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1 Main Challenges Faced by Czech as a Medium-Sized Language: State of Affairs at the Beginning of the 21st Century Jiří Nekvapil, Charles University, Prague.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Main Challenges Faced by Czech as a Medium-Sized Language: State of Affairs at the Beginning of the 21st Century Jiří Nekvapil, Charles University, Prague."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Main Challenges Faced by Czech as a Medium-Sized Language: State of Affairs at the Beginning of the 21st Century Jiří Nekvapil, Charles University, Prague

2 2 Czech Republic

3 3 Czech Republic: Basic facts Territory of 78,866 square km (approx. as large as Austria or Portugal) Population of 10,230,000 (approx. the same as Belgium or Portugal) Exists since 1993 as a result of the split of Czechoslovakia (which had approx. 15 million inhabitants)

4 4 The Issue of Small and Large Languages or Is Czech a Small Language? In some language pairs, the first language may be classified as small, the second one as large. This may be done on the basis of the following criteria: number of speakers, spread of the language, its economic strength, status of speakers, how the language is elaborated, and its prestige. The notion of a small or large language is relative: with respect to a particular language, a language may be small and with respect to a different language, the same language may be large.

5 5 Population by mother tongue

6 6 “Linguistic confidence” of the Czechs in the Czech language The belief in the healthy functioning of (standard) Czech has been widespread among Czech linguists. Statements of leading specialists working in the field of cultivation of Czech include formulations such as “standard Czech is perfectly and thoroughly capable of complying with all communicative needs of the educated speaker” (Uhlířová, Svobodová, Pravdová 2005). Significantly, the linguists’ self-confident formulations draw on the “linguistic confidence” of a considerable section of the Czech society.

7 7 “Czech is a small language used only by the Czechs” - An ideology typical for the Czechs A consequence: The Czechs willingly accept that they must accommodate linguistically, they don’t expect the (western) foreigners (tourists, expatriates…) to speak Czech A consequence of that consequence: The Czechs indirectly discourage these foreigners from learning Czech (the absence of the Czech Foreigner Talk)

8 8 Position of English in the Czech Republic Up to now, Czech domains and genres have been relatively sheltered from the expansion of English by the rather low level of knowledge of English of the general populace in the Czech Republic Until now, English has also appeared to be hindered from overtaking Czech in some domains by its competition with German in the Czech Republic. While this still holds true to a certain extent, English is obviously gaining ground nowadays.

9 9 Impact of English Use of English in highly specialized branches (science, military affairs, astronautics, cybernetics) is compensated for by the rich metaphorical feature of technical terms used in a non-terminological way by the whole population – overall, there is an extensive process of Czechifying of the English terms both in semantic and morphological aspects Moreover, Czech is used on all levels of the schooling system

10 10 Threats for the structure of Czech Mechanical introduction of foreign elements into the language which break up its typological, that is, inflectional character Non-declinable attributes (such as „fotbalová Gambrinus liga“ = the Gambrinus Football League ) violate the traditional rule according to which attributes that do not have the form of an inflected adjective should be placed in postposition (> „fotbalová liga Gambrinus”) The rejection of forming feminine forms from masculine ones (masc. Johnson, fem. Johnsonová)

11 11 Relevant historical milestones Czech national movement of the 19th century, revival of the Czech language Struggle with German 1918 – birth of multiethnic and multilingual Czechoslovakia – forced evacuation of 2,5 million Germans 1993 – split of Czechoslovakia (loss of the Slovaks)

12 12 Dominant position of Czech The contemporary language situation in the Czech Republic is characterized by the fact that, in spite of the presence of tens of languages in the country, Czech holds the dominant position in nearly all spheres of social life, from official communication to everyday communication. This has not always been the case – the current situation has only been in place for the past 50–60 years.

13 13 Recent growing linguistic diversity Ever since the opening of the borders in 1989, when the Communist regime fell, there has been a clear shift toward greater linguistic diversity in the Czech lands, especially in large cities. This growing linguistic and cultural diversity in the Czech lands constitutes a great challenge to realize changes in the Czech school system, language policy, and last but not least, in the attitudes and communicative habits of the Czech-speaking part of the population.

14 14

15 15 Czech as a Foreign Language and Lingua Franca One of the evident changes concerning the status of Czech is an unprecedented increase in the teaching and use of Czech as a foreign language during the last ten to fifteen years. This is due to the fact that the Czech Republic has become a place attractive for tens of thousands of foreigners, both as a result of migration within the EU and external migration. The teaching of Czech as a foreign language has therefore become a pedagogical problem which hundreds of Czech teachers have to face.

16 16 Czech as a Foreign Language - Abroad The Czech state has been relatively active in spreading Czech abroad (teaching fellowships), but there is no institution specializing in the propagation of Czech, comparable to the Goethe Institut for German or Polonicum for Polish Moreover, the teaching fellowships are not even represented in all the EU member states (they are lacking in half of the EU countries).

17 17 The issue of minorities The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ratified in 1997) and the Ethnic Minorities Act (2001) protect Czech of the following ethnicities: Bulgarian, Croatian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Roma, Russian, Rusyn, Serbian, Slovak, Ukranian. This approach was implicitly criticised by the Advisory Commitee on FCPNM in its report published in European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (in effect only since 2007) protects only these languages: Polish, Slovak (provisions of Part II and III), German, Romani (provisions of Part II only). Why? The criterion of historicity invoked.

18 18 Relative size of the Slovak linguistic community cca. 200 thousand speakers of Slovak, but: no Slovak-language education, high language-shift rate.

19 19 ‘Minorities’ vs. ‘communities’ in the Czech Republic Who is a ‘minority’ and who is a ‘community’ The issue of the Vietnamese group amounting to cca. 100,000 members Legal view vs. common sense view Classifications are consequential Scientific approaches should be based on common sense categories rather than on legal documents ‘Majority’ is just one ‘community’ among all ‘communities’ in a given state

20 20 Conclusions: Main challenges – not for the Czech language but for the Czech speakers Restrict their Czech monolingualism Becoming aware that Czech is not used only by the Czechs Accept that Czech is not necessarily a small language Maintain the typological, that is, inflectional character of the language

21 21 Some References Marti, R. and Nekvapil, J. (eds) (2007) Small and Large Slavic Language in Contact (= International Journal of the Sociology of Language 183, special issue) Nekvapil, J. (2007) On the language situation in the Czech Republic: What has (not) happened after the accession of the country to the EU. Sociolinguistica 21 (Max Niemeyer Verlag), pp Nekvapil, J., Sloboda, M., Wagner, P. (2009) Mnohojazyčnost v České republice. Multilingualism in the Czech Republic. Praha: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny Neustupný, J.V. and Nekvapil, J. (2003) Language management in the Czech Republic. Current Issues in Language Planning 4, pp

22 22 A to už je konec Děkuji, Moltes gràcies, Thank you


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