Language Contact and Email Address:
Christopher W. Harwood
Czech is the first language of 98% of the population of the Czech Republic, a country of 10.7 million people in the heart of Europe, and of thousands of people of Czech origin living in other countries around the world. Czech is closely related to—and largely mutually intelligible with—Slovak, the majority language of Slovakia, the other country that came into being along with the Czech Republic when Czechoslovakia was peaceably dissolved in 1993. The Czech people trace their history to the early middle ages, when Slavic tribes from Eastern Europe migrated westward and founded a state, known from the 12th century as the Kingdom of Bohemia, that played a prominent role in European history through the high and late medieval and early modern periods. Although politically dominated for parts of their modern history by the Habsburg Monarchy, the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, the Czechs have sustained a distinct sense of national identity and a rich national culture. The Czech capital of Prague (population 1.3 million) is the site of the oldest university in Central Europe, and it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and culturally vibrant cities in the world.
Like most of the Slavic languages, Czech is inflected, which means that nouns, pronouns and adjectives in Czech change their forms (primarily their endings) depending on the role they play in a sentence, e.g., as part of the grammatical subject, the direct or indirect object, or the object of a preposition. This feature makes Czech grammar somewhat more challenging for a native speaker of English to master than, for example, the grammar of a Romance language like Spanish or Italian. However, other features of the language, such as its spelling and verbal system, are relatively simple. Unlike Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian, which use versions of the Greek-based Cyrillic alphabet, Czech uses a modified Latin alphabet with a few diacriticals (accent marks): the háček (ˇ), čárka (´) and kroužek (°).
Every year Columbia University’s Department of Slavic Languages offers 4-credit, 4-skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) language courses in Elementary and Intermediate Czech (2 semesters each) and 3-credit courses in advanced Czech language for reading and composition (Readings in Czech Literature I & II). In addition, a cycle of five courses in English on Czech literature and culture is offered on a rotating basis. Students at Cornell University can enroll in Columbia’s Czech language courses through the Shared Course Initiative: http://lrc.cornell.edu/sci.
Please check the Columbia Directory of Classes for up-to-date information on class times and locations.