literary vs. colloquial czech

Discussion in 'General Language' started by Justin, Jun 9, 2005.

  1. Justin

    Justin Member

    as we've all experienced, the highly inflected nature of the czech language makes it quite an effort to learn. but i would like to know what a native czech thinks of a foreigner who speaks the literary czech that they have learned? does this come across as very bookish? should one essentially learn and apply the morphological differences of colloquial czech? and is pure literary czech expected in all written communication?
  2. Lorenzo

    Lorenzo Well-Known Member

    Ahoj Justine,

    I think I couple of hours in a Czech hospoda would answer all your questions :wink: but it's true there's a bit of a difference between the way people write and the way people speak Czech. One thing you would notice right off it's that people in Bohemia write "týden" but pronounce it "tejden" or "s kamarády" becomes "s kamarádama" and so on.
    But let's wait for a more in-depth comment :)

  3. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    My experience in this comes from second-hand experience, as an American listening to Czechs talk about how Americans spoke Czech. Many Czechs told me that certain Americans had picked up too many colloquiallisms, that the way they spoke sounded crude. I guess the parallel is how many Americans are criticized by their peers for continually using poor English and/or too much street slang. On the other hand, a few Czechs thought my use of proper Czech to be almost amusing at times, saying that no one ever speaks like that. I was actually told once by a Czech, that I spoke like a poet. Note, my Czech at the time was not entirely without colloquiallisms (I never used the particular ones that Lorenzo mentioned, however), but still was a fair amount more proper (in a literary sense) than what most Czechs spoke.

    Just my two cents worth. I hope a few native Czechs will respond to this one, as I'm not sure if I have yet hit the right balance of literary and colloquial.
  4. Justin

    Justin Member

    thanks for your replies! what lorenzo says is exactly what i'm after...
    phonological differences such as ý>ej are easy enough, but would it be ideal to master the morphology of colloquial czech? from what i gather, czech for foreigners courses are based on the literary language, but this seems a little limited if almost all verbal communication uses the colloquial variety with a somewhat different morphology. after all, mastery of a language means not inadvertantly sounding like a poet - as sova experienced... any takes on this from native czechs?
  5. gtw

    gtw Member

    It's not easy to answer. I think that literal language is more similar to language used in Moravia. Bohemia people use different dialect, which doesn’t sound good even to Moravians;-) But when you speak to some Moravian you realize that he is sometimes using totally different words, then you know... They are, let's say, archaistic... Maybe it's because universities are cumulated in Prague and language is there developed more rapidly...
  6. Justin

    Justin Member

    you're right gtw, from what i've ascertained the moravian dialects are closer to the literary standard than the dialect spoken in prague. nevertheless that doesn't change the fact that if you speak the literary variety of the language in prague in more or less any everyday situation you will sound archaic or poetic or simply ridiculous. (from what i understand, you wouldn't just sound like you speak the moravian dialect.) shouldn't a foreigner in prague wishing to master czech then thoroughly learn both the literary and colloquial varieties? i realise that the colloquial variant will be picked up through everyday social interaction, but (considering the differences in pronunciation, lexicon and especially in the morphology) should one not learn it 'properly' in a methodical way as is done with the literary language? i get the feeling that this isn't really addressed in courses of czech for foreigners... any insights from czech teachers about this?
  7. gtw

    gtw Member

    It's difficult even in our schools... Most of the teachers (especially teachers of Czech language, but sometimes also historians for example) prefer literary language to learn... But all students use colloquial because it's used everywhere, even in TV (with some exceptions). So many teachers resigned to learn us this literary form...

    so teachers will learn you literary form, but if you will talk to anybody, he will use colloquial language :D you need to know both...
  8. Ir

    Ir Well-Known Member

    I've only been learning Czech for a few months, and the book I'm using is called Czech Step-by-Step by Lida Hola. I find this book very easy to learn from. I started originally with a book called Teach Yourself Czech by David Short, which also was good, but after about 5 chapters it started to get excessively difficult all of a sudden. I learned good pronunciation from that book though.

    Anyway, I suppose these books teach 'literary Czech' do they? There is another book I don't have, called Colloquial Czech, would that contain the spoken language more than the written language, does anyone know?

    I suppose the best way to learn colloquial Czech is to speak it, but for those of us in other countries that are only learning, can anyone recommend any books that would have typical colloquial conversations written down?
  9. gtw

    gtw Member

    You are right all books are written with 'literary Czech'. Colloquial is only (if I simplify it) a way how to pronunce the words - we don't use it for writing (especially prague dialect looks horrible once it's used for writing;-)

    As you have wrote - the best way how to learn colloquial is to speak with pople here. Just start with literery form and develop your skills;-)
  10. Usal

    Usal Well-Known Member

    Hello All,
    I am studying Czech and I am using the book Colloquial Czech by James Naughton. My girlfriend lives in Prague but was born and raised in Olomouc. I don't think I have learned enough to actually know the difference between literary and colloquial. When I do speak in Czech with my girlfriend, there are words she does not know (sometimes it is my proununciation I admit) but she says there are words she uses in Prague that people do not know or don't understand when she uses them. Just my 2 cents.
  11. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member

    Definitely it is worthwhile to learn colloquial Czech; otherwise one may at times have difficulty understanding native Czechs. Another issue, however, is when to USE colloquialisms, e.g. regional pronunciation, colloquial grammatical constructs, and colloquial expressions.

    The first example Lorenzo used is simply a matter of pronunciation: "týden" vs. "tejden." On this one, I'd say choose whichever way you want. Think of it as affecting a regional, say Southern (U.S.), accent rather than say a Canadian or British accent. You may feel more comfortable trying to fit into the crowd you're with, rather than sticking out with a different accent (of course, if you have a strong foreign accent you can't shake, it probably doesn't matter).

    Lorenzo's second example is a colloquial grammatical construction: "s kamarády" vs. "s kamarádama." Again, I'd look on this as how you'd feel using the word "ain't" in English. It's not proper English, but in the southern states, it's common usage. It also seems to depend somewhat on the age of the people you're speaking with as to how much colloquial grammar you'll hear (the older generation typically speaks more properly). Also, these constructs often vary from region to region (ex: "Já su" is often used in parts of Moravia instead of "Já jsem").

    In regards to colloquial expressions in Czech, I'd recommend being somewhat careful which ones you use, mainly in the sense of knowing your audience. For example, some of the colloquial expressions I learned, either on the street, in Colloquial Czech or other books) were considered crude by some Czechs I talked with. And I'm not talking about the blatant curse words, either. My advice would be to get familiar with the speech style of the person you're speaking with before you try any questionable expressions (especially with older Czechs). I'd say it's better to err on the literary side than the colloquial side in these instances.
  12. Justin

    Justin Member

    thanks sova! my main concern was having to learn the different case endings of colloquial czech (such as the example that has been mentioned in the instrumental case). i was under the impression that using the standard literary morphology when speaking in prague could make one sound completely alien. colloquial expression are another kettle of fish altogether... :wink:
  13. uuspoiss

    uuspoiss Well-Known Member

    Sova, could you please give some examples about this? It would be interesting to know, and besides, I've also been using Colloquial Czech for learning :)

  14. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member


    I was trying to remember some specifics when I wrote that post, but none seemed to come to me. Also, unfortunately, I'm getting ready for a move, and I'm afraid I've already packed my copy of Colloquial Czech (not sure which box it went into either :? ). The only example I can remember specifically having offended some people (by the way, sorry if I offend anyone here by using it), was the expression "Ty vole" (not sure if this is in Colloquial Czech or if I just learned it on the street). I heard it often enough among some groups of teenagers (this was back in the 1994-1996 time frame), so apparently to some, it is a common enough expression, and not considered crude. Others, particularly among the older generation, although this includes some teens and tweens, thought the expression was quite crude and insisted that I never use it. Again, it pays to know your audience.

    I'll try to remember some others, and dig out my Colloquial Czech if I can.
  15. uuspoiss

    uuspoiss Well-Known Member


    Thanks for the explanation.

    Yes, that's understandable (I haven't seen that one in CC yet though). We have a similar expression in Estonian and although quite common among young people, it's usually not a good idea to use it with older people around:)

  16. Sova

    Sova Well-Known Member


    I finally dug out my CC and had a quick look through. The only other questionable words I found in there were fairly obvious: h*vno and p*del. The first one, the myCzechRepublic site censors if I try to write it fully, and that probably says enough. You can use the variant "houby" for "nonsense" in polite company, as CC recommends. The second translates badly into English (at least into American English), since as I understand it, the Czech word is not as strong as the English equivalent. Still one should be careful with its use.

    There may still be others, but this was what I found at a quick glance.
  17. Another question regarding the use of curse: a friend of mine lent me a cheap small booklet with pre-written Czech phrases, and at the end of it there is a small section dedicated to those words and expressions. The point is: my everyday language, when I speak to people of my age (I'm 22) is pretty packed with "colourful" expressions, which however may sound a bit heavy to certain audiences, and sometimes to young people as well. Would that happen in everyday Czech as well, if I ever managed to master a bit of this language?
  18. Rakubrand

    Rakubrand Member

    My brother-in-law works in Prague and speaks, well, I wouldn't say literary, but rather "news reader" czech. This means he says týden, děkuji and jsi instead of tejden, děkuju and seš. I'm curious about this as well, since I'm trying to learn to write standard yet speak colloquial czech. I think the biggest problem with speaking standard "news reader" czech is that it lacks the 'intimacy' of colloquial dialect (e.g. miluji tě)... many things will come across as awkward to the listener. On the other hand, I agree that speaking a low slang (e.g. Nazdar konče, jak je? -spelling? or using a really exaggerated Moravian accent and word forms) will give the wrong impression or be laughable coming from a non-native speaker.

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