'Czech' - Why is it spelled with a z ?

Rallino

Moderatoúrkos
Turkish
Ahoj!

I'm not entirely sure if this is actually the right forum to ask this question (maybe it would be more adequate in the English Forum?).

Anyway I've been puzzled for a while as to why in English the word český has an absurd spelling: 'czech'? Why isn't it "chech" or even 'check' for that matter?

I've tried googling and searching the forums but couldn't find anything that could shed a light on the matter.

Has anyone got an answer for this unusual spelling?

Děkuji!
 
  • marco_2

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I guess the English loaned this spelling from Polish, because we spell it like that: Czechy (Bohemia, the Czech Republic), Czech - pl. Czesi (Czech people) etc.
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    The original English word for český was Bohemian (as in Bohemian king/kingdom) derived from the ancient Celtic tribe Boii that lived in Bohemia. English adopted the word Czech relatively recently (I think it was in the 19th century) and nearly with the original Czech spelling (i.e. Cžech). In Czech the sound ch (as is in church) was spelled č (lower case) and (upper case). The Czech digraph ch is pronounced similarly like ch in German (e.g. Bach), or Scottish loch. The English cannot pronounce it properly, so they pronounce it as k.
     

    werrr

    Senior Member
    "Cz" was a common Latin transcription of the Czech (Slavic) č-sound since Middle Ages. It was a common way to write Czech names in Latin texts long before Czechs started to write Czech texts in Latin script. The first Czech primitive spellings in Latin script adopted this Latin spelling and so did, likely under Czech influence, the Poles for Polish.

    The Latin spelling of names of Czech provenience with "cz" (Czech, Czaslav, Czernin...) penetrated also into other languages, most notably into German.
    For example all the printed maps of Bohemia which spread across Europe in the 16th and 17th century are full of Latinized and Germanized local names with "cz".

    English likely adopted that spelling directly from Latin, or indirectly via German, and for some words perhaps directly from Czech (e.g. from the prints by Wenceslaus Hollar).

    The word "Czech" itself (in whatever spelling) is exceptional as it was traditionally translated with the names based on Latin name Bohemia, but time to time it appeared as well as equivalent of Bohemia. The term "Czech Kingdom" with "cz" figures for example in a 16th century list of passengers of an English ship as a place of origin declared by Dutch religious refuges to America. Also, the foreigners from distant countries were often unaware that the adjective "czeski/czeska" in some of the local names on the maps of Bohemia mean "Bohemian", so the word in its Czech form appeared even in some English texts.

    The differentiation of the meanings of "Bohemian" and "Czech" is artificial product of the 19th century demands by German nationalists. Nevertheless, it resulted in massive spreading of the word "Czech" in modern English.

    As for the modern Czech spelling, Czechs unlike Poles replaced the original digraph with diacritics, but this change was almost without reflection in Western languages.
     

    pavlix.net

    New Member
    Czech
    The original English word for český was Bohemian (as in Bohemian king/kingdom) derived from the ancient Celtic tribe Boii that lived in Bohemia. English adopted the word Czech relatively recently (I think it was in the 19th century) and nearly with the original Czech spelling (i.e. Cžech). In Czech the sound ch (as is in church) was spelled č (lower case) and (upper case). The Czech digraph ch is pronounced similarly like ch in German (e.g. Bach), or Scottish loch. The English cannot pronounce it properly, so they pronounce it as k.
    Cž? Why do you reply with made up character sequences? I've never seen such a combination in any Czech texts, whether new or old. What makes you call it the original Czech spelling?
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Cž? ... I've never seen such a combination in any Czech texts, whether new or old.
    It proves nothing.
    What makes you call it the original Czech spelling?
    I didn't mean the first attempts in the 13th and 14th centuries. That time the spelling of sporadic Czech texts, written in the Latin alphabet, was very inconsistent (with a variety of digraphs and trigraphs).
    I wrote: "English adopted the word Czech relatively recently (I think it was in the 19th century) and nearly with the original Czech spelling (i.e. Cžech)." In this sentence I meant original [Czech spelling] as original in relation to the English spelling.

    Until cca 1840 the Czech texts were printed (and handwritten) in the Fraktur typeface (after 1840 the Antiqua is in use) and the spelling used a combination of digraphs and letters with diacritic signs:

    the upper case Č (= ch in chip) was written as a digraph (often printed as ); the lower case Fraktur letter z was in fact written as ʒ, thus the digraph Cž/Cż looked like with a somewhat blurred diacritic sign above ʒ;

    similarly the upper case Ř was written/printed as a digraph / ( with a diacritic sign above ʒ);

    the upper case Š (= sh in ship) was written as a digraph Sſ (ſ = s), lower case š was written ſſ or ſs (final position);

    (all the above letters in the Fraktur typeface, of course)

    You can see an example of the printed upper case Cž/Cż in this picture (Cžeská maryánska muzyka, 1647).
     
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    pavlix.net

    New Member
    Czech
    It proves nothing.
    Of course it doesn't. But it's still surprising which I hope excuses my reaction. Thanks for additional information that led me to more sources.

    Until cca 1840 the Czech texts were printed (and handwritten) in the Fraktur typeface (after 1840 the Antiqua is in use) and the spelling used a combination of digraphs and letters with diacritic signs:

    the upper case Č (= ch in chip) was written as a digraph (often printed as ); the lower case Fraktur letter z was in fact written as ʒ, thus the digraph Cž/Cż looked like with a somewhat blurred diacritic sign above ʒ;

    similarly the upper case Ř was written/printed as a digraph / ( with a diacritic sign above ʒ);

    the upper case Š (= sh in ship) was written as a digraph Sſ (ſ = s), lower case š was written ſſ or ſs (final position);
    Wasn't already Jan Hus supposed to relieve us of all the digraphs except “ch”? I know they were lying us all the time at school, mostly I guess due to ignorance and simplification, hopefully not intentionally, just didn't expect this to be an example.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ...English adopted the word Czech relatively recently (I think it was in the 19th century) ...
    According to Google Ngram Viewer it started to be used with any frequency around 1910, with Czechoslovakia following around five years later.

    This is not the only word which English spells in an illogical way. Tchaikovsky for instance owes his initial "T" to the scores which were published in Germany - logically he should be shelved next to Chekhov.
     

    pavlix.net

    New Member
    Czech
    According to Google Ngram Viewer it started to be used with any frequency around 1910, with Czechoslovakia following around five years later.
    That's interesting. Does it mean they didn't care about the land before or that they called it Bohemia?

    This is not the only word which English spells in an illogical way. Tchaikovsky for instance owes his initial "T" to the scores which were published in Germany - logically he should be shelved next to Chekhov.
    Could be Czekhov after all. :) To me it always seemed that the English speaking world has difficulties pronouncing almost anything originating in other parts of the world. Even Greek names seem to be heavily transformed in the West for example.
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Wasn't already Jan Hus supposed to relieve us of all the digraphs except “ch”?
    Yes, we learnt it in school. However people are conservative. The adoption of the new rules was relatively slow and far from uniform. Throughout the 16th century, printers, typesetters and especially scribes ignored the proposal of Orthographia bohemica (written between 1406-1412, Hus died at the stake in 1415) and continued to maintain some digraphs. The digraphs were definitively abandoned during the first half of the 19th century, the digraph ch (pronounce [x]) is an exception.

    Btw, remember the spelling reform of Latin, proposed by the emperor Claudius. His proposal had no impact and was widely ignored.
    According to Google Ngram Viewer it started to be used with any frequency around 1910,
    It is an interesting instrument. It seems that there were some occurrences of the word Czech in English in the second half of the 19th century, e.g. The Condensed American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1877): "The Bohemian, properly Czech (...), language is the harshest, yet richest, of the Slavic idioms".
    Tchaikovsky for instance owes his initial "T" ...
    It seems the spelling is borrowed from French: Tchaïkovski (in German: Tschaikowski).
     
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    Wieduwilt

    New Member
    Ürner German (CH) + Standard German (CH)
    Lurker here, decided to finally join to reply to a ten month old post! :D
    To me it always seemed that the English speaking world has difficulties pronouncing almost anything originating in other parts of the world. Even Greek names seem to be heavily transformed in the West for example.
    Hey, poor English people, go easy on them. o_O I don't think it's/was very hard for them to pronounce it, since these sounds exist in English too; rather, to spell it the way it's spelled in another language could be hard, unless they know the spelling rules of the other language. :D In English, they're tending to spell sounds the way they're spelled in English, unless they've borrowed it from another language's way to spell it. So, Chekhov because /tʃ/ is spelled with the two letters CH in English. I think it's normal to normalise words into your language's way of spelling.
    Even, look at these languages themselves normalising. Hmm, kształt in Polish ... looks like Gestalt! Plac ... Platz! They've spelled it the way these sounds are written in Polish, aha! Cikcakk in Hungarian ... Zickzack? Yes! Because /ts/ (really /t͡s/) is spelled C in Hungarian. Fife in English ... Pfeife, because they write /aɪ/ with I and silent E, so on so on ... : )
     
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