Czech-Czech Dictionary

Discussion in 'General Language' started by carles, Feb 5, 2003.

  1. carles

    carles New Member

    I am living in Prague and studying Czech. Soon after my arrival to the Czech Republic, a question arose: Why doesn't a standard Czech Dictionary exist? I am not talking about a Czech-"Other language" Dictionary, but a true single-language dictionary with everything written in Czech, that is, a word and then a brief description of the word written in czech.
    In English, they have the Webster (and others), in France, the "Petit Robert", in Spain, the "Diccionario de la RAE", but in Czech Republic there is no such thing (or at least I have not been able to find it).
    Has this something to do with the fact that czech people say that they understand EVERY WORD in a Czech book? I, being spanish, do not understand every word in "El Quijote", and have to use a Spanish dictionary to find out its meaning.

    Thanks for your answers,
  2. Anke

    Anke Well-Known Member

    Hi Carles,

    there actually is a standard Czech-Czech dictionary, which is most often used in schools and in Czech courses. It is called "Slovník spisovné cestiny pro skolu a verejnost", has a white cover and blue and red on it. You will surely find it in the university bookshop in Celetná or in the uni building at namestí J. Palacha (or in other bookshops as well). It is very helpful for the learner of Czech, too, because it helps find out about grammatical exceptions. Each entry contains explanations of the word by examples. So look out for it (should be about 400 crowns)!
  3. carles

    carles New Member

    Hi Anke, thanks for your answer. In fact, I found the dictionary you talk about a few hours ago in a bookshop in Bila Labut and bought it. Anyway, thanks.
    But, if I go a little bit further in my inquiries, the dictionary has a small number of entries when compared to a standard English or French dictionary. Is this because czech vocabulary is actually smaller than English or French? If it is so, why? Because the language is actually spoken by less people? Because it is a more isolated language? If you ever have an answer for this, I would be grateful. Thanks again.
  4. Anke

    Anke Well-Known Member

    Hi Carles,

    your question is really interesting. I think (but this is only my opinion) that the dictionary is rather small because
    1. it is the dictionary of written Czech, which does not contain (much) spoken Czech
    2. many words in the Czech language are derrived from several stems - you will probably find the stems in the dictionary but only few derivations
    3. bigger standard dictionaries might still be developed...

    I think that the Czech language is very rich in expressions. There is a greater variety in wordstock than in English or French (which you might sometimes realize when translating). Little pre- and suffixes can change the conotation (meaning) of a word very easily. I don't know for sure which language contains more words but from my experience I would say it's Czech (you don't need many words to start talking English but you need to learn quite a few before talking Czech). Maybe somebody else wants to comment on that?!?!
  5. Dana

    Dana Well-Known Member

    Anke, I think you are right. Czech has a very rich vocabulary and you can often express a lot more than you can for instance in English just by adding a prefix or suffix or changing the stem of a word. How would one say "červeňoučké jablíčko" in English or French, keeping the exact same connotation? Or take the various expressions for the word "boy": chlapec, kluk, hoch, and all the possible diminutives and regional variations of it - chlapeček, klučík, klučina, hošík, hošíček... The same for "girl": dívka, děvče, dívčina, dívenka, holka, holčička...

    I don't have the dictionary handy, but what you said in your first two points makes sense to me. It probably doesn't contain all the possible variations of every word. Plus, I do believe that a bigger one is still to come.
  6. Halef

    Halef Well-Known Member

    The bigger version already exists, I think. It is called "Slovník spisovného jazyka českého", issued by ČSAV (Czechoslovak academy of science), Praha 1960-1971 (4 volumes) and Academia, Praha 1989 (8 volumes).

    As it's quite long time since, I suppose you won't find it in bookshops - but I am sure it is in libraries, the National library in Prague at least.

    Plus, there is a thing called Czech national corpus - a large, web-accessible database of Czech language. You search for a word in it and get back a short context - sentence or two from natural texts. You can find this at

    [This message has been edited by Halef (edited February 08, 2003).]
  7. carles

    carles New Member

    Thanks everybody for the answers.
    I would like to comment a little bit Anke's answer.
    I actually think there should be two questions being discussed. The first one, and that is the one you have been posting about, concerns the czech lexicon and its size. I honestly do not know which language has a bigger lexicon when comparing English, French or Czech. But I certainly agree that one major difference among Czech and the others is word derivation. As Dana points out, many actual slight differences in sense can be made in Czech with the aid of prefixes, and this makes the language rich. But I think that the number of radicals, or "word roots" may be actually smaller than in latin or germanic languages. I will explain this with an example:

    Arrive (EN) Arriver (FR) Prijit (CZ)
    Depart (EN) Partir (FR) Odejit (CZ)
    "Wander" (EN) Se balader (FR) Projit se (CZ)
    Cross (EN) Traverser (FR) Prejit (CZ)

    Here is an example of several verbs (same thing could be done with nouns) which have toatally different radicals or roots in English or French, but are all derived from Jit/Chodit in Czech. Of course, this is only an example, but make the test. Search for a word in a Czech/English dictionary, you will see that the number of entries is similar, but when you look up a word in english, the czech equivalents (there will be many, I agree) will mostly be derivates from other "main" verbs/nouns. Now do it the other way around. Look a czech word up, and see the equivalents in English. Those will be completely independent, different words absolutely non derivated.
    This leads to the second question that I wonder myself about. A Czech-Czech dictionary exists, and it is as big as any other (as Halef points out). But socially speaking, thins are very very different. I have lived in England and France, and I am myself spanish. In any of this country, ALL average middle-class homes have a dictionary at home (a monolingual dictionary, I mean). Every english family has the Oxford or the Webster, every french family has the "Petit Robert", every spanish family has the "Diccionario de la RAE" or similar ones.
    So then, why do czech people actually find it strange to have a monolingual dictionary at home and moreover, most of them don't actually know that one exists? I recently spoke with a czech girl that told me: "But what would be the sense of this, since its my language, I know all the words". And that is where the second question arises, czech people have affirmed to me several times that they actually understand EVERY SINGLE WORD when they read, say, Czech literature from the XIX or XX centuries. Well, english, french and spanish people don't. At all. And that is exactly why they all have a dictionary at home. When they read the newspaper or any book, when they go to the movies, when they hear someone talking on the television, they often hear words which belong to their language but that are completely unknown to them. And I am not talking about "Cizich slov" or specialized language (like medical or technical or botanical, or whatever). I am talking about words that are absolutely contemporary (not old words, belonging to the old style language no longer spoken), that are completely attached and belong to the english/french/spanish language. But those are words considered "intellectual", or maybe "high-standard". Those words are only known and used by people who have a profound knowledge of the language, who have read and studied quite a bit, who want to show until what extent they are familiar with their native language. And those words designate common things, things from everyday life. I can give you a quick example in English:

    "laconic" (from greek lakonikos)

    This is a word which means more or less "someon who speaks rather briefly, who answers whit monosyllabic words". This word comes from the greek, but has been in the english language from centuries ago. This is not a foreign word, it is an English word. And in spite of it, most english people do not know this word. But you will find this word in books, you will see people using it.
    There are thousands and thousands of words like this one in English, French or Spanish (I am sorry, but I do not know about German, I do not speak this language). Those words are the main reason for which people have monolingual dictionaries at home. Ortography may be a further reason, but we can discuss that later on...

    Thank you for your comments.

  8. finn

    finn Active Member

    Well, if I needed to know the Czech analogy of English 'laconic' ('lakonický' in Czech), I would look into my Dictionary of foreign words (Slovník cizích slov)...and it's quite common book here.
  9. Dana

    Dana Well-Known Member

    Carles, you had a good point comparing the different ways of creating words in Czech versus English or French. It is really not easy - if at all possible - to determine which language has a richer lexicon, and it is not the goal here.

    Why do Czechs not usually have the need for a Czech-Czech dictionary, that I can't answer. It has never occured to me as a strange thing until now that you mentioned it. I think you'll find a much larger percentage of people who own a Slovník cizích slov (Dictionary of Foreign Words) as finn pointed out. Come to think of it, a large number of the words whose exact meaning Czechs may not know or may not be sure about - like "lakonický", "ortodoxní", "kakofonie", "heretik", etc. - are of foreign origin and would be found in the dictionary of foreign words even though they are a part of the Czech language. The number of purely Czech words whose meaning may not be clear to Czechs is I think much smaller and those words often belong to a dialect or slang or are outdated.

    It is not true that Czechs understand every single word of their language. It is the same in Czech as you described in the other languages. The more educated a person is, the richer and more diverse vocabulary he or she knows and uses. Some books that belong to the "hard to read" category even have a lexicon in the back or on the bottom of a particular page that explains the words that may not be understood by everyone.
  10. Lorenzo

    Lorenzo Well-Known Member

    Hi all,

    This talk has made me curious and so I have picked up my small Czech-Italian dictionary and I have noticed that all of the entries filed under the letter "i" have either a Latin or Greek root. Quite interesting, carles, isn't it?
    I wonder if Czech people find these words a little odd or would rather spell them with a "j"...
    What's a "Slovník cizích slov", by the way? Is it a dictionary that lists all foreign words that have entered the Czech language? A dictionary where you could, for istance, find a word like "computer" (though the Czech version "počítač" seems to be more popular)?
    I have noticed that the spelling of foreign words tends to be altered in Czech. For example, the word "cocktail" is turned into "koktejl".
    I know that through the centuries some German words have also become part of the Czech vocabulary undergoing a "metamorphosis" (Would Kafka have used this word? [​IMG]) enriching the Czech language.
    I'm not a linguist but it seems to me that Czech is quite a vital language, still in growth. A language that can keep up with technology and changes. Czech words are used in computer glossary: "počítač", "mýš" or "pokec" instead of the English equivalents.
    I think one of peculiarities of the Czech language is that it has words with such different roots. Something that hardly occurs in any other language in Europe. Am I right?
    Czech is a Slavic language with Greek, Latin and Germanic influences and that should make a rich dictionary... [​IMG]

  11. Bohaemus

    Bohaemus Well-Known Member

    The most common prothetic (prothesis = the addition of a sound to the beginning of a word) consonant in the Slavic languages is "j". Thus, we have: jablko, jako, jeden, jehla, jiskra, jitro, etc. etc., but almost no words with initial "a", "e" and "i".
    (An exercise for you: try to find out a Czech word with initial "e"!)
    The most probable reason: our Slavic ancestors didn't like hiatus(es). The hiatus (from Latin hiare = to yawn, Czech term is "průzev" or "hiát") is an unpleasant sound between two adjacent vowels, as in "Via_Appia".

    Another usual prothetic consonants are "v" and "h", but in Czech language they are considered to be colloquial or dialectical (do okna - do vokna, do Olomouce - do Holomouce) and almost never written. Otherwise you could wonder that no Czech word has a vowel in its beginning.
  12. Halef

    Halef Well-Known Member

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Bohaemus:
    (An exercise for you: try to find out a Czech word with initial "e"!)

    Erteple [​IMG]

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">

    (do okna - do vokna, do Olomouce - do Holomouce)

    Rather "do Holomóca" [​IMG]
  13. Bohaemus

    Bohaemus Well-Known Member

    Myslím, že to slovo nelze uznat jako české:

    erteple = der Erdapfel

Share This Page