Czech language, its development and Czech dialects



Czech belongs to the western group of Slavic languages. The closest relative of Czech is Slovak. Both languages are easily understandable. Even Polish is quite similar and the understanding is not too complicated. Another relative language is Serbocroatian, but despite many similiraties in vocabulary, the differences in grammar make general understanding harder. Slovenian, although geographically close, represents quite a distant language from Czech. The same is valid for Macedonian and Bulgarian. Bulgarian is the most distant of all Slavic languages. However, the main differences are in grammar (Bulgarian has reduced declination) and reading a Bulgarian text is surprisingly much easier. Russian is situated somewhere in the middle.


Since I am not a linguist and I think that the majority of people need not sophisticated linguistic analyses, I confine myself to a brief overview of the phonological development. I don't recommend to use it as a 100% reliable source, only as an informative overview, because I don't have enough time to watch recent development in Czech linguistics.


The first written records on the territory of Czech lands were in the so-called Old Church Slavic, a dielect of Slavs from the region of Thessaloniki in Greece. Thessaloniki was the birthplace of Konstantinos (+869) and Methodios (+885), two Greek brothers-priests, who came to Moravia in 863, being invited by Rostislav (Rastislav), the duke of the Great Moravia (ruled 846-869/870), to spread christianity among Slavs in Moravia. However, the right aim of this christian mission was not to spread christianity, because Moravia was being christianized since cca 800 by Frankish missionaries; the orientation towards the Byzantine empire was actually to strengthen the position of the Great Moravia against the Franks. For the communication with Moravian Slavs, the brothers used a Slavic language spoken in the area of Thessaloniki that was easily understandable, although it already contained some dialectical differences.


The oldest Old Church Slavic records are written in the so-called glagolica, a script derived from small Greek letters by Konstantinos. This script was gradually substituted by the easier Cyrillic alphabet derived from Greek capitals. Slavic monks were expelled from the Great Moravia after Methodios death (+885) by Rostislav's nephew Svatopluk (ruled 870-894), who again turned to the Frankish empire. The monks then found refuge in various Slavic lands - mainly Russia and Bulgaria. The Cyrillic alphabet then gave birth to the modern azbuka that is today used by Eastern Slavs, Bulgarians, Macedonians and Serbs. Some Slavic priests also fled to Bohemia, where they built a monastery in Sázava. Here the Old Church Slavic survived another 200 years, until the monks were again expelled in 1097. This was the definitive end of the Old Slavic Church in Czech lands. Latin started to be used since the 10th century and after 1097, it was the only official written language in Bohemia.


The first sentence documented in the Czech language comes from the beginning of the 13th century and is contained in the foundantion charter of the canonry of Litoměřice:


"Pauel dal gest plofcouicih zemu Wlah dal geft dolaf zemu bogu i fuiatemu fcepanu fe duema dufnicoma boguceu a sedlatu"



"Pavel dal jest Ploskovicích zem'u, Vlach dal jest Dolas zem'u Bogu i svatému Ščepánu se dvema dušnikóma, Bogučejú a Sedlatú."

[Pavel gave a land in Ploskovice, Vlach gave a land in Dolany to God and Holy Stephen with two spirits, Bogučej and Sedlata]


Besides, there exist lyrics of songs and prayers like the song of Holy Václav (12th century).


The first continuous written records in Czech language come from the second half of the 13th century (the epos Alexandreis). The sources for the development of Czech language before 13th century are thus only indirect: bohemisms (apparently West Slavic/Czech traits in Old Church Slavic texts), Czech personal or local names, some gloses and short Czech translations of non-Czech words in Latin texts, or short inscriptions.


The historical development of Czech went through several stages: The first stage began in the 9-10 th century, with some important phonetic changes (or preservations) that separated West Slavic languages (then rather dialects) from the rest of the Slavic world. Common West Slavic traits are:

  • preservation of kv-, gv- (květŭ, gvězda "flower, star" > Czech květ, hvězda, Polish kwiat, gwiazda). Other Slavic groups made palatalization kv-, gv- > cv-, zv- (Russian cvet, zvezda)

  • preservation of tl, dl: Czech vedl "he led" x Russian vël

  • change tj, dj > c, dz (~675-750) (Czech svieca > svíce "candle" x Russian svečà, Serbcr. sv(ij)èća, Bulg. svešt) and ktĭ > c (Czech noc "night" x Polish noc, Russian noč, Serbcr. noć, Bulg. nošt)

  • change ch > s' > š (Czech vše "everything" x Russian ves')

  • the lack of l after palatalized p, b, m, v: Old Czech zem'a > země "earth, land" x Russian zemlja

A common Czech/Slovak-South Slavic trait is

  • around 800: change of groups tort, tolt, tert, telt > trat, tlat, trět, tlět (> Russian torot, tolot, teret, telet, Polish trot, tlot, tret, tlet). Compare Czech/Slovak hlava "head", Serbocroatian glava x Polish głowa, Russian golova. Similar development occured in a group trt (with weak vocals before or after r) > Czech, Serbocroatian trt (prvý x prvi, trh x trg).

Common West Slavic-East Slavic traits are

  • some endings like instrumental of o-roots -ŭmĭ/-ĭmĭ x South Slavic -omĭ

Changes that differentiated Czech (and Slovak) from Polish (and, partly, from Lusitan Serbian):

  • before 900: change dj > dz' > z' in Czech (Czech mez "balk, limit" x Slovak medza, Polish miedza, Russian mežà, Serbcr. međa, Bulg. mežda)

  • 950-1000: change of nasals e + o, in opposite to Polish, where they were preserved: nasal e > nasal ä > ä. Then ä > a before hard consonant (męso > maso, compare Polish mięso) and ä > je (ě) before soft consonatnt (m'äkký > měkký "soft"). Further, nasal o > nasal u > u (Czech ruka "hand" x Polish ręka)

  • around or after 900: no dispalatalization 'e > 'o (like in Lusitan Serbian and Polish: Czech žena "woman" x Polish żona, Upper LS žona)

  • around or after 900: no dispalatalization ě > 'a (like in Polish: Czech hvězda "star" x Polish gwiazda)

After these changes, the Czech phonological system around 1000 had hard labials (p. b, m, v), soft labials (p', b', m', v'), dentals (t, d, n, l, r), palatals (t', d', n'+ň, ľ, ŕ, j), sibilants or half-sibilants (s, z, c, š, ž, č, ś, ć, z/dz'), velars (k, g, ch) and eight vocals (ä, a, e, ẹ=closed e, i, y, o, u). Accent - originally free - was eventually stabilized on the first syllable (around 1100).


The majority of phonetic and morphological changes occured during the 13-14th century. Especially during the 14th century, the development of Czech was very dramatic, so today, reading texts of Jan Hus (+1415) is markedly easier than reading the Dalimil's chronicle, finished around 1314.

  • after 900 (?): contraction of endings aja > á, oja > á, oje > é, eji > í etc (common in West and South Slavic languages).

  • 950-1000: disappearance of jers (Ъ=ŭ/short u, Ь=ĭ/short i) in the odd position from the end and their substitution in the even position from the end: sЪnЪ (sŭnŭ) "dream" > Czech sen, Polish sen, Russian son, Serbcr. san; dЬnЬ (dĭnĭ) "day" > Czech den, Polish dzień, Russian d'en', Serbcr. dan etc. But the influence of the disappeared soft jers was still visible in the softening of consonants that preceded them.

  • around 1200: umlaut (vowel mutation) ä > ẹ after soft consonants or between soft consonants (duša > dušä > dušẹ "spirit", kur'ä > kuřẹ "chicken", l'ežat'i > l'ežät'i > ležẹti "to lie" etc.). This change was limited to Bohemia; in Moravia, it only occured between soft consonants, and not everywhere).

  • around 1200 (or perhaps around 1150?): the beginning of the gradual change g > γ  > h: Czech/Slovak/Upper LS hlava "head" x Polish, Lower LS głowa

  • between 1200-1300: depalatalization of p'e, b'e, v'e, m'e, s'e, c'e, z'e and thus also a change ẹ > e: Czech peče "he bakes" x Polish piecze. Groups containing a labial+'ẹ later changed into a labial+je (written as ě): p'ẹna > pěna [pjena] "foam"

  • between 1200-1300: change čř > tř/stř (čřevo "bowel" > střevo)

  • between 1200-1250: change of soft r' > ř is common in Czech, Polish and Lusitan Serbian. First documented in 1237.

  • around 1300: depalatalization of d'e, t'e, n'e in Czech, if e or ä stood before a hard dental, syllab or r,l (a model t'et > tet), or depalatalization of a vowel that originated from a soft jer (pekár'ĭna > pekár'na > pekárna "bakery")

  • between 1325-1375: umlaut (vowel mutation) u > ü > i after soft consonants (tis'úc > tisíc "thousand", Juří > Jiří "George" etc.). Again, this umlaut was limited to Bohemia, with rare Moravian exceptions (long ú after a soft consonant was sometimes changed)

  • between 1325-1375: umlaut (vowel mutation) o > ẹ after soft consonants (this change was  later largely reversed)

  • between 1300-1400: gradual spreading of prothetic v- (osel > vosel "donkey"). This trait has never reached bookish Czech, but appears in Hanakian dialects in Moravia.

  • around 1400: differences between soft l' and hard ł disappear (documented by Jan Hus)

  • before 1400: originally bilabial v [w] is pronounced as v

The phonological system after these changes was somewhat reduced. The vowel ä disappeared and there were seven vowels (i/y, ẹ/e, a, o, u) that were later even further reduced due to the disappearance of differences between ẹ/e (ẹ > e) and i/y (y > i) (documented by Jan Hus around 1400). The intonation was stabilized on the first syllable, during the 12th century at the latest. Simple past tenses (aorist, imperfectum) were lost during the 14th century. The 15th century gave birth to four diphtongs: ie, uo, ei and ou. Two of them were shortly after monophtongized.

  • 1375-1400: the start of diphtongization ý > ei, which was a reaction to the disappearing differences between ý/í (bít "to beat" x být  > bejt "to be"). The influence of similar changes in German is also not excluded. Sometimes we can find even changes í > ej, which suggests that the difference between i/y in some words was no longer clear (vozík > vozejk "little cart"). This typical Bohemian change has never reached bookish Czech, but appeared in Moravia (Hanakian dialects), where its spreading stopped during the 16th century.

  • 1375-1400: the start of diphtongization ú > ou (múka > mouka "flour"). This change became bookish and has also reached Moravia (Hanakian dialects).

  • 1400-1450: the start of labialization of ó after a hard consonant (ó > uo): dóm > dôm (duom) "house". The group ie (a labial+ie) probably existed already.

  • 1450-1500: monophtongization ie > í (viera > víra "faith"). Probably started earlier in Moravia and reached virtually all Czech regions.

  • 1450-1500: monophtongization uo > ů [=ú] (duom > dům "house"). The ring above u is actually a graphical remain of o! Again, this change probably started earlier in Moravia and reached the whole territory of the Czech lands.

  • 1500± : change é > í (mléko > mlíko "milk", řéci > říci "to say"). This change has also reached bookish Czech, but only in groups, where í follows a soft consonant (říci) and sometimes after l (zelí < zelé, but not mlíko!). It also appears in Hanakian dialects, although í is shortened.

  • 1400-1600: change aj > ej (vajce > vejce "egg", daj! > dej! "give!")

Around 1500, the system of Czech phonology was practically completed: it contained vowels a, e, i (written also as y), o, u, and two diphtongs ou, ei. Long equivalents of short vowels also existed (except ó that disappeared in originally Czech words). The consonants consisted of five labials (b, f, p, v, m), five dentals (d, t, n, l, r), six sibillants (ž, š, č, z, s, c), four palatals (d', t', n', ř) and four velars (k, g, ch, h). Since the 15-16th century, Czech language has changed only little. The development took place mostly in syntax only.

  • 1350-1550: change šč > št (ješče > ještě "yet", ščestie > štěstí "happines").

Standard versus Common Czech. The modern Czech language (Standard Czech) is generally based on the medieval literary Czech (approximately its state in the 16th century). It is practically only a formal, bookish language used in media and people don't use it in friendly contacts. The language of normal communication is the so-called Common Czech, which is actually the current form of the dialect of Central Bohemia and especially Prague. This "bilingualism" came into being in the 19th century, during the era of the Czech national revival that led to the renaissance of Czech literature after 200 years of its hard suppression. Since the speech of contemporary ordinary people was uncultivated and expressively poor, the revivalists - among them especially Josef Dobrovský (1753-1829), the author of the Czech grammar - started to use the language of medieval literature. This language norm later became official, yet the speech of ordinary Czechs remained the same and continued in its development. Today some features of Common Czech slowly penetrate into the official language and the differences partly decrease. On the other hand, the bookish language of Standard Czech also influences Common Czech, so one can't say that Common Czech is identical with the central Bohemian dialect. In general, forms of Common Czech are not as advanced as in the central Bohemian language, but their use also depends on the speaker and on the region. Naturally, the more different is the original local dialect, the more local dialectical forms penetrate into Common Czech.


The main features of Common Czech were largely set in as early as during the 15-16th century:

  • -ej instead (krásnej=krásný "beautiful", mlejn=mlýn "a mill" etc.), sometimes even instead -í (vozík > vozejk "little cart")

  • -ý, í instead é (dobrý mlíko=dobré mléko "good milk")

  • initial v- before o (vokno=okno "a window", von=on "he" etc.)

  • different forms of endings, especially 3rd person of plural in verbs: shortenings like voni dělaj' = oni dělají (they are working), voni maj' = oni mají (they have); ending -jou instead -jí (voni pracujou=oni pracují "they are working"); ending -(a)ma in the 7th  case (instrumental) of nouns instead more bookish forms (s pánama=s pány "with men", se ženama=se ženami "with women", s městama=s městy "with towns" etc.) and others

A note to Czech spelling: Due to differences between Latin and Czech sounds, Czech language was originally recorded by ligatures. For example, č was written as cz, ř as rz, š as ff, long a as aa etc. At the beginning of the 15th century, Jan Hus recommended using the so-called "nabodeníčko", a graphic sign above letters that was to make spelling easier. Syllabs got "short nabodeníčko", i. e. a point above letters (for example, ċ instead of cz), while long vowels got strokes, "long nabodeníčko" (aa > á). Only one ligature was preserved (ch). Hus' recommendations were being accepted only slowly. In the 16th century, brothers from the Czech church codified a spelling, where softness was signed by a wedge (č, ř, ž etc.) with the exception of š (written as ff). The vowel j was still written as g or (in diphtongs) as y. The final form was codified as late as in 1849 - with wedges over soft sounds, strokes over long vowels, v instead of w, ou instead of old au, and j instead of g or y.


Bohemian dialects. Generally speaking, Bohemian dialects are much more homogenous in comparison with Moravian ones. Since almost every change spreaded from central Bohemia (Prague), bigger differences remain only in remote areas, especially in the Chod region and Podkrkonoší. Borderlines among various dialectical subgroups are thus only very foggy. I can list only some peculiarities:

  • The region of eastern/north-eastern Bohemia has u instead of v in the end of words after vowels (kreu x krev "blood", prauda x pravda "truth" etc.), í > ej has spreaded into more words than in central Bohemia, especially in endings (instr. s kúžej x s kúží "with leather"), -oj instead of -ovi in dat.+loc. sg. (bratroj x bratrovi "to brother") and some other differences in declination. The region of Podkrkonoší also has er, el insterad of r, l (peršet x pršet "to rain"), dn instead of nn/n (Adna x Anna) and an ending -al instead of -el in the past tense (ležal x ležel, bežal x běžel)

  • The region of south-eastern Bohemia has remains of palatalized labials in groups a labial+j  (*p'ivo > pjivo x Czech pivo "beer", *b'ič > bjič x Czech bič "scourge"), some peculiar posessive endings (-ovic, -ojc, -ouc), palatalizations or dissimilations (přez zimu > přej zimu, hleďte > hlejte). In the Chod region that is known by its distinct

  •  dialect, there are differences like -ij instead of (dobrij člověk x dobrý člověk "a good man"), r instead of d among vowels (kuri x kudy "where?", pureš x pudeš "you will go", bure x bude "it will be"), prothetic h- (ha x a "and", Hadam x Adam, hučit x učit "to teach"), a different dat. pl. in male substantives (chlapom x chlapům "to men").

  • The region of south-eastern Bohemia (or the transient area between Bohemia-Moravia) has great variability in the stage of umlaut in endings (kaša, but slepice), the group šč stands against Bohemian št, and there also exists some peculiarities in the form or declination of verbs.


The current distribution of Bohemian and Moravian dialects.



Moravian dialects. The dialectal division in Czech lands was largely finished in 15-16th century. While dialects in Bohemia were mostly influenced by the central Bohemian dialect and their peculiarities virtually disappeared, Moravian dialects have often preserved archaic features that disappeared in Czech as early as during the 14-15th century. Today, there is much wider dialectical diversity in Moravia than in Bohemia and typical dialectical features are more visible. Although even here Common Czech penetrates into indigenous dialects, the influence is not equally strong in all regions (villages are less influenced than towns and cities) or linguistic cathegories. Some typical Moravian traits have a very tough life. It is also interesting to note that people from Moravia consider Common Czech as very impolite in a formal contact, while in Bohemia Common Czech is not rare even in formal situations (students vs. professors, for example). Moravian dialects differ from Bohemian dialects especially in the lack of umlaut after soft vowels (a > e, u > i). There are also differences in the development of ý+é.


The differences among Bohemian and Moravian dialects can be demonstrated on this sentence:


Standard Czech:        Dej mouku ze mlýna na vozík

Common Czech:         Dej mouku ze mlýna (mlejna) na vozík (vozejk)

Central Bohemian:     Dej mouku ze mlejna na vozejk

Hanakian:                   Dé móku (móko) ze mléna na vozék

Lachian:                     Daj muku ze młyna na vozik

Moravian-Slovakian:   Daj múku ze młyna na vozík


Moravian dialects can be divided into three main groups:


1. The dialects of Hana (Hanakian dialects) are situated between the region of Olomouc (Middle Moravia) and the Austrian border. Since I myself come from the South Moravian region, Hanakian (or Horakian, respectively) is my own dialect and I can discuss it in a more detailed way. They can be divided into several groups that differ in the stage of development of some features. In general, Hanakian dialects sound very dully and are a typical "speech of boors". One of the most remarkable features is a narrower pronouncation of i,e that is sometimes caricatured by people from Bohemia. Even a man of Moravian origin speaking perfect bookish Czech can be "betrayed" by his narrow pronouncation. During middle ages Hanakian dialects were influenced by Bohemian dialects and in several aspects, the development of some vowels advanced even further than in Common Czech (probably as early as during the 16th century):

  • bookish Czech ý, y, é > Common Czech ej, y, í/ý > Hanakian é, e, i/y (krásný=krásnej=krásné; mlýn=mlejn=mlén; dobré mléko=dobrý mlíko=dobry mliko; výkony=výkone, vékone "performances"). The stage of this change is different in various parts of western Moravia. Around Prostějov, the center of Hana (Hanacko), the development of changes advanced at most (even i > e after syllabs like zima > zema, so there are also difficulties in distinguishing male and female gender in verbs). The speech of that place is absolutely disastrous and scarifies my ears.

  • Old Czech ú, u > bookish Czech/Common Czech ou, u > Hanakian ó, o (bookish Czech mouka "flour" x Hanakian móka; bookish Czech já budu "I will be" x Hanakian já bodo etc.)

These forms are recently substituted by forms of Common Czech, especially -ej, -ou instead , ó, so you will hear children saying rather krásnej mlejn than krásné mlén "a nice mill". The "dull" o, e instead u, y have disappeared almost completely.

  • initial v- before o also exists (Standard Czech ony dělaly=vone dělale "they (women) worked")

  • but Hanakian also has initial hó-, ho- instead ú-, u- (hozda=uzda "a bridle"; terek=úterý "Tuesday")

  • some words have shortened vowels

On the other hand, Hanakian dialects still preserve typical Moravian archaic features like -a after a soft consonant (práca=Czech práce "work", ruža=růže "a rose" etc.) or -u instead Czech -i in the same cases (hledám prácu=hledám práci "I am looking for a job"). The umlaut actually occured only in the middle of words: Czech cizí x Hanakian cizi x Slovak cudzí "foreign", Czech ležet x Hanakian ležet x Slovak ležať "to lie"


2. The dialects of Moravian Slovaks (or Moravian-Slovakian dialects) can be found in a cca 40-60 km (25-40 miles) wide zone along the Slovak border. They actually represent something like "mixed Czech-Slovak". It is a very beautiful, "limpid" language, richly used in folk songs. In fact, it is the most archaic language in the Czech republic. Similarly like in Hanakian dialects, umlaut ú, u > í, i + a > e exists in the middle of words, not in the end. There is no change é > í, ý > ej. The difference between l'/ł is preserved. Of course, the dialects are not 100% homogenous because of their position between Slovakia and western Moravia that was affected by Bohemian forms, so there exist some peculiar transient regions. For example, dialects near the Slovakian border were influenced by late Slovak colonization and thus they lack ř.


3. The Silesian - or Lechian - dialects are close to Polish and are situated in North Moravia. Their most remarkable feature is the total shortening of all vowels and the accent on the penultimate (the same like in Polish). There are also other features that Silesian dialects share with Polish. Although Silesian dialects still preserve many archaic features better than any other speech in Czech lands, in other aspects they have advanced considerably, so I think that generally speaking, Moravian-Slovakian dialects can be considered more archaic. For example, there exists (almost) no umlaut ú, u > í, i + a > e, no change é > í, the difference between i/y and l'/ł is preserved. Further, there is no syllabic r,l, so these consontants usually go with a vowel y (Czech plný x Lachian pylny "full"). On the other hand, Lachian dialects softened t', d' (t'icho > cicho "silence", d'ed'ina > dzedzina "village") and s, z before i, e (prosit' > prośić "to ask", zima > źima "winter"), which are similar changes like in Polish ("dzekanie"). There are also some vowel changes that differ among various regions of north Moravia.


Silesian dialects are another "speech of boors". When humorists in TV want to caricature a speech of some dull and slow persons, they often immitate the Silesian accent on the penultimate. The dialects in some remote areas in North Moravia contain a big number of German words and can be hardly understandable. For example, once I was in one South Moravian village and I wanted to phone from a phone box in the street, but there was some boy calling his grandmother. When I was waiting in the front of the box, I was attracted by his strange language. At first I thought it had to be something like Lusitan Sorbian or some Polish dialect, but the boy had shocked me, when he had said (in perfect Czech) that he came from one region in North Moravia. I was absolutely stunned, because until that time I have had no idea that people in my country can speak something like this!








The Official Scientific Page > Czech history and language