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Chosen articles 19.05.2013
There are few more personal and important aspects of culture than language and the Czech language is no exception. With approximately ten million Czech speakers in the Czech Republic itself and a further two million throughout the world, the richness of the traditions and ethnicity of the people is strong and vital.
Large migrations of native speakers occurred around World War I and World War II, as well as in 1948, when the country became a communist state, and 1968, during a brief period of liberalization, that became known as the Prague Spring. This movement of Czech people spread native speakers and their children throughout the world.
Today, outside of the Czech Republic, many Czech speakers are found in the neighboring countries with an understandably large number still living in the Slovak Republic after the split of the two nations. Further afield, there are significant Czech communities in Australia, Canada and, with more than 90,000 native speakers, the United States of America.
Until the late 1800’s, Czech was referred to in English as Bohemian. Having developed from the Proto-Slavic language of ancient times, Czech has undergone numerous changes that have maintained its relevance. In May 2004, Czech was recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. This gave it a deserved status among the twenty-three languages and acknowledged the importance of the nation to the success of the European Union as a whole.
The language established itself as distinct from other Slavic languages from the Tenth Century. The standing of Latin as the language of learning throughout the Middle Ages, led to the use of the Latin alphabet for more than three hundred years. But, as he took on the might of Rome through his religious reforms, Jan Hus also worked to devise a means of recording the Czech language that reflected its oral characteristics through the addition of diacritical marks. Unfortunately, this stride towards national identity didn’t help Jan Hus avoid being burnt at the stake for heresy, although one hopes his additions to the Latin alphabet weren’t his only crime.
Given the long association between the Czech and Slovak nations, it stands to reason that they share many aspects of language. Their individuality does also mean that there are matters of pronunciation and some differences in the definitions of words that maintain the discreet nature of each language. Moreover, like most modern language, Czech has responded to the languages of the world around it through the centuries and has adopted elements from Old Church Slavonic, Latin and German.
When the Estates Theatre first opened in Prague, it was three years before the first production was performed in Czech. Previously all such cultural demonstrations were created in German. But the culture and identity of the Czech people are now present and prolific in the growth of their own language.
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