F for foreign influences

29-05-2002

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Hello and welcome to the ABC of Czech. The letter for this week is F and the topic: "foreign influences".

No language exists on its own and Czech, just like other languages, has been exposed to various influences over the centuries from both the country's neighbours and languages more distant or even extinct.

When the first Slavic tribes started settling in this region, they took over a number of words and place names from its previous inhabitants. These are words such as beran - ram, chmel - hops or ¾elezo, meaning iron. The largest part of today's Czech vocabulary is of Slavic origin. Some old and basic words are even shared by other Indo-European languages, such as the word sestra, meaning sister, my¹ for mouse or mléko for milk. Even in the earliest days, the influence of neighbouring Germanic tribes was apparent in the language. Words like kní¾e meaning prince - in which you can hear a faint echo of the Germanic König or king - are thoroughly domesticated and hardly anyone would look for their origin abroad.

With the spread of Christianity a number of Latin, Greek and Hebrew words were introduced into the language, for example m¹e for mass or sobota for Saturday. Latin was also the language of learning and contributed with expressions such as ¹kola - school, ¾ák for pupil or papír for paper, which are no longer felt as foreign. With the development of trade and crafts in the Middle Ages, a lot of German expressions found their way into the Czech language through direct contact, similarly to words pertaining to military matters. These came not only from German but also from French, Spanish and Italian - words like armáda for army or kavalerie for cavalry. During the Renaissance and Baroque period, Italian provided words from the area of architecture, music, finance and cuisine, such as kupole for dome, piáno for piano, banka for bank or the words salát, celer, petr¾el for salad, celery and parsley respectively. Culinary expressions were coming also from French, together with terms concerning beauty, etiquette and diplomacy.

Technical and scientific terms in Czech typically come from Latin or Greek and are shared by many other languages - biologie for biology, rádio a televize for radio and television, elektøina for electricity, to name but a few.

In the 20th century, English became the major source of new expressions in Czech, for example an abundance of sports terminology was adopted during the 1920's. The years of communism introduced many Russian words, referring mostly to military and economic matters. Today, English remains the chief source of new words in the fields of modern technology, politics, entertainment and lifestyle. Czech is open to new influences today unlike some two hundred years ago when the language was still fighting for its place in the sun and linguistic purism was considered a condition for its survival.

And that's all we have time for today, I'm afraid, but please join us next time for the letter G and greetings. Na shledanou. Bye-bye.

 

See also Living Czech.

29-05-2002