation continuing along any productive lines, and (my snarky joke aside) don't wish to offend anyone. So I will sign off on this one.
     

    nonik

    Senior Member
    czech
    There are different opinions amongst linguists on this issue. So I will leave it at that.....................................Yes, and don´t you think that is very strange that english speaking person are trying to convinced us, that there is not mutual inteligibillity?


    so just compare ordinary text.
    slovak sentence first, czech goes under.

    Krajský súd v Prešove vydal na menovanú príkaz na dodanie do výkonu
    Krajský soud v Prešově vydal na jmenovanou příkaz na vydání do výkonu

    trestu odňatia slobody pre spolupáchateľstvo obzvlášť závažného zločinu
    trestu odnětí svobody pro spolupachatelství obvzlášt závažného zločinu

    lúpeže.
    loupeže

    V mieste svojho bydliska sa nezdržiava a jej pobyt sa doposiaľ nepodarilo
    V místě svého bydliště se nezdržuje a její pobyt se doposud nepodarilo

    etc., almost identhical.
     
    Yes, and don´t you think that is very strange that english speaking person are trying to convinced us, that there is not mutual inteligibillity?


    I do find that odd. Unless a Czech here comes forth saying they don't really understand Slovak, all native speakers here have claimed the opposite of what JamyangNorbu is saying and I find this insistence on proving native speakers wrong puzzling.
     

    Ayazid

    Senior Member
    Spanish and Italian speakers can do much the same as what was mentioned above.

    You also can't change my personal experience, or the experience of others. There are other Czech forums (I can't post URLs here because of post limitations) where Czechs admit to translating Slovak for other Czechs, and vice versa with Slovaks. I have met Czechs, educated ones, who can't follow a lot of what is being said in Slovak. You guys say 90% understanding as if it means you understand the nuanced details of topics of conversations. I doubt for one that it is 90%, and even if it was, 10% is a lot of meaning to miss without having to slow down and speak in definitions rather than words for common objects.

    Anyway, I don't see this conversation continuing along any productive lines, and (my snarky joke aside) don't wish to offend anyone. So I will sign off on this one.

    The theme of the allegedly diminishing mutual intelligibility between Czech and Slovak has been discussed vividly in the last 10-15 years here in the Czech republic. I also met young Czechs who claimed that they don't understand Slovak well. The thing is that I have never witnessed a case of Slovaks and Czechs not understanding each other in my life and I live in the Czech republic and meet Slovaks on daily basis. It sounds more like an anecdote than a real issue. Even the youngest generations of Czechs who didn't grow up in Czechoslovakia communicate with young Slovaks easily, both on the internet and in real life. You can see examples of this everywhere.

    And if you want to continue this discussion along any productive lines (it doesn't belong to this thread, by the way), we can achieve that easily by analyzing everyday normal Slovak texts or samples of conversations and comparing them with their translations into Czech vs another Slavic language ;)
     
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    ilocas2

    Banned
    Czech
    Spanish and Italian speakers can do much the same as what was mentioned above.

    You also can't change my personal experience, or the experience of others. There are other Czech forums (I can't post URLs here because of post limitations) where Czechs admit to translating Slovak for other Czechs, and vice versa with Slovaks. I have met Czechs, educated ones, who can't follow a lot of what is being said in Slovak. You guys say 90% understanding as if it means you understand the nuanced details of topics of conversations. I doubt for one that it is 90%, and even if it was, 10% is a lot of meaning to miss without having to slow down and speak in definitions rather than words for common objects.

    Anyway, I don't see this conversation continuing along any productive lines, and (my snarky joke aside) don't wish to offend anyone. So I will sign off on this one.

    I meaned 90 % in most extreme cases when spoken very fast with unusual frequency of different words.
     

    werrr

    Senior Member
    I dare to say that:

    • Lexical differences between Czech and Slovak are smaller than lexical differences within English.
    • Most of the different words are just used in slightly different context or formed in comprehensible way from mutually-known word stems.
    • Morphological and phonetical differences are clearly distinctive but without detriment on comprehensibility.
    • Syntactical differences are almost non-existent.
    • Mutual intelligibility of Czech and Slovak is increasing (!) in time due to the decline of dialects on both sides.
    • It's easier to master both Czech and Slovak on the level of native speaker than to master the complete vocabulary of any of the languages.
    • A Czech with only basic exposure to Slovak is, due to the bigger variability of Czech, more likely to encounter an uknown word in Czech than an uknown word in Slovak.
     

    JamyangNorbu

    New Member
    American English
    I do find that odd. Unless a Czech here comes forth saying they don't really understand Slovak, all native speakers here have claimed the opposite of what JamyangNorbu is saying and I find this insistence on proving native speakers wrong puzzling.

    This is a discussion forum if I understand correctly. Therefore I am discussing a topic of interest to me. I don't see what my native language has to do with anything. If I told you as a native speaker of English that a variation on some common verb conjugations found where I currently live, "It weren't me.", was standard English I would hope you would disagree with me and attempt to prove me wrong, no matter how many people from Western Massachusetts came online insisting this was standard.

    On the other hand, looking back the blame for the disagreement lies with me. I was not as precise in my initial phrasing as I should have been. I thought something was clear from the context that was not.

    In the initial post that you commented on I should have included the phrase "mutually intelligible to that degree":

    I think the best description of the situation is that while passive bilingualism is common amongst older Czechs, and amongst Slovaks of all age groups due to Czech language media saturation, they are actually two distinct languages that are not mutually intelligible to that degree (i.e. passive bilingualism) without a lot of exposure.

    There is of course a degree of mutual intelligibility. Of course that degree of mutual intelligibility is higher than with other Slavic languages. However, passive bilingualism can be seen in older peoples of both languages (and some younger folk too). This bilingualism is more than being able to provide definitions for unfamiliar terms and get the gist of a conversation. It is the case that people can ask a question in Slovak, including terms that differ from Czech, and there is no need for explanation. The Czech just replies in Czech.

    We see this all the time in communication between my wife and the Czech woman from the Czech/Moravian couple we know. It is extremely rare that the two of them need to stop and define terms. I can only think of it happening once actually. For the husband, the stopping to explain the term, or give a czech equivalent was very frequent initially, becoming less and less frequent as time goes on.

    When dealing with younger folks in the Czech Republic my wife often has to make the jump to active bilingualism, speaking Czech, or at the least substituting Czech words for common Slovak ones when dealing with younger Czechs.

    If after reading the above clarifications my line of argumentation is clearer, as well as my snarky joke. If, in light of these clarifications, people still want to say that I am making this up, or that people who don't understand must be stupid or without a brain, then I don't know what to say.

    I have been out of the forum loop for a while and forgot some best practices. It is important to be precise, especially when people are communicating in multiple languages. I apologize for my lack of precision leading to misunderstanding, and any acrimony that may have arisen.
     
    In my opinion your native language and your level of proficiency in Czech and Slovak is very important when discussing mutual intelligibility. We weren't discussing what is standard or not so your parallel with English is not really relevant. Imagine me telling you something about mutual intelligibility of English dialects that you as a native speaker know to be false from your own experience? :)

    Far be it that someone is trying to make a fool out of you, or saying that you are inventing things. But you also have to realize we don't know you that well as we know the Czech members who have posted here. Now, if we were to talk to your wife and have her explain what exactly is it that is creating these communication problems that would for me be a different thing.

    Your newly improved quote still seems to differ wildly from what the local Czechs are saying. I would allow for the possibility that our dear Czech colleagues here may not be fully representative of the whole Czech nation, their wide knowledge, proficiency in English etc. indicating a high probability of above than average education. Perhaps a Czech person from some remote part of the Czech Republic with only a high-school diploma etc. might have a different perspective on Czech-Slovak mutual intelligibility, who knows. But the thing is we only have your secondary evidence compared to four native speakers now. I am inclined to trust them more on this issue for the moment until we get a Czech native speaker claiming the opposite. It is meant as no disrespect to you, of course, and you seem to me to be an educated person who I would like to see posting around here in the future. :)

    Now let me ask you this - this stopping to translate for the Czech husband - are you absolutely sure this was translating the language and not explaining the particular context?

    As for your experience in the Czech Republic, again, was this young Czechs not being able to understand or your wife using Czech words to avoid potential other, non-linguistic issues? When I'm in Croatia I often use some Croatian words instead of Bosnian ones where there is a difference, not necessarily because they couldn't understand me, but as a way of showing respect and avoiding potentially touching post-breakup language sensibilities. And even in the BCS case there are words frequent in one country that may not be understood by some people in the other; even those, as you say, low-register words. I am not sure if all Croats, especially younger ones, would know what is vazduh (air) or šargarepa (carrot) or pasulj (beans).
     
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    ilocas2

    Banned
    Czech
    A Czech with only basic exposure to Slovak is, due to the bigger variability of Czech, more likely to encounter an uknown word in Czech than an uknown word in Slovak.

    I think it's exaggeration. I just opened a Slovak book and found in 3 minutes 5 unknown words. They are probably not very frequent in normal life, but anyway.
     
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    vianie

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    PS....slovak name of month before adopting them from latin language was almost identical to czech, except 2 of them, i think.

    original names for Slavic months

    A Czech with only basic exposure to Slovak is, due to the bigger variability of Czech, more likely to encounter an uknown word in Czech than an uknown word in Slovak.

    Czech is verbally the richest european language. Today's Czech phraseology is estimated at one million words. In comparison, English has 500,000 words, German 185,000 words and French fewer than 100,000 words.
     

    ilocas2

    Banned
    Czech

    I don't know if it's true or how it can be measured, but I think that the whole article wasn't meant completely seriously or rather the author meant it as metaphor or something like that. In any case those are opinions of this author and everyone has right to publicate his ideas, because there exists freedom of speech. I just want to say that this opinion about number of words is not some official point of view which is taught in Czech schools in lessons of Czech language or opinion shared by mayority of population.
     

    jezevci

    New Member
    English - Canada
    I think there is an important issue here of the level of mutual intelligibility. I have met young Czechs from Prague who claim to have "problems" understanding Slovak. Some will even claim to "not really" understand it, but I would chalk this up to exaggeration. This does not mean the languages are not mutually intelligible. Indeed, it would not be difficult to find examples within a single country/language where this is true due to regional pronunciation. I can safely say that even those claiming to not really understand do understand quite enough, and are just unused to having to try a little harder and perhaps put off by it. It is this effect, I think, that leads some Slovaks to start using Czech at the first sign of communication problems.

    In terms of the original anecdote, what I feel to be relevant missing pieces of information about the speaker who was having problems with Slovak, since I got the impression the conversation was taking place in the US, are:
    How old is the person in question?
    How old were they when they left the Czech Republic?
    And how long have they been in the US?

    I do know foreigners who have learned one language or the other who are not able to understand the other. One American girl I know speaks Czech fairly well but is absolutely at a loss to understand Slovak and a friend's sister was recently telling me about a girl in Slovakia she met, a foreigner who had learned Slovak, who was baffled by Czech. But this does not contradict the main point. It is not hard to imagine a foreigner living in the US unable to decipher a Scottish person (considering that even native speakers have problems ;)).
     

    Azori

    Senior Member
    The state of passive bilingualism is well documented in the Czech and Slovak linguistic literature. For example,

    Můžeme mluvit bez výhrad o tom, že mluvčí slovenštiny a češtiny jsou bilingvní – uplatňují ve svém životě schopnost užívat dva jazyky – ačkoli mluví a píšou jen v jednom a ve druhém zpravidla diskurz (tj. mluvené a psané texty) neprodukují, ale je jen přijímají.

    (I apparently can't post URLs due to my lack of posts, but I can send the link via PM if you would like. It is an article by a sociolinguistics faculty member at Charles University in Prague)
    Here's the link: http://www.sloboda.cz/marian/publikace/CDS_opravene.pdf It's a Czech version of the article I posted above earlier. And this is the quoted part in the English version:
    One can speak without doubt about speakers of Slovak and Czech as bilinguals: they apply their ability to use two languages in their everyday lives, even though they speak and write in only one of the languages and do not produce, but only receive, the discourse (i.e. spoken and written texts) in the other language.
     
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    romismak

    New Member
    Slovak
    Czech-Slovak are very similar languages and mutually intelligible. Maybe some young Czechs could have some problems, but after few minutes of conversations it must be ok, because our languages are very similar. I am talking about standard languages not some dialects from other corners of republics, that might be problem even for the speaker of same language- in Slovakia especially. BTW Czech language is for Slovaks much easier than Slovak language for Czechs. It is so, because almost all Slovaks are passive billinguall. We didn´t even realize it, but czech language is in Slovakia everywhere. In TV- both czech TV´s are watched and Slovak TV are broadcasting in czech language some films, series, many czech people are in Slovak shows speaking czech of course and so on. Then we have books in czechs, czech internet pages and everything is really popular and used in Slovakia. So normal adults in Slovakia should understand 99.9% of czech- they could be some special words that we don´t know what they mean, but not in normal conversation. And also kids are passive billingual, because TV channel for kids- Jetix, or Disney or don´t know the name is in czech language for both countries, so especially kids from young age are listening many hours per day to czech language.
     

    Azori

    Senior Member
    In the Czech Republic it is quite common to dub Slovak films/series into Czech. I wonder, is it because Czechs could really find it so difficult to understand Slovak that simply a translated version is better for them or is it just inappropriate to broadcast something in Slovak on Czech TV stations? I think most people in Slovakia aren't against Czech on Slovak TV stations.
     

    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    In the Czech Republic it is quite common to dub Slovak films/series into Czech. I wonder, is it because Czechs could really find it so difficult to understand Slovak that simply a translated version is better for them or is it just inappropriate to broadcast something in Slovak on Czech TV stations? I think most people in Slovakia aren't against Czech on Slovak TV stations.

    I dare to say it's matter of money. If Slovakia were as rich as Switzerland, I think all the Czech films (there would be a lot fewer) would be dubbed right away...
     

    Azori

    Senior Member
    I dare to say it's matter of money. If Slovakia were as rich as Switzerland, I think all the Czech films (there would be a lot fewer) would be dubbed right away...
    If I'm not mistaken, there is a law (valid since 1st January 2008) that says that all new foreign films / TV series may be broadcast only with Slovak dubbing or with Slovak subtitles. But I think this applies only to things broadcast on TV, not to DVDs or cinemas. I hardly watch TV these days, so I don't really care.
     

    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    If I'm not mistaken, there is a law (valid since 1st January 2008) that says that all new foreign films / TV series may be broadcast only with Slovak dubbing or with Slovak subtitles. But I think this applies only to things broadcast on TV, not to DVDs or cinemas. I hardly watch TV these days, so I don't really care.

    I can imagine. I know a list of "bad" words in Slovak which are evidently Czech. I don't know if Slovaks really use them....but the Czech TV might be the origin of that influence. I watch Slovak channels sometimes as well and I think only the two national TV channels can afford to meet those regulations. I'll Czech if there are any Czech-language programmes broadcast on the national TV channels....
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    This is based on the deep lexicostatistical test made by Zhuravlev (*) from the etymological dictionary of slavic languages in 15 books (ed. O.N. Trubachev, Moscow 1974).
    There is a complex formul...a how to compute statistical distance of languages:

    G(A,B) = SUM i is from 2 to n ((n + 2 - i) * V(A,B)i) / H(A) / H(B), where

    A,B are tested languages,
    n is total number of tested languages
    G(A,B) is congruence of these two languages
    H(A), H(B) is inherited dictionary from common root of these two languages
    V(A,B)i is isoglossa

    In this formula, the higher value has isoglossa limited to only two languages and the lower number has isoglossa, which is common for more languages.

    The highest number of profimity is between upper and lower lusatian sorbian: 1.93,
    Bulgarian-Slavomacedonian has 1.73,
    Czech-Slovak has 1.36,
    Bielorusian-Russian has 1.27,
    Ukrainian-Russian has 1.20 (but ukrainians learn Russian as well) and
    Polish-Bulgarian has only 0.93 etc.

    If languages have proximity at least 1.1, they can be assigned into one group, but this approach goes intoa lot of such similar solutions.

    For mutual understanding of ordinary people You need to have at least 1.2.
    Old Slavonic has value 1.15 (to Polish) or better (1.27 to Czech, for example) to modern slavic languages

    Not sure how exactly this coeff. is derived and if "Slavomacedonian" equals "Macedonian". However, I have a very good idea how similar are Czech and Slovak and how similar are Bulgarian (my native language) and Macedonian.

    Without any doubt I can say that the difference between Bulgarian and Macedonian is literally few times bigger (to be more precise, 2-4 times) than between Czech and Slovak. I have looked into other MI studies and I am more inclined to agree with results such as (even asymetriacal) 80% MI between Bulgarian and Macedonian and 90+% between CZ/SK for both directions (~95% for Slovaks understanding Czech).

    Bulgarian and Macedonian might have been more intelligible in the past, but nowadays there are too much Serbian words in Macedonian. Simple conversations can be done relatively easy (while Macedonians tend to understand significantly less), however, serious stuff such as watching a movie is impossible.

    As opposed to that, I witnessed how in Bratislava 30% of the movies in the cinema were in Czech (including a dubbed one), I see that Czech Slovak Got talant is currently being emitted as a mixed show in both languages and I was told that in Czech Republic you can even write your thesis at the university in Slovak. All these things are unimaginable between Bulgarian and Macedonian. Even if the bigger part of the vocabulary will be understood, the missing part is too big to keep the fluency which occurs between CZ/SK.

    It's actually very easy to verify that without looking into any studies and stats. Just take two random texts (better, literature as tech and administrative vocabulary is usually shared common lexic), and compare their translations in both pairs. The results are so obvious that there is no need even to discuss them.

    P.S. The reason why other Slavs tends to understand better Slovak IMO is because of the clear pronunciation and the confusing Czech ř which comes unexpected unless you are a Pole. With regard to the written form, I doubt Czech to be statistically less intelligible for other Slavs.
     
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