Transcript for "An Overview of Czech Language, History, and Culture"


Ashton, slide 1

[Image Description: Photo of sunset over Charles Castle and the Vltava River in Prague. Text in upper right corner says “Czech Republic”, subtitle “Czechia”]

Ahoj! My name is Ashton Kimbler and I am a program assistant at Ohio State's Center for Slavic and Eastern European studies. Today I will be talking to you all about the Czech Republic. In this presentation I will mostly be using the name Czechia. The name Czechia was registered in 2016 as a shortened form of the Czech Republic. The name has been met with mixed emotions, but has been integrated into global society. Czechia should be used the same way we use "U.S." or "America" in place of "the United States of America". Now that that's settled, let me give you a little bit of my own background with Czech. I first visited Czechia in 2013 while studying abroad in eastern Germany. While I was in Prague, I found myself falling in love with the city, the country, and the language. Once I returned to the U.S., I added a Slavic and Eastern European studies minor and focused on history and Czech language. I was majoring in German language and history and my Czech studies revealed how much overlap there is between Germany and Czechia. I was -and still am - super interested in learning more about how the two countries have influenced each other throughout history. I am really excited to talk to you all about this awesome country today.

Ashton, slide 2

[Image Description: Two maps. Map on left is a greyscale map of Europe with Czechia highlighted in orange in the center. Map on right depicts the regions and historic regions of Czechia surrounded by four coats of arms]

Let's start with some basic facts. Czechia is a landlocked country in the center of Europe, and it is roughly the size of South Carolina. The country is made up of three historic regions: Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia, which are then broken up into 13 regions kind of like our states. Czechia has a population of about 10.6 million people, 13% of whom live in the capital city of Prague located in the western part of the country.

Ashton, slide 3

[Image Description: Left of slide shows a photo of the Prague Astronomical Clock. Right of slide has the following text: Prague; Capital of Czechia; Population 1.2 million (2011); “The City of a Hundred Spires”; Has 3rd oldest astronomical clock in the world; Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world]

Prague is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It suffered very little damage during World War II, so it is one of the few major cities in Europe with original buildings. This is extremely valuable because many cities were flattened during the war, demolishing buildings in dozens of styles that had stood for hundreds of years.

Ashton, slide 4

[Image Description: A one hundred Koruny note beside four Czech coins laying on a black table]

Czechia is a member of the European Union, but not the Eurozone meaning they use their own currency called the Koruna. Here I have a little over a hundred Koruny, which is about 4 U.S. dollars.

Ashton, slide 5

[Image Description: Right of slide shows a colorful map of Europe. A red circle highlights Czechia. A red banner above says “Dobry den”. Left of slide has the following text: Czech; spoken by 96% of population; Similar to Slovak and Polish; Also widely spoken: Slovak, German, Polish, Romany]

The official language is Czech, which was spoken by about 96% of the population. Other common languages spoken are Slovak, German, Polish, and Romany. Czech is a West Slavic language closely related to Slovak and Polish. It is widely regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn, but luckily if you manage to master it, you will find yourself able to communicate in Slovak and mostly understand many other Slavic languages like Polish, Russian, and Bulgarian.

Ashton, slide 6

[Image Description: Blue script across center of slide reading: “Let’s Learn Some Czech!”. Under the text is an image of Prague’s Powder Tower]

So let's learn some Czech! Here are a few words and phrases you can show off to your family and friends.

Ashton, slide 7

[Image Description: Left of slide has Czech words and phrases in blue text. Right side of slide has English counterparts in black text]

A fun and informal way to say "hello" or "goodbye" is "ahoj". Yep, like a pirate. Ahoj! There are two ways to say "how are you?". "Jak se máš?" is informal and "jak se máte?" is formal. You can use the informal with friends, family, peers, and people younger than you, but use the formal with strangers and authority figures like teachers and doctors. Another way to say hello is "dobrý den", which translates as "good day" and the word for "thank you" is "děkuji". Let's go through the phrases a couple more times feel free to repeat after me. Ahoj...  Jak se máš?... Jak se máte?... Dobrý den... Děkuji… Ahoj...  Jak se máš?... Jak se máte?... Dobrý den... Děkuji. Awesome! You can now say you know a little bit of one of the world's hardest languages. And since you have these words mastered, this next slide should be a piece of cake.

Ashton, slide 8

[Image Description: Czech tongue twister in blue text across center of slide]

Yes, this is a real sentence with real words. It's a popular Czech tongue twister. Give it a try! Can you get it? It's pronounced "prd krt skrz drn, zprv zhlt hrst zrn". Let me say that one more time. Prd krt skrz drn, zprv zhlt hrst zrn. It means "a mole farted through grass having swallowed a handful of grain". Czech is full of words without vowels. That's one of the many unique aspects of the language that makes it difficult to master, but also really cool.

Ashton, slide 9

[Image Description: Left of slide has the following text: Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918 after collapse of Austro-Hungarian Empire; German occupation during WW2; Communist under Soviet influence after 1946; 1989 Velvet Revolution dissolved Czechosovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia. Right of slide shows a map of Czechoslovakia in light yellow]

Now let's take a quick look at some of Czechia's history. The modern state of the Czech Republic as we know it today did not exist until 1993. Before that, it was part of Czechoslovakia: a combined state of Czechia and Slovakia that was smooshed together in 1918 after World War I. Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans during World War II. It became communist under Soviet influence after the war. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union began to crumble, Czechoslovakia began The Velvet Revolution - a smooth and friendly transition back to two separate countries: our modern-day Czechia and Slovakia.

Ashton, slide 10

[Image Description: Left of slide shows a painting of a man being thrown out of a window. Right of slide has the following text: Defenestration; At least three major defenestrations have taken place in Prague; 1419, 1483, and 1618; Potentially a 4th after WW2; Several less major events throughout history]

Now, I won't get into the complicated history before World War I, but I would love to share my favorite part of Czech history, the defenestrations of Prague. Defenestration is a long complicated word that means throwing someone out the window. Czechs have been using defenestration as means to get rid of their political enemies for centuries. There have been three major defenestrations in Prague: one in 9-- 1419, one in 1483, and one in 1618. The Defenestration of 1618 is actually credited as being one of the primary causes of the 30 Years War which was one of the longest, bloodiest wars in human history.

Ashton, slide 11

[Image Description: black and white line drawing of two men being thrown out of a window]

The 30 Years War was a brutal conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, decided he wanted everyone in the empire to practice Roman Catholicism despite religious freedom being granted in 1555. Ferdinand II sent a couple representatives to Prague Castle to alert the Bohemian nobility of the Emperor's decree. The representatives were thrown out the window by the Protestant Bohemian nobility. It is said that the representatives survived the defenestration because god protected them from the fall. It is also said that they survived because they landed in a massive pile of animal poo that was stacked up beside the castle. It depends on who you ask. Since 1618 there have been reports here and there of other defenestrations happening elsewhere in Czechia. There is even a rumored defenestration that took place shortly after World War II.

Ashton, slide 12

[Image Description: Photo of a white castle in the forest, captioned “Hluboka nad Vltavou Castle”]

But what is Czechia like today? Czechia is home to over a thousand castles making the country one of the most castle dense in the entire world. With all the castles it isn't surprising that Czechia has a deep rich history of fairytales and folklore. Many of the fairytales passed down by Czechs deal with fantastical creatures and nature such as fairies and spirits some fairytale movies have been filmed in Czechia and there's even a gingerbread house in the town Pardubice reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel. One of the biggest ways the Czechs convey their fairytales and folklore is through puppetry.

Ashton, slide 13

[Image Description: Sixteen marionette puppets on a grey background]

Puppetry came to the Czechs in the Middle Ages from German-speaking groups to the west. Over the centuries, Czechs have adapted and honed their craft to create one of the most extensive education and performance networks of puppeteers in the world.

Ashton, slide 14

[Image Description: Photo of three plates of traditional Czech food]

Traditional Czech cuisine is a lot of soup, pork, bread dumplings, and pickled vegetables much like German, Polish, and other Central and Eastern European cuisines. But there is plenty of influence from other countries like Italy and from Czechia's large Vietnamese population. I will say some of the best food I've ever eaten in my life was in Czechia. I still have dreams about a pizza I ate in Prague once.

Ashton, slide 15

[Image Description: Photo of cheering Czech hockey fans featuring a fan in the center holding a scarf above their head]

Czechs of course loved soccer as most countries do but ice hockey and tennis are massively popular as well. Baseball has started to gain popularity in recent years as Czechia sent a team to the Little League World Series in 2013 and 2014.

Ashton, slide 16

[Image Description: Left of slide has the following text: Czech Inventions; Soft contact lenses; “Dollar”; Blood types; Sugar cubes; “Robot”; and MORE! Right of slide shows a cartoon of a red robot on a bright yellow background]

Some things that were invented in Czechia include soft contact lenses like what we use today, the dollar, yes, the dollar has a complicated and fascinating history, but the word "dollar" and the idea of a unified currency can be traced all the way back to Czechia. Blood types, sugar cubes, and the word "robot" were also invented by Czechs.

Ashton, slide 17

[Image Description: Left of slide shows a black and white photo of Miloš Forman. Right of slide shows a black and white photo of Václav Havel]

Some notable Czech figures include Miloš Forman, a famous director known for the films Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Václav Havel, an extremely revered writer and political dissident who went on to become the first president of the Czech Republic. Prague's International Airport is even named after him.

Ashton, slide 18

[Image Description: Black and white portrait of Franz Kafka]

And my personal favorite Czech, Franz Kafka a German-speaking Czech writer known for his unique a surreal writing style. He died of tuberculosis in 1924 at just 40 years old. He published very little of his writing and demanded that his work be destroyed after he died. His friend Max Brod did not follow his wishes and published his writing anyway. It can be difficult to get into his writing with how bizarre it is, but the more you read, the more you discover the universe Kafka built for his stories and characters, which is why I love his work so much. My personal favorites are "Before the Law" and The Trial, but if you're interested in getting into his stuff his book The Metamorphosis is a great place to start.

Ashton, slide 19

[Image Description: Photo of three bluegrass musicians playing instruments on a bridge in Prague]

Historically polka has been the long-standing music tradition of Czechia. It's still popular amongst Czechs as it connects them to their Slavic roots. American bluegrass made an appearance in the 1950s and '60s. It still remains popular today. I remember seeing posters for bluegrass concerts while I was living in eastern Germany and found that really funny and very unexpected. There are some Czech pop musicians but very few have reached the levels of popularity that North American and British musicians have. There is, however, a thriving rock and heavy metal scene in Czechia that is a bit more mainstream than rock and metal here in the U.S. Still, not too many bands have gained popularity outside Europe.

Ashton, slide 20

[Image Description: Photo of dramatic mountain landscape]

On paper, Czechia has committed to working toward many improvements in quality of life and environmental policies. Life expectancy at birth has increased, as well as the water supply. More people are pursuing higher education than ever. Czechia did end up with one of the strongest economies out of the countries that were under Soviet influence after World War II. There has, however, been nationwide increases in housing costs, which are making it difficult for lower income people to hold on to their houses and apartments, especially in Prague. There have been very few improvements in the environment reported in the last couple of years. The rapidly growing economy and Czechia's heavy reliance on coal is contributing to air pollution and diminishing bird populations. Air quality and cleaner energy sources continue to be big obstacles the Czechs must face to make progress toward accomplishing some of the UN sustainable development goals.

Ashton, slide 21

[Image Description: Blue text in center of screen reading: Na Shledanou!]

So that's all I have for you today. I do hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Czechia's history and culture. Na Shledanou!

Slide 22, no audio

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