Spoken vs. written Czech

Discussion in 'General Language' started by MichaelM, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. MichaelM

    MichaelM Well-Known Member

    Having come nowhere near learning yet to hear and speak literary (written) Czech, I am now being taught the fairly substantially different spoken Czech (at least attributed to Praha). My question to the always patient moderators of this most august group is this. When writing as dialogue in these forums, do you ever use spoken Czech or may we learners assume that every word written here or corrected here is standard literary (written) Czech? My thanks in advance.
  2. Karel_lerak

    Karel_lerak Well-Known Member

    This is a good question, but difficult to answer.
    In my opinion most of the corrected texts are close to written Czech, but it depends of course on the correcting person.
    Often a colloquial form is left uncorrected when used in general spoken Czech.
  3. Alexx

    Alexx Well-Known Member

    100% agree
  4. Tagarela

    Tagarela Well-Known Member


    It reminds me a discussion that I saw in antoher forum.

    Well, considering the three "kinds" of Czechs that my books talk about -
    spisovná, hovorová and obecná čeština... I believe that here people use "hovorová", I mean, the standard spoken Czech.

    Sipisovná čeština perhaps would be to "high" for this enviroment, and obecná čeština too low...

    But I have heard also that in Morava, spoken Czech tends to be more standard than in Bohemia, but than I was told that it was not completly true, and that in Moravia they would have their sort of obecná čeština. But I guess that when books say about obecná čeština, they're talking about Bohemia/Prague way of speaking.

    Mmm...hard matter.

    Na shledanou.:
  5. MK

    MK Well-Known Member

    There is also knižní čeština.

    How it is:

    1. Spisovná čeština - czech language as defined in Rules of Czech language, Dictionary of Standard Czech and properly pronounced, it is continuously extended with words from hovorová čeština or obecná čeština

    2. Knižní čeština - spisovná čeština with vast usage of old(er) words

    3. Hovorová čeština - by definition - spoken form of spisovná čeština with some influence of obecná čeština -(examples: táta vs. otec, but also čeština vs. český jazyk)

    4. Obecná čeština - partly follows Rules of Czech Language, by definition it is interdialect used in Bohemia and western Moravia. Some words are not correctly pronounced - létat vs lítat, malý vs malej, okno vs vokno. There are still remnants of local dialects in this area hence the closest dialect to obecná čeština is central bohemian dialect (second closets is Prague dialect).

    In this forum is used both 1) spisovná and 3) hovorová čeština

    There is also another categorization which somewhat reflects unclear definition of set of words which should be used in spisovná čeština (there is lot of word from obecná čeština or old words in Dictionary of Standard Czech now). This categorization distinguish only spisovná čeština (as defined by rules ) and obecná čeština (as people speak).By this definition the hovorová čeština is spisovná čeština with spoken attributes and knižní čeština is spisovná čeština with bookish attribute.

    In part of Moravia with still active local dialect the people who wish speak "correctly czech" and not in local dialect strongly follows Rules hence they use "spisovná čeština". On the other side in Bohemia such people just mitigate biggest "errors" in language they use (obecná čeština) hence they then use hovorová čeština which is in fact very close to obecná čeština.
  6. Ctyri koruny

    Ctyri koruny Well-Known Member

    I never heard august used as an adjective before.. interesting!

    Anyway I have two related questions..

    What do people mean when they say Czech is a 'synthetic' language.. I of course know what synthetic means but not in this context..

    Two.. You mentioned Dialects.. I'm wondering about accents.. If Czech is anything like english you have to be really really good before anyone can make out the accent of the person that taught you over your own national accent.. but I'm just wondering if there are strong differences between the accents in different places and what they sound like to native speakers? Because obviously it will be a long time before I can tell them appart... I think in English you need to be pretty much proficient before you can hear things like that...

    Another question...
    In English hearing someone say Hello is usually enough to tell if they are a native speaker or not, is this true of Czech?
    And when people speak Czech as a second language, can you tell where they are from?
    Is there a difference between the way an English person and an American speaking Czech, or is the difference only effected by the first language.. e.g. English or Spanish etc.
  7. MK

    MK Well-Known Member

    "synthetic language" means modifying words (declension and so) so that you can say things for which English needa more words with only one word.

    She was reading - četla
    He was reading - četl

    Some examples are also in Local Lingo:


    Accent: I do not think there is strong local accent in dialects, but it is present. So not only accent but mainly usage of different words usually helps you to identify Moravian area from which the speaker is. There is one big exception to it - dialect of Ostrava, they speak very very "shortly", you can not miss it :)

    Hello - I never thought that simple hello can uncover foreigner. :) I think in Czech you need at least full sentence.

    Czech sounds very hardly to foreigners. On the others side foreigners (including Slovaks) who speak Czech sound very softly to native speaker.

    You can relatively easily distinguish west and east, understand people with nonslavic (west) or slavic (east) first language. I think I can distinguish people with English and German first language but can not distinguish Czech speaking people from Britain and US. Maybe exists some difference but I unfortunately do not know enough Czech speaking people from England to be be aware of this difference.
  8. hribecek

    hribecek Well-Known Member

    I can answer the question of how long it takes to recognise different Czech accents for a foreigner. I can tell now (I'm just about advanced level but not proficient) whether a Czech native is from North Bohemia or not basically, I can't tell where outside of North Bohemia they are from although generally the only big difference to my ear is the Moravian accent I've met a lot of people from Slezko and to me it seems like their words are shorter and sharper. I can also usually tell if someobody is from Slovakia due to the softer sound and lack of the letter r with a hacek sound.
    So it's possible before proficiency level and probably even before advanced, you'll be able to tell before that by the fact that you barely understand a single word if they're not from the area you've learned Czech in!
  9. Anna683

    Anna683 Well-Known Member

    Assuming that non-native speakers are usually expected to speak the standard language rather than a dialect, when they're learning any kind foreign language, what kind of Czech should foreigners actually speak? If foreigners manage to learn all the correct declensions for "literary" Czech, is it a problem if they then use them when they speak? Should they also learn the spoken endings?
  10. hribecek

    hribecek Well-Known Member

    Personally I learned both endings cuz otherwise you'll come unstuck when listening if you've only learned the literary way.

    When I speak, I kind of mix literary and spoken Czech and don't even know which is which some of the time. For example I always say 'hodny pes' or 'velky kostel' rather than the slang generally spoken 'hodnej pes' or 'velkej kostel' but at the same time I always say 'krasny holky' or 'maly auta' instead of the literary or more formal 'krasne holky' or 'mala auta'.

    Also I'm not sure if eg. bydleji tam or bydli tam (they live there) is the normal spoken form or formal form and I use both depending on which comes out of my mouth at that moment.

    There are lots of other examples like this where I mix and match the types of endings but nobody ever corrects me and my Czech wife says that it doesn't matter.
  11. Anna683

    Anna683 Well-Known Member

    I've been wondering whether the "ej" adjectival endings are the standard spoken Czech, spoken throughout CZ, or whether they're the local Prague pronunciation? If you as a foreigner say "hodny" instead of "hodnej", do the Czechs actually think that you, as a foreigner, sound really formal/posh/literary"?

    It would be useful to know which of the non-literary endings Czechs would recommend that foreigners learn so that they sound less weird than they presumably already do. :lol: None of the Czech teachers I've had have even explained the spoken endings in detail, let alone said if or when we should use them. So I've just assumed that we're supposed to use the bookish ones.
  12. MK

    MK Well-Known Member

    I worry there is some mix up in terms. I will try to explain it using "modern" (stylistic) categorization. There are only two "groups" of Czech language - Literary and NonLiterary:

    Literary Czech - both spoken and written Czech falls under this category

    NonLiterary Czech - most important member of this group is Common Czech, also dialects, slangs etc.

    In day to day activities is mostly used Common Czech. Most of Bohemia and western Moravia is its area of usage, that means over 60% of inhabitants. Rest goes to other dialects. There are also subgroups under interdialect called Common Czech but the differences between them are very small.

    Local Prague pronunciation - it practically does not exists (except few minor things). In Prague is used Common Czech.

    Teachers does not explain- it is very understandable, literary Czech is codified on the other side Common Czech is not so it is hard to teach it.

    "-ej" endings (masculine) - it is Common Czech thing so it is used where CC is used.

    which language to learn - depends on what you will do with language. If it is only about partying with friends then Common Czech is what you should learn. Business like conversation (more formal - business, working in Czech companies..) needs Literary Czech. My opinion is that it is better to start with learning Literary Czech and then spice it by some influence of Common Czech (bad habits you can catch very easily). The foreigner who speaks bad Common Czech can be easily counted toward "not very educated" part of society on the other side bad Literary Czech is usually appreciated.

    Another thing to consider - most of people from CC area is unable to speak in Literary Czech, their formal spoken language is mix of Literary and Common Czech on the other side they are able to write in Literary Czech. If you would learn CC then you will have big disadvantage in writing in Czech.
  13. Anna683

    Anna683 Well-Known Member

    Thanks, MK. That makes it a lot clearer.
  14. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    With apologies to the old timers here, I thought newcomers might like to see something I posted last year.

    We had an exercise in my Czech class where we had to guess who it was describing and then re-write it in 'correct' Czech. When I asked whether any of this would be used in written Czech, our teacher said only in text messages but that it is used all the time in spoken Czech.

    Jsem chlap. Myslim si, že celkem úspěšnej a známej. Některý ženský si dokonce myslej, že jsem přitažlivej. Je mi přes padesát. Mám už bílý vlasy vostříhaný na krátko a nosim knír. Nosim taky brejle. Prej chodim dobře vohozenej. Některý lidi se smějou mýmu hlasu a některý šašci z televize mě dokonce napodobujou. Moje žena není novinářema oblíbená. Mám dva syny. Jeden z nich řídí jednu známou školu v Praze. Ve volnym času rád hraju tenis. Politicky jsem pravičák. Napsal jsem nějaký knížky.
  15. wer

    wer Well-Known Member

    No, it is not used in spoken Czech this way. Every single colloquial element in this text could be used on the daily basis, but the text as a whole sounds like artificial compilate of colloquialisms of different kinds.

    The edge between written and spoken Czech is different for different areas of grammar. Czechs tend to use the spoken morphology and pronunciation the most. That’s because it could be implemented organically into the written language and because most of the people use them intuitively.

    The spoken vocabulary is less common, the Czech language has usualy more words for one meaning. There is always some neutral word and there are many other words with some subjective connotations. Both spoken and written Czech use the subjective vocabulary, but both use it as a spice, not as the basic ingredient.
    The connotation of the same word could differ in spoken and written Czech, but the neutral words mostly coincides in both of these varieties of Czech.
    A concrete example, most of the Czech men would say “jsem muž”, the word “chlap” has a special connotation and the men would prefer the neutral word, especially when reffering to themselves. Of course, this applies unless they want to point out the connotation.

    The syntax is pretty identical in spoken and written Czech. There are some differencies, the spoken word order is less rigid for example, but most of the aberrations from written Czech are mistakes of individual people. The mistakes could be common, but it always sound somehow unnatural in both spoken and written Czech (e.g. “není novinářema oblíbená”).
  16. MK

    MK Well-Known Member

    We should change also "vohozenej" to "voblečenej" (it is argot).

    The rest is "rigid" Common Czech. It looks weird to see it written like this but we should keep in mind that Common Czech does not have written form (no one will write something like this). I think that Czech president would never use such language and as wer pointed out very few people would use Comon Czech in their speech so vastly. Vaclav Klaus will say it in some Spoken Czech (maybe with some mistakes caused by Common Czech) instead and write it in propper Written Czech.

    Wer mentioned differences in word order in spoken and written language. It apply to any language. Some things need to be said differently then when its written just because no one would understand written word order. Usually long sentences should be spoken with modified word order.
  17. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    Fascinating. I wish I could write like that about the English language!
  18. hribecek

    hribecek Well-Known Member

    This is my attempt at a similar slang version of the same paragraph in English -

    I'm a geezer. I reckon that I'm quite loaded and one of the faces. Some birds even reckon that I'm a right looker. I'm over 50. I've got a white bonce and a tash. I wear specs. Apparently I dress to kill. Some peeps crack up at my voice and on the box they take me off. My other half ain't popular with the journos. I've got 2 sprogs. On of em runs a school in Prague. In my doss days I play tennis. I'm a tory boy. I've wrote some books.

    It's quite a British version I think and I'd be interested to read how an American would do it. It's a little awkward and now I understand how the Czech version felt for Wer and MK.
  19. scrimshaw

    scrimshaw Well-Known Member

    That english slang went over my head.

    Maybe an american would say.

    I'm a man. I think quite successful and well known. Some women even think
    I'm handsome. I'm over 50. I already have white hair, cut short, and I have a mustache. I also wear glasses. It is said I have been sacked, fired, thrown out. Some people laugh at my hair and some clowns on television even mimic me. My wife is not a favorite of the journalists. I have two sons. One of them directs a well known school in Prague. I like to play tennis. Politically I'm conservative. I have written some books.

    Short, clipped sentences.
  20. Polednikova

    Polednikova Well-Known Member

    That is brilliant, Hribecek. Not that I knew all of it... I've never heard of 'one of the faces' for example, or 'peeps'. But now I know exactly what Wer and MK mean.

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