How similar are really Czech and Slovak?

pastet89

Senior Member
bulgarian
Disclaimer: I am writing this from the prospective of a native Bulgarian fluent in Serbo-Croatian (yes, I call it Serbo-Croatian because due to my linguistic point of view it is obvious that Serbian and Croatian are two standards of the same language). I have researched this topic a lot and I know there is also an old thread on WR but I am still not satisfied with the answers I am looking for, hence my decision to post this thread.

My question is a bit similar: while the difference between Czech and Slovak seems to be just a bit bigger than between Serbian and Croatian, can't we say that they are *virtually* the same language? I am putting aside here all political crap and I want to say that I respect the right of Czechs and Slovaks to call their own language with their own name due to history, national and similar reasons. However, *practically*, isn't it really the same language? I have some very basic understanding of both languages and have compared them written quite a lot. My observations so far are that those languages are so similar that:
  • they are WAY, WAY more similar than Macedonian and Bulgarian, for which there is quite ongoing debate if are separate languages or not
  • In the written form, they are almost as similar as Croatian and Serbian
  • They are WAY more similar between some of the Slovenian dialects and official Slovene
So, provided that I can assure you that a Bulgarian can not watch a Macedonian movie or read a Macedonian book without some significant troubles, could you please tell me:
  1. Can Czech people read books in Slovak completely fluently without issues (and the other way around)?
  2. Can Czech people watch Slovak movies completely fluently without issues (and the other way around)? (BTW I can assure you that Spanish people from Spain CAN NOT watch some movies from South America without subtitles)
  3. Can Czech and Slovak people communicate on ANY topic, regardless of its complexity for hours, each of them using their own language for communication?
  4. Do Czech and Slovak people EVER use English as a mean of communication between each other?
  5. To what extent TV shows/movies mix native actors/speakers from both nationality in their productions without subtitles?
  6. Do Slovak movies with Czech subtitles exist at all (and the other way around)?
  7. I speak Slovene and I know very well that Coloquial Slovene has nothing to to with official Slovene (they are so different that on some occasions the MI between them maybe below 20%). I have heard something similar about Czech. If this is true: Do Slovaks who understand official Czech also understand Coloquial Czech to the same degree?

Last but not least, I am interested to find out how Slovak and Czech standards were created - did they originate from the same dialect in the past? Because (official) Croatian and Serbian are indeed created on the same dialect - Shtokavian (while in Croatia there are also spoken Chakavian and Kajkavian which IMO represent separate languages). And if Czech and Slovak were not created as standards based on the same dialect, how come they are SO similar nowadays that they look as two standards of the same language?
 
  • Mori.cze

    Senior Member
    Czech
    Hi,

    there are indeed some old and politically incorrect:) mentions of Slovak as a dialect of Czech (obviously written by Czech authors).

    as for the similarity of the languages, it is a bit hard to judge for me as I was born in Czechoslovakia, meaning that I heard some Slovak from TV at the very least, so I cannot really separate how much of the language I learned and how much I understand though the similarities. I heard few times that younder people would not understand, but I tend not to believe it too much.

    as for your questions:
    1) yes (maybe once in a while you need to ask meaning of a specific word). There also might be a bit of trouble with some Slovak dialects
    2) yes, I do believe the movies are generally not dubbed (we are not much into subtitles)
    3) yes
    4) "ever" is a big word, I for one used English when speaking with a Slovak scientist on a topic we both were used to communicate about in English not because we would not understand each other, but because the translated terms sounded funny
    5) there are Slovak actors in Czech movie/TV series (not sure about other way around). Quite often the Slovak person speaks Czech in Czech proiduction. Within my social bubble this is rather frowned upon, we prefer to hear Slovak over Slovak accented Czech
    6) subtiles I doubt, but I believe there probably are dubbed movies. But it might be just politics. Books are normally translated. I find reading Slovak trifle more difficult than hearing it (though I like to read a Slovak book time to time). Some of Slovak literary production was even (I believe) written in Czech only (bigger market)
    7) Czech here, so I cannot be sure, but: absolutely yes.


    Generally Slovak people tend to understand/speak Czech way better than other way around, probably as their language is smaller, so they reead/watch our production more often then we do theirs.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    Thank you very much for your reply.

    So based on your replies I would conclude that I was right that CZ/SK difference is just a bit bigger than between Serbian and Croatian, but still way smaller than the one between Bulgarian and Macedonian.

    It is still very interesting that while Czech and Slovak are so similar, you (and also other people who answered similar questions online) are still putting into question the topic of "understanding". With Serbian and Croatian, yes, they might need to ask from time to time for certain words, but I do not think that the question of "understanding" exists at all (provided that we talk about official standards of the languages). It seems I would have to really to dig deeper into either Czech or Slovak to be able to feel the differences properly myself.

    It would be great if anyone else could share their insights as well.
     

    Mori.cze

    Senior Member
    Czech
    (I had a Slovak acquitance some years back whom I really find hard to understand. He was speaking eastern dialect and talking rather quietly and I am not of too good hearing, so I had to ask him quite often to repeat preferably while decreasing speed and increasing volume of his speach. Also, by "not to understand" I do not mean "they might be speaking Chinese and it would make no difference", but rather communication is awkward and/or slow with many requests for repetition or explanation)
     

    By-the-sea

    Member
    English - Scotland
    You might be interested in the non-native view.

    The disadvantage is of course that I am not a native speaker so my knowledge of Slovak is inferior but on the other hand I don't have the exposure to Czech that Slovaks tend to have - either from growing up in Czechoslovakia or from reading and studying Czech books, or watching TV/films etc.

    I find Czech difficult. I spent years avoiding it on TV/films and still do unless there's real motivation. I haven't had much exposure to it. I get the odd work thing in Czech and read things occasionally, but don't have any real contact with Czechs. I find spoken Czech is worse (better in Moravia - closer to Slovak) as the rhythm is so different, and then there are a lot of vocab differences. So by the time I get into the rhythm and try to guess the words I don't know I tend to miss a fair bit. The words are the main problem. The brain can adjust to the rhythm after a while but if you don't know that e.g. židle is stolička then it's hard to guess on the spot unless it's clear from the context. On the other hand I can understand Czech academic papers fairly well. I think that's because the differences between the two languages are smaller for that particular discourse. The vocab differences seem to be much bigger at the everyday practical language level.

    And it's not just me. Other non-native speakers I know - even friends who are pretty much bilingual - also have problems. But none of us have had any real exposure and we all avoid it so don't improve.

    In answer to Q1: Recently they've started publishing Slovak books in Czech (not many, but some). I'm not aware of it the other way round, but maybe just haven't noticed. I have heard stories of younger Czechs not understanding Slovak so don't know if they started translating things because the younger generations have greater difficulty or if it's just out of preference etc.
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    It is a common problem concerning non-natives, nihil novum sub sole. Btw, both židle and stolička are Czech words with similar meaning (the Czech stolička is mostly a smaller chair without an opěradlo = operadlo = backrest). In both languages stolička means also molar [tooth]. :)

    I have heard stories of younger Czechs not understanding Slovak ...
    It is a matter of motivation. My first book written in Standard Slovak was "Tarzan z rodu opíc" (Burroughs: Tarzan of the Apes, Bratislava 1967). I was cca 12 year old and I hadn't a previous exposure to Slovak (born in Prague, I had no Slovak classmates). But the novel was a real page-turner, I quickly became accustomed to Slovak.

    You can compare the plot of the novel written in Standard Slovak and in Standard Czech (my translation). I shall eat my hat if you'll find a substantial difference. I admit that the dialogues in colloquial Slovak or Czech may be more unintelligible especially for non-natives knowing only one language (either Slovak or Czech).

    Rodičia mu zahynuli krátko po tom, čo ich na pusté pobrežie vysadili piráti. Chlapca si osvojila opica Kála a starala sa oň ako o vlastné mláďa.

    Rodiče mu zahynuli krátce po tom, co je (acc. them, the Slovak ich is gen.) na pusté pobřeží vysadili piráti. Chlapce si osvojila opice Kála a starala se oň (= o něj) jako o vlastní mládě.

    A tu sa začína rad neuveriteľne napínavých príbehov z prostredia opíc a iných divých zvierat. Tarzan sa naučí ich obratnosti a šikovnosti, postupne si dokáže zabezpečiť potravu a bojovať s nebezpečnými protivníkmi. V jeho živote nastane neobyčajná zmena, keď objaví chatrč, kde žili jeho rodičia, a knižky s obrázkami. Najväčšia zmena ho však čaká, keď sa na pobreží zjaví skupina belochov a medzi nimi krásna a šľachetná Jane Porterová.

    A tu (or tady or zde) [se] začíná řada neuvěřitelně napínavých příběhů z prostředí opic a jiných divokých (or divých) zvířat. Tarzan se naučí (je)jich obratnosti a šikovnosti, postupně si dokáže zabezpečit potravu a bojovat s nebezpečnými protivníky. V jeho životě nastane neobyčejná změna, když objeví chatrč, kde žili jeho rodiče, a knížky s obrázky. Největší změna ho však čeká, když se na pobřeží zjeví (or objeví) skupina bělochů a mezi nimi krásná a šlechetná Jane Porterová.
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Slovak has some Hungarian words that are not understandable for [young] Czechs. For example: ťava (Hu. teve, Cz. velbloud, Eng. camel), kefa (Hu. kefe, Cz. kartáč [of Romance origin], Eng. brush), bosorka (Hu. boszorkány, Cz. čarodějnice, Eng. witch), lopta (Hu. labda, Cz. míč, Eng. ball), mačka (Hu. macska, Cz. kočka, Eng. cat). They must be memorized. Hungarian, Czech, Slovak kabát (Eng. coat) is a common word (of Persian origin kabā).
     
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    vianie

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    It is a matter of motivation.
    As a child of ČSSR, I raised in a kind of bilingual environment, hearing and listening to Czech throughout my very early years. You actually could not hide from it, common federal radio and television did their job. When I was in Prague at the age of ten, I finally heard that tuneful language live. At the same time I remember that I did not really like reading Czech books, Slovak seemed to be more flowing to me. This changed when I got older.
    Rodiče mu zahynuli krátce po tom, co je (acc. them, the Slovak ich is gen.) na pusté pobřeží vysadili piráti.
    Nope, it is still accusative.
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Yes. See Slovácko (Moravian Slovakia), with its center Uherské Hradiště (Magyarhradis).

    "Natives of this region speak the Eastern Moravian dialects of the Czech language, which are transitional dialects between Czech and Slovak. Due to these cultural and linguistic links to Slovakia, many ethnographers until the 20th century used to consider Moravian Slovaks as a people which politically belonged to Moravia and the Bohemian Crown but ethnographically and culturally to the Slovak ethnic group." (Wiki)
     
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    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    (I had a Slovak acquitance some years back whom I really find hard to understand. He was speaking eastern dialect and talking rather quietly and I am not of too good hearing, so I had to ask him quite often to repeat preferably while decreasing speed and increasing volume of his speach. Also, by "not to understand" I do not mean "they might be speaking Chinese and it would make no difference", but rather communication is awkward and/or slow with many requests for repetition or explanation)
    Yes, but we are talking about the official standards here, dialects can be super extreme. I can assure you that if you speak fluently official Slovene you will understand less than 20% of the most widely spread coloquial version of the language, and there are dialects to which after I have spent 5 months in the country and have a great level of both the coloquial and official language, after listening for a few minutes I was wondering - what is this language, is it an Indo-European language at all? :) BTW even Slovenes don't understand very well all of their dialects, Slovene is notorious fot that. And I have heard that East Slovak dialects can be super rough as well.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    You might be interested in the non-native view.

    The disadvantage is of course that I am not a native speaker so my knowledge of Slovak is inferior but on the other hand I don't have the exposure to Czech that Slovaks tend to have - either from growing up in Czechoslovakia or from reading and studying Czech books, or watching TV/films etc.

    I find Czech difficult. I spent years avoiding it on TV/films and still do unless there's real motivation. I haven't had much exposure to it. I get the odd work thing in Czech and read things occasionally, but don't have any real contact with Czechs. I find spoken Czech is worse (better in Moravia - closer to Slovak) as the rhythm is so different, and then there are a lot of vocab differences. So by the time I get into the rhythm and try to guess the words I don't know I tend to miss a fair bit. The words are the main problem. The brain can adjust to the rhythm after a while but if you don't know that e.g. židle is stolička then it's hard to guess on the spot unless it's clear from the context. On the other hand I can understand Czech academic papers fairly well. I think that's because the differences between the two languages are smaller for that particular discourse. The vocab differences seem to be much bigger at the everyday practical language level.

    And it's not just me. Other non-native speakers I know - even friends who are pretty much bilingual - also have problems. But none of us have had any real exposure and we all avoid it so don't improve.

    In answer to Q1: Recently they've started publishing Slovak books in Czech (not many, but some). I'm not aware of it the other way round, but maybe just haven't noticed. I have heard stories of younger Czechs not understanding Slovak so don't know if they started translating things because the younger generations have greater difficulty or if it's just out of preference etc.

    Well, non-natives for sure are way inferior than Czech and Slovaks in this case, I agree.

    I think the situation you describe is like the Catalan/Valencian/Spanish triangle. Catalan and Valencian are two versions of the same language - let's say, even closer than Czech and Slovak, something like Croatian and Serbian. So they would understand each other even better than Czechs and Slovaks - I guess no less than 95-99+%. However, in this case I would call Catalan the Czech analog due to its hard pronunciation, and Valencian - Slovak due to its straight forward (Spanish-like) pronunciation. So while Catalan and Valencian speakers can perfectly understand each other, Spanish people tend to understand Valencian way better than Catalan - only because of its pronunciation. I am not a Spanish native but based on a statement by a such friend of mine, Spanish people would understand ~70% from Valencian and ~40% from Catalan. Of course, for the spoken version. For the written versions, they should understand both "languages" to the same degree - and you also confirmed that by saying you understand written Czech quite well.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    Having read the two paragraphs, I can indeed assure Catalonian and Valencian look way closer than Czech and Slovak. Though very similar, it's almost like there's a difference in every word between the latter. With the former, it's more like a pair of them every sentence.

    On the other hand, from what I've heard about Serbo-Croatian, I'd say they are more similar than Catalonian-Valencian, but that's probably because it is based on the same dialect, while Catalonian and Valencian are based on the vernacular dialects of each territory, even if the spelling conventions are the same and there's some efforts for higher convergence.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    Having read the two paragraphs, I can indeed assure Catalonian and Valencian look way closer than Czech and Slovak. Though very similar, it's almost like there's a difference in every word between the latter. With the former, it's more like a pair of them every sentence.
    I agree. It should be noted though that Valencian and Catalan have still significant difference in the pronunciation which is non existent in Serbian and Croatian but is present in Czech/Slovak. Based on my observations I would rate the three pairs mutual intelligibility roughly as:

    1. Serbian/Croatian -> 95-98+%
    2. Catalan/Valencian -> ~95%? (you could confirm that)
    3. Czech/Slovak -> 90-95%

    taking in mind overall (oral + written mutual intelligibility).
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Keep in mind that of all these very similar languages, only Serbian and Croatian actually had a unified standard (variants existed, but there was a conscious effort, today reversed, to eliminate the differences between them). So it's not really comparable to Czech and Slovak, maybe a little bit more to Catalan and Valencian. And what differences exist usually aren't an obstacle to mutual intelligibility... mostly they just make the language sound unusual (The cadence of the Serbian, more precisely the Belgrade accent, and [ɛ] and [ɔ] for /e/ and /o/ are immediately recognizable and strike the ear until one get's used to them).

    I'd definitely rate mutual inteligibility at 98+%, if you picked a random text there's a big chance I'd understand everything.
     
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    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    Keep in mind that of all these very similar languages, only Serbian and Croatian actually had a unified standard (variants existed, but there was a conscious effort, today reversed, to eliminate the differences between them). So it's not really comparable to Czech and Slovak, maybe a little bit more to Catalan and Valencian. And what differences exist usually aren't an obstacle to mutual intelligibility... mostly they just make the language sound unusual (The cadence of the Serbian, more precisely the Belgrade accent, and [ɛ] and [ɔ] for /e/ and /o/ are immediately recognizable and strike the ear until one get's used to them).

    I'd definitely rate mutual inteligibility at 98+%, if you picked a random text there's a big chance I'd understand everything.
    I agree with you that SR/CR is the closest pair, but I don't think the reason for this is the attempt to create Serbo-Croatian. This attempt was not completely successful, this common standard existed only in theory and both Croats and Serbs kept speaking their standard before, during and after that attempt. I think that the real reason is that historically Serbian and Croatian were standardized based on the same macrodialect - Shtokavian (if I am not wrong, initially Serbian was based on the East-Bosnian sub-dialect and Croatian based on the ______? sub dialect). So they were more or less determined to be virtually the same since their "birth".

    What spikes my interest is why Czech and Slovak are also practically identical? I mean, OK, the difference could be a bit bigger, but it is still obvious that this is the same linguistic base, just altered a bit on both sides. When you read a text in both languages, you can follow the same words, with just a different letter or a word here and there. From what I know, this is only possible for CZ/SK, SR/CR, Catalan/Valencian and (standard) Norwegian/Danish. It's funny to me that many nationalist here in Bulgaria argue that Macedonian is the same language - historically and politically it could be, but nowadays, linguistically, it is just not. You can not do the same reading operation with this pair as with what described above.

    Anyway, I am interested to find out why this happened to CZ/SK? Seems impossible to me otherwise. As Dymn mentinoed, Catalan and Valencian are based on neighbor dialects, Serbian and Croatian are both based on Shtokavian, standard Norwegian (from what I know) has jsut literally the real Danish standard (but the spoken language is quite different). So what's the case with Slovak and Czech, how they ended up in this situation historically - did they also evolve from the same dialect?
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Well, both standard Serbian and standard Croatian were initially to be based on not only the same macro-dialect, but on the same dialect: the so called East Herzegovinian dialect (East Bosnian dialect is rather different), and both did it for the same reasons: that was the most widely spoken dialect shared by all Western South Slavic nations (this obviously helps draw more people to the standardizer's cause, which was some form of South Slavic unity against the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires). For the first two decades the standardization was done separately, leading to some noticeable but not insurmountable differences in standard Serbian and Croatian vocabularies, but since the late 19th century they collaborated and this continued until the breakup of Yugoslavia. During Yugoslavia everyone heard Serbian words on TV and in the army (dont know how many Serbians watched Croatian TV), eventually creating 100% mutual inteligibility: whenever I watch Serbian TV and come upon an unknown word, my parents will probably know what it means.

    Interestingly, Vuk Karadžić, the creator of the modern Serbian standard language and a native speaker of the East Herzegovinian dialect, wanted standard Serbian to be ijekavian, but this wasn't happily accepted in Serbia proper where most dialects are ekavian. Had his proposal been accepted the two standards would be extremely similar and probably fully mergeable.

    The CZ/SK case is, I'm pretty sure, a case of different but similar dialects undergoing separate standardization. This is comparable, say, to the Gradišće Croatian standard language and the "normal" Croatian standard language.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    Oh yes, it was East Hercegovian, my bad.

    That's interesting info that you shared, thank you. I am not aware of Gradišće Croatian, but I guess it is still Shtokavian sub-dialect. Because Kaikavian and Chakavian are literally independent languages, they are even way closer to Slovene than to BCS.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Gradišće Croatian is Čakavian, this is why I compared it and homeland Croatian to Czech and Slovak: different but related dialects.

    I honestly think, as a (sort of) native speaker of a Kajkavian dialect, that the differences between Ča-, Kaj- and Štokavian are often exaggerated. That may be because during the last century most of the dialects have been urbanized and became closer to the standard language, but even the archaic dialect older people speak doesn't seems like a completely different language. Having taken a Slovene course, I have to say that while my local dialect is indeed similar to it in many respects where both differ from Štokavian, Slovene still remains only partially inteligible: since the 19th century they've built their standard language's vocabulary completely separately from other Western South Slavic peoples, often favouring neologisms (standard Slovene is very puristic, while my local dialect is full of German loanwords), and it seriously impedes mutual inteligibility. I'd say Kajkavian is about equally different from both Slovene and Štokavian.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    I'm sorry, I am not sure if I got your point, but is it that Czech and Slovak are as mutually intelligible as Croatian and Chakavian?

    If yes, I have to strongly disagree. I recently found a scientific paper which has studies the MI between the Slavic languages, rating the (oral) MI between Czech and Slovak as high as 91 and 94%, respectively - the written is even higher, while the Croatian-Chakavian one as the vague 37 (0-75%). I think that everyone who has had contact with these pair of languages can see the same thing - it's just obvious. I have personally met a Croat who told me that on some of the Croatian islands he can not understand a single word.

    As I am fluent both in Serbo-Croatian and Slovene, I can quite easily understand Kaikavian - I'd say 80+%, and for Chakavian it'is less mainly due to the Italian words.

    However, I really think that this can not be a point of discussion - one just needs to get a random one-page text in Croatian/Chakavian and Czech/Slovak and to compare both pairs in order to make their conclusions. Even from a bare look it's obvious that Croatian and Chakavian are only partially MI, and not to a really high degree. I am confident that we can not treat them as two standards of the same language.

    I also think that native Croats often underestimate their passive exposure to Chakavian and Kaikavian which for sure influences their understanding of those languages. Maybe another interesting experiment would be to take a Serbian guy and have him read a Chakavian or Kaikavian text and see how much he will understand. Anything above 70% will surprise me, for Czech and Slovak we are talking about something like 95%.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    If Czech and Slovak are 95% the same, why can't we refer to them as the same language? I mean British and American English may even diverge more. Continental and Brazilian Portuguese certainly do.
    Just in passing I must say Catalan and Valencian are the same language. I cannot imagine one group not understanding the other, oral or written even colloquially, and I'm talking in the British/American English sense, no more no less. The divisions are exaggerated due to political reasons, rivalry, competition and maybe hard feelings. Perhaps that has motivated the Czech and Slovak division?
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    If Czech and Slovak are 95% the same, why can't we refer to them as the same language?
    Are you ironic when asking this? Because I am seriously asking the same question and I am not ironic. Apart from the political/historical side of the story, which I respect as any nation has the right to have its own language, practically they seem as one language to me.

    Spanish from Argentina or Chile may have as low as 50% oral MI with Spanish from Spain on some occasions.

    Let alone the internal dialects of Slovene, if you understand perfectly the standard norm, some of them may be as comprehensive as Chinese.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    2. Catalan/Valencian -> ~95%? (you could confirm that)
    Higher than that, 100% or almost 100%, maybe except for the odd word here and there. Anyway, I'm sure a lot has to do with exposure as well, because for example "to go out" is "sortir" in Catalonia and "eixir" in Valencia but we understand it because we're exposed to the variety of each other. It's true pronunciation is quite divergent, something like the difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese. I don't think the difference is that big among the various Spanish or English varieties. The Catalan variety which is usually 100% intelligible but sometimes requires the speaker to make an effort understanding them is actually Balearic, for both Catalans and Valencians.

    Spanish from Argentina or Chile may have as low as 50% oral MI with Spanish from Spain on some occasions.
    No, that's not true, all varieties of Spanish are perfectly mutually intelligible, only in a slang-packed conversation or in a noisy atmosphere I could comprehend it if speakers had some problems understanding each other.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    @ pastet89

    My point wasn't about mutual inteligibility, but about the reasons for the closeness of Czech and Slovak. They were two different but closely related dialects since Common Slavic times: they were independent but didn't diverge very much.

    Can you give me a link to that paper? This sounds quite suspicious at a first glance, but could be explained, if true, by different levels of exposure. I don't think native Štokavians have any exposure to true (not watered-down) Kajkavian or Čakavian, but the opposite is of course true, since the standard language is Štokavian and everyone is constantly exposed to it. So, it may be that I'm not a good judge since I'm basically bilingual (and only a passive speaker of the local dialect) and have been exposed to both from an early age.

    For some examples of Kajkavian, Čakavian and mixtures thereof to be used to judge mutual inteligibility, have a look at this page.

    (And honestly, every speaker of Kajkavian and Čakavian will call his language Croatian! So we have an unusual situation where three rather different dialects are considered the same language, and at the same time parts of one of them are considerent a different language... but that's how language identity works! In serious linguistic discussion it would be the best to just get rid of national names and speak of Western South Slavic dialects, divided into Slovene, Kajkavian, Čakavian and Štokavian at the least)

    (As for your Czech and Slovak examples, they look extremely similar to me (random Kajkavian would probably be only slightly more different from random Štokavian that these two are). I can only vaguely understand them and mostly have to deduct what a word might mean, but I get the general sense.)
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    AFAIK the Czech and Slovak dialects are parts of one dialect continuum and even not separated by a foreign language. The Standard/Literary Czech is based on the Central Bohemian dialect (or Prague dialect, if you want it) and the Standard/Literary Slovak is based on the Central Slovak dialect. In large measure both standards are artificial figments of imagination. The authors drew inspiration from all dialects. Perhaps their goal was to preserve and increase the mutual intelligibility between dialects and even between Czech and Slovak, in this latter case especially in scientifical and technical texts (it's very important, for Slovaks more than for Czechs).

    The distance between Prague (Central Bohemia) and Banská Bystrica (Central Slovakia) is 373 km, both cities are literally within spitting distance (Prague-Bratislava 291 km, Brno-Bratislava even only 122 km). Compare it with the distance between Vienna and Bremen: 759 km (across Bohemia).

    So, what you wonder at? The dialect continuum usually doesn't change much in such a short distance.

    Btw, in the Czech Republic Slovak has the official status of an understandable language, the documents submitted to the Czech authorities can be written in Standard Slovak (I guess the official documents usually don't contain such strange words like ťava (camel), bosorka (witch), vankúš (pillow), čučoriedka (blueberry) or mókuška/drevokocúr (squirrel)). Other minorities (like Poles, Germans, Gypsies, etc.) have no such advantage. They have to speak Czech (or Slovak, of course), otherwise they need an interpreter.
     
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    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    @ pastet89

    Can you give me a link to that paper? This sounds quite suspicious at a first glance, but could be explained, if true, by different levels of exposure. I don't think native Štokavians have any exposure to true (not watered-down) Kajkavian or Čakavian, but the opposite is of course true, since the standard language is Štokavian and everyone is constantly exposed to it. So, it may be that I'm not a good judge since I'm basically bilingual (and only a passive speaker of the local dialect) and have been exposed to both from an early age.
    .......

    (As for your Czech and Slovak examples, they look extremely similar to me (random Kajkavian would probably be only slightly more different from random Štokavian that these two are). I can only vaguely understand them and mostly have to deduct what a word might mean, but I get the general sense.)

    Sorry for my late reply!

    This is the link to the paper: Mutual Intelligibility of Languages in the Slavic Family
    I definitely don't agree with all of it as there are obvious mistakes there - such as MI from the perspective of Bulgarian 27% to Serbo-Croatian and 50/60% respectively to Serbian and Croatian.

    I do, however, agree with most of the numbers there, I would give Croatian/Kajkavian ~80% MI and Croatian/Chakavian ~70% MI. I am not a native speaker, but I actually have pretty good idea of those languages/dialects. Apart from covering them in University, I have dived into them myself as they were quite interesting to me. Again: sorry, but I will disagree that Kajkavian/Croatrian MI is as big as the CZ/SK one. CZ/SK are way closer. My feeling is that if I didn't speak Slovene I would understand very poorly Kajkavian and to me (and BTW as per the same study paper) Kajkavian is still closer to Slovene than it is to Croatian.

    With all that being said, there are two more points to consider in this discussion:

    1. CZ/SK are languages with estimated official standards and is easy to judge their MI. Kajkavian, even though had its own standard in the past, currently is not standardized and has the freedom of having may variants as subdialects. This makes it more difficult to judge as Croats may understand quite well "one type of Kajkavian" and worse "another type of it". The best measure would be to take a book in Kajkavian (for example, a decent part of "Registratura" is written in it) and to compare it with the corresponding Croatian translation. Then to the same with the CZ/SK translations. But I am still sure that the difference will be on another level with Croatian/Kajkavian.

    2. When judging MI people often underestimate the importance of the size of the data they use to make their conclusions. There is a phenomena which I have spotted long time ago - there are different corporas in the languages which may trick us very badly when judging MI. Because some part of the language may be very close to the other one while other parts may be very different. And then when we judge only by one sentence or one paragraph or one style of speech, we might make very wrong conclusions.

    I can immediately think of some good examples for this:

    * Bulgarians claiming to understand BCSM on 90+%. The reason for this is that the most common corpora, which includes the 50 or so most essential words for communication, which are also the most frequent, is indeed almost the same between those two languages. And indeed, on the street you can understand the other person almost without problems in almost any situation - provided that you speak on very simple topics. This makes the wrong impression that "the whole BCSM" is 90% MI with Bulgarian which can not be further from the truth. I have done this experiment myself with multiple people from Bulgaria - have them watch a movie or try to read a book in BCSM - and eventually they themselves were surprised that this time they understood only what it was about (the main topic) or at most 50%.

    * The same, but the opposite with Bulgarian - Russian. The most essential words in those languages are different, but as the Bulgarian literature was created under the strong influence of the Russian one, at least to me it seems that the bigger and more complex vocabulary is more common between Bulgarian and Russian than between Bulgarian and BCSM. So I think that if a Bulgarian learns the 50 most essential Russian words, they will be able to read a book in Russian easier than in Serbian.

    * Serbians who claim to understand better Slovak than Slovene. Here it might be the Slovene dialects and the crazy Slovene pronunciation, but it might be again something to do with the corporas. Some of the most essential words, which are the key to the rest of the language in Slovene, from the BCSM perspective, are quite weird and uncommon while more straight-forward in Slovak - grem/idem, pravim/hovorím, bi rad/chcem, lahko/možem... On the other side, if a Serb or Croat learns Slovak on A1, they will still have a long, long way to go till they can read a book. But if they learn Slovene on A1 it will be way easier for them to read a book with advanced lexis in Slovene than in Slovak.

    What I want to say with all this is that if we judge a MI between two languages we need to make our conclusions based on a big enough data. Which means to take randomly, any amount of text, on any complexity level, any topic, any language style and do multiple comparisons. And if the results are the same (as it seems to be the case with CZ/SK), we can make a general conclusion.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    The distance between Prague (Central Bohemia) and Banská Bystrica (Central Slovakia) is 373 km, both cities are literally within spitting distance (Prague-Bratislava 291 km, Brno-Bratislava even only 122 km). Compare it with the distance between Vienna and Bremen: 759 km (across Bohemia).

    So, what you wonder at? The dialect continuum usually doesn't change much in such a short distance.
    It's not always about distance. In Slovenia, literally 20 km you will stumble upon a new dialect and 373 you will be in another one of the nine major dialect groups, which are so different that you may already encounter serious communication problems. I think that in this case geography plays a role. In Slovenia (and I think also in Switzerland) due to the mountains, there were a lot of separated and isolated villages in the past and there was not ongoing communication between them. That led to the creation of so many (50+!!) and so different dialects on such a small area for a language, spoken by only 2 million people. If I am not mistaken, historically the initial reason for creating a standard Slovene was literally the need for a "common language" as a mean of communication between all these dialects.

    Btw, in the Czech Republic Slovak has the official status of an understandable language, the documents submitted to the Czech authorities can be written in Standard Slovak (I guess the official documents usually don't contain such strange words like ťava (camel), bosorka (witch), vankúš (pillow), čučoriedka (blueberry) or mókuška/drevokocúr (squirrel)). Other minorities (like Poles, Germans, Gypsies, etc.) have no such advantage. They have to speak Czech (or Slovak, of course), otherwise they need an interpreter.
    Yes, I have heard that also on another forum, someone also said that you can submit your paper (dissertation I guess) at University in the other language. Could you please confirm that as well? And is it the same the other way around - Czech being recognized the same way as a second standard in Slovakia?
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    @ pastet89: that researcher is a freelancer and not an academic. His conclusions are probably as reliable as ours. I've read some of his papers and I wouldn't trust his on most of the things he says.

    If there's one thing you can conclude from his figures, it's that mutual intelligibility is an awful measure of the closeness of two languages. Standard Croatian understanding more Czech than plain Zagorje Kajkavian is, to put it bluntly, absurd. Bednjanski is one thing since it had an all-encompassing vowel shift which disguises the shape of many normal, shared words, but plain Zagorje Kajkavian...

    If you've studied Serbo-Croatian and Slovene, have a listen to the site I posted. Especially Mahićno, that's the pure traditional local dialect spoken by an old woman (now sadly deceased), I can guarantee since that's my neighbouring village. Then judge mutual intelligibility.

    But since this is about Czech and Slovak, let's better focus on this two languages, and I can't help since I've had little exposure to either. The example text is extremely similar, though.
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    I knew that somebody would argue. But I didn't expect a Brasilian. :)

    The word drevokocúr (lit. wood or tree-tomcat) exists, however not in Standard Slovak. It is a calque from German Eichkatze (= lit. "oak-cat", = squirrel).
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Did you read all the text you yourself linked to? It doesn't look like it.

    And what does me being a Brazilian have to do with it? I don't like to give out personal information, but I am also a Czech citizen. So :) back at you.

    And how can it be a calque of Eichkatze if the alleged word word is drevokocúr, not dubomačka?
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Sorry. I expected that a Slovak would protest. It was a little provocation from me. In Czech/Slovak paragliding slang the word drevokocúr means a poor devil that landed in the treetop (like a squirrel). Thus the word exists.

    I was surprised that some Slovak dialects use mókuška for squirrel. It is really incomprehensible for the Czechs. It came from Hungarian: móka, mókus, mókuska.

    Standard Slovak veverica (like in BCS) = Czech veverka (also veveřice f., veveřák m.), in Ukrainian вивірка , but in Russian «белка».
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    @Zec

    Yes, I also disagree with some of the numbers in his papers and I agree that Czech being closer to Croatian than Kajkavian is absurd. I still agree with a decent part of his figures though.

    I listened to the dialect from Mahićno you sent, thanks for sharing. I could understand ~80%. This is not standard Kajkavian - I could immediately spot it by the word najveći (which is the same standard Croatian, I'm not sure just if it was č or ć in the dialect) instead of najvekši.

    As I said, judging MI has to be done based on big enough data, preferably on standardized text (sadly Kajkavian standard has not been maintained for quite a while). Listening to this example only confirmed my concerns that when judging MI with Kajkavian we can be deceived by its subdialects as this one particularly seems closer to standard Croatian than the standard Kajkavian present in literature.

    I found also this interesting site which contains quite some literature in Kajkavian. After reading some of the poems I was actually surprised how small of it I could understand this time, even with my Slovene knowledge. And I can still not imagine at all the degree of fluency which Czechs and Slovaks describe between their languages to happen between Serbian (or Croatian with zero Kajkavian exposure) and Kajkavian.

    Anyway, you are right that we shifted the focus quite off topic as the thread started as a topic about the MI between Slovak and Czech so let's focus on them.

    BTW since I started the thread I also started to pick up both Slovak and Czech, with regular daily exposure and by learning the main lexic. I think that I can already feel the difference between them myself. Here are my new observations:

    * There are quite more differences between SK and CZ than between Serbian and Croatian, but almost all of them are on the morphological and phonological levels. The serious differences in the lexic feel almost the same as between Serbian and Croatian to me - super tiny. There are much more words which differ by at least one letter than in Serbian/Croatian (say, each 3rd word instead of each 7-8 th word), but the words which are totally different still seem to be one each 15 if not even 1 each 20.
    * There is almost non existent difference in the phonetic and pronunciation between Serbian and Croatian but it seems to be a decent difference in the pronunciation between Czech and Slovak. Not as extreme as between Portugal/Spanish, but maybe as serious as between Catalan/Spanish. Czech words seem to be shorter and Czech pronunciation seem to be much more challenging from the average neutral perspective. When I started my learning experiment three weeks ago I could understand 0-5% of spoken Czech and 15-20% of spoken Slovak. Now if I carefully select the content (an easy, slowly spoken one), I could understand up to 70-80% of Slovak, but my best understanding of Czech would be still rather below 50%. Of course, these differences refer only to the spoken languages. Having that in mind, it is very strange to me that Czechs tend to have more troubles understanding Slovak than the other way around. I understand that it has to do with more Czech exposure in Slovakia but I am still surprised here.

    * There are more serious grammar differences between CZ and SK such as the lack of vocative in SK, and the different endings of the noun cases. There is also serious difference in the orthography between CZ and SK which (apart from personal foreign names written in the origin language in Croatian) is not existent at all between Serbian and Croatian.

    So it seems to me that the reason why we treat CZ/SK as separate languages and why (most of us) don't do so with Serbian and Croatian are the many differences in orthography, morphology and phonology, which are virtually no present between the different BCSM standards. On the lexical level, if Serbian and Croatian are more than 95% the same, I would still argue that CZ/SK are around 95% the same.
     
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    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    On the lexical level, if Serbian and Croatian are more than 95% the same, I would still argue that CZ/SK are around 95% the same.
    Hello everybody.
    I have almost read all the thread and it is pretty interesting but I must admit that I am bit puzzled. How can two languages (CZ/SK) be around 95% the same if they have many differences in orthography, morphology and phonology?! That does not make sense to me...
    Unfortunately, I have no knowledge of the two languages but Slovak sounds way softer and more pleasant to my ear, probably this is due to the palatalized consonants.
     
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    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    @ pastet89: I deliberately showed you that particular dialect since it's a peculiar transitional dialect between Kajkavian and Čakavian, and spoken in it's traditional form to boot! As for that site, suffice to say the authors opinion isn't the most accepted one, and the language used on the site is rather artificial, as it's an attempt to revive the Kajkavian literary language. The same can be said about Miroslav Krleža's language: it's an artificial poetic language based on the old 15-18 century literary language and very distinct from vernacular dialects. Nowadays, whenever people want to speak about topic unrelated to traditional village life, they're doomed to borrow words from the today's standard language... that's why I think the differences are often exaggerated. But let's keep this topic to Czech and Slovak (which means I probably won't post much because I'm unfamiliar with them).

    @ Olaszinhok: I suppose he's thinking about obviously related words despite differences in phonology/morphology, like SK najväčšia / CZ nejvetší.
     

    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    @ Olaszinhok: I suppose he's thinking about obviously related words despite differences in phonology/morphology, like SK najväčšia / CZ nejvetší.
    Indeed, I referred mostly to words with different roots which are completely different such as nech/at', iba/pouze, etc...

    It is still hard for me to precisely judge how clear would sound for a speaker of the other language the rest of the words which differ by a letter or two, but I assume that the average person would need at maximum a few hours exposure to get used to the new style of speech and to start to understand all of them after that.

    That being said, CZ/SK are my fifth/sixth Slavic language(s), so for me it is already super intuitive to grasp new words which share the same roots whenever I encounter them. On the other hand, I know (although rare) Bulgarians and Serbians who can not understand almost a single word from the other language, which seems absurd to me. So it seems that the average person (not linguist or without interests in languages as most people on WordReference) has a different degree of "sense for languages".

    I'm still wondering how well the average young (born after Czechslovakia), unexposed to the other language, Czech or Slovak guy can perceive the other language in a spoken form when being exposed to it for the first time. I have read opinions on many forums that the mutual exposure has dropped after the separation of the countries, but when I surf Youtube it seems that a big part of the content has mixed comments, so it seems that it's very common for people from both countries to watch vlogs and music in the other language.
     
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    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Literary Czech is based on the Prague dialect that has developed some changes that don't exist in other esp. Moravian dialects. The most interesting is the so-called Bohemian (or Prague) umlaut (česká/pražská přehláska) which is quite unique among the Slavic languages. This umlaut was never completely adopted in the Moravian dialects.

    The Prague umlaut briefly:

    The vowel change (umlaut) occurred if a soft (palatal/palatalized/sibilant) consonant preceded any of the back vowels a / á / u / ú (short or long a / u).

    a > ě, and later > e after consonants that lost the palatalization
    á > ie (long ě), and later > í (long i)
    u > i
    ú > í


    The rule is almost completely without any exceptions, the change is systematic.

    Examples:

    juž > již; juh > jih; jutro > jitro;
    kľúč > klíč;
    ščúr > štír; ščuka > štika;
    ľud > lid; kľuka > klika;
    řújě (< *r'uja) > říje (hence zářuj (za řújě) > září = September, řújen > říjen = October);
    Ježúš > Ježíš; Ľudmila > Lidmila (but we now commonly say Ludmila, "middle" l); Juřie > Jiří;
    duša > dušě > duše (nom.); dušu > duši (acc.);
    čáša > čiešě > číše (nom.); čášu > čieši > číši (acc.);
    učiteľu > učiteli (dat. voc.);
    mořa (< *morja) > mořě > moře;
    píšu > píši (I write); píšú > píší (they write);

    Other changes:

    ł / ľ (hard, soft l) > l (middle l) : učiteľ > učitel;
    however Czech retains the difference in the declension paterns:
    učitel (orig. učiteľ, soft l), gen. učitele (orig. učiteľa > učitelě > učitele), but ďábel, gen. ďábla (hard l, no umlaut);

    šč > šť : ščuka > štika, ščebetati > štěbetati, ščedr > štědrý, ščěstie > štěstí;

    aj > ej : daj > dej, pomáhaj > pomáhej, najvyššie > nejvyšší;

    ó > diphtong uo > ů (long u) : vóz > vůz, v oči > vóči > vůči (towards), chlapóv > chlapův (chlapů gen. pl. of chlapi);

    ú (long u) > diphtong ou (except in the initial position) : súd > soud, súdca > súdcě > soudce, hlúpý > hloupý;
    but úkol (not oukol), útrata (sometimes also colloq. outrata);

    ie (long ě) > í (long i) : pieseň > píseň, dielo > dílo, sudie > sudí, stavenie > stavení, zpievati > zpívati, třieti > tříti;

    The Moravian and Slovak dialects are phonetically more conservative than Modern Czech, the Slovak words often resemble the Old Czech words. To a large extent the changes are systematic and the orthography reflects pronunciation. It is not difficult to understand Standard Slovak texts, even if nearly every word is written differently than in Czech.

    Another example in Standard Slovak (about e-prescribing):

    — Čo keď bude výpadok internetu a ja budem mať v ambulancii alebo pri okienku v lekárni pacienta?
    — Na plynulé využívanie služby je potrebné byť neustále pripojený na internet. No samozrejme, že nebudete čakať s predpisom/výdajom, kým internet nabehne. Pri výpadku jednoducho predpíšte/vydajte liek tak ako doteraz a váš softvér by mal odoslať tieto záznamy po opätovnom sprístupnení internetu.


    In Standard Czech (my translation):

    — Co když bude výpadek internetu a já budu mít v ambulanci anebo u okénka v lékárně pacienta?
    — Na plynulé využívání služby je potřebné být neustále připojen na internet. Ale samozřejmě [, že] nebudete čekat s předpisem (receptem) / výdejem, až internet naběhne. Při výpadku jednoduše předepište / vydejte lék tak jako dosud a váš software by měl odeslat tyto záznamy po opětovném zpřístupnění internetu.
     
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    pastet89

    Senior Member
    bulgarian
    @bibax

    Thank you very much for that information, very useful. I also thought there are rules for the phonetic changes between the two languages and I believe once you get accustomed to them, you could even speak correctly the other one.

    Two questions:

    1) How many false friends are between Slovak and Czech on average? Because I remember there were quite few of them. As opposed, I can think only of two between Serbian and Croatian.

    2) How different is coloquial Czech from standard Czech? I know only three languages which have two standards - a written and spoken, with significant difference - Czech, Slovene and Norwegian. I am still wondering though, how different are the Czech forms, and if they are too different, how come Slovaks can understand coloquial Czech (and do they really at all)?

    My perspective is that my experience with such language is Slovene, where the difference between the standard and the coloquial language is just insane. These are literally two distinct languages with plenty of different lexic (tons of German-origin words in the spoken form). It would not be exaggerated to claim that if a foreigner speaks fluently standard Slovene, they will understand nothing from the coloquial one. Let me give you an example with a simple text:

    Standard Slovene:

    Ravnokar sem se vrnil iz službe, zdaj pa moram hišo urediti, in sicer zvečer, ker jutri grem teč v gozdu pa ne bom imel časa zato. Kopalnico moram počistiti, pa še posebej to veliko ogledalo, ker je zelo umazano. Aja, tudi pa otroke moram skopati, sem pozabil. No, zadnji čas se mi zdi, da res rabim dopust, in sicer čim prej!

    Coloquial Slovene:

    Glihkar sm se vrnu s šihta, zdej pa moram bajto zrihtat, in sicer zvečer, kr jutri grem laufat v gozdu pa ne bom mel cajta zato. Kopalnico moram spucat, pa še posebej ta vlki špegl, ker je fejst umazan. Aja, tut pa froce skopat, sm pozabu. No, zadnji cajt se mi zdi, da res nucam dopust, in sicer čim prej!

    So - is coloquial Czech so different from standard Czech? Would be great if you can also provide two paragraphs in the two varieties so we, the non-natives can feel the difference.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I'm relieved that I understand most of the germanisms is this Colloquial Slovene text.
     

    vianie

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    can't we say that they are *virtually* the same language? I am putting aside here all political crap and I want to say that I respect the right of Czechs and Slovaks to call their own language with their own name due to history, national and similar reasons. However, *practically*, isn't it really the same language?
    The Czech-Slovak border is one of the oldest in Europe, and hence, one of the most stable.

    In the recent history, there has occured a symbolic number of Czech-Slovak territorial issues.
     
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