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About Czech Language

Czech (pronounced /ˈtʃɛk/; čeština Czech pronunciation: [ˈt͡ʃɛʃcɪna]) is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian until the late 19th century in English. Czech is similar to and mutually intelligible with Slovak and, to a lesser extent, to Polish and Sorbian.

Official status

Czech is widely spoken by most inhabitants of the Czech Republic. As given by appropriate laws, courts and authorities act and make out documents and executions in the Czech language (financial authorities also in the Slovak language). Czech can be used in all official proceedings also in Slovakia as granted by Article 6 of Slovak Minority Language Act 184/1999 Zb. People who do not speak Czech have the right to get an interpreter. Instructions for use in Czech must be added to all marketed goods. Regarding other languages, English and German are the most common foreign languages studied and used. Russian is also spoken, but to a much lesser extent than it was prior to the fall of Communism.

Czech is also one of the 23 official languages in the European Union (since May 2004).

Mutual intelligibility

Speakers of Czech and Slovak usually understand both languages in their written and spoken form, thus constituting a language diasystem, though some dialects or heavily accented speech in either language might present difficulties to speakers of the other (in particular, Czech speakers may find Eastern Slovak dialects difficult to comprehend). Younger generations of Czechs living after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 (therefore generally less familiar with Slovak) might also have some problems with a certain number of words and expressions which differ considerably in the two languages, and with false friends. Nevertheless, these differences do not impede mutual intelligibility significantly.


The name "čeština", Czech, is derived from a Slavic tribe of Czechs ("Čech", pl. "Češi") that inhabited Central Bohemia and united neighbouring Slavic tribes under the reign of the Přemyslid dynasty ("Přemyslovci"). The etymology According to a legend, it is derived from the Forefather Čech, who brought the tribe of Czechs into its land. The variant English name "Bohemian" was used until the late 19th century, reflecting the original English name of the Czech state derived from the Celtic tribe of Boii who inhabited the area since the 4th century BC.

Modern Czech

Literary Czech has not been an exclusive matter of the intellectual classes since the 1840’s. Journalism was developing and artistic works got closer to the spoken language, especially in syntax. In 1902, Jan Gebauer published the first Rules of Czech Orthography, which also contained an overview of the morphology. These rules still preferred older forms in doublets.

During the 20th century, elements of the spoken language (of Common Czech especially) penetrated literary Czech. The orthography of foreign words were Germanized with respect to their German pronunciation, especially writing z instead of s and marking the vowel length (e.g. gymnasium > gymnázium, grammar school). Social changes after World War II (1945) led to gradual diminishing of differences between dialects. Since the second half of the 20th century, Common Czech elements have also been spreading to regions previously unaffected, as a consequence of the media's influence.


The phonology of Czech may seem rebarbative to English speakers as some words do not appear to have vowels: zmrzl (frozen solid), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), čtvrthrst (quarter-handful), blb (fool), vlk (wolf), or smrt (death). A popular example of this is the phrase "strč prst skrz krk" meaning "stick a finger through your throat" or "Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh." meaning "Morel full of spots was dampened by fogs". The consonants l and r can function as the nucleus of a syllable in Czech, since they are sonorant consonants. A similar phenomenon also occurs in American English, where the reduced syllables at the ends of "butter" and "bottle" are pronounced [ˈbʌɾ.ɹ] and [ˈbɒɾ.l], with syllabic consonants as syllable nuclei. It also features the consonant ř, a phoneme that is said to be unique to Czech. To a foreign ear, it sounds very similar to zh, though a better approximation could be rolled (trilled) r combined with zh, which was incidentally sometimes used as an orthography for this sound (rž) for example in the royal charter of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1609. The phonetic description of the sound is a raised alveolar non-sonorant trill which can be either voiceless (terminally or next to a voiceless consonant) or voiced (elsewhere), the IPA transcription being [ r̝ ].

Syntax and Morphology

As in most Slavic languages, many words (especially nouns, verbs and adjectives) have many forms (inflections). In this regard, Czech and the Slavic languages are closer to their Indo-European origins than other languages in the same family that have lost much inflection. Moreover, in Czech the rules of morphology are extremely irregular and many forms have official, colloquial and sometimes semi-official variants.

Word order

The word order in Czech serves similar function as emphasis and articles in English. Often all the permutations of words in a clause are possible. While the permutations mostly share the same meaning, they differ in the topic-focus articulation.


In the Czech Republic two distinct variants or interdialects of spoken Czech can be found, both corresponding more or less to geographic areas within the country. The first, and most widely used, is "Common Czech", spoken especially in Bohemia. It has some grammatical differences from "standard" Czech, along with some differences in pronunciation. The most common pronunciation changes include -ý becoming -ej in some circumstances, -é becoming -ý- in some circumstances (-ej- in others). Also, noun declension is changed, most notably the instrumental case. Instead of having various endings (depending on gender) in the instrumental, Bohemians will just put -ama or -ma at the end of all plural instrumental declensions. Currently, these forms are very common throughout the entire Czech republic, including Moravia and Silesia. Also pronunciation changes slightly, as the Bohemians tend to have more open vowels than Moravians. This is said to be especially prevalent among people from Prague.

The second major variant is spoken in Moravia and Silesia. Nowadays it is very close to the Bohemian form of Common Czech. This variant has some words different from its standard Czech equivalents. For example in Brno, tramvaj (streetcar or tram) is šalina (originating from German "ElektriSCHELINIE"). Unlike in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia tend to have more local dialects varying from place to place, however just as in Bohemia, most have been already heavily influenced and mostly replaced by Common Czech. Everyday spoken form in Moravia and Silesia would be a mixture of remnants of old local dialect, some Standard Czech forms and especially Common Czech. The most notable difference is a shift in used prepositions and case of noun, for example k jídlu (to eat - dative) (as in German zum Essen) becomes na jídlo (accusative), as it is in Slovak na jedlo. It is a common misconception that the use of Standard Czech in everyday situations is more frequent than in Bohemia. The Standard Czech became standardized by the Czech national revivalists in the 19th century, based on an already two hundred year old translation of the Bible (Bible of Kralice) using an older variant of the then-current language (for example, preferring -ý- to -ej-). These Standard forms are still common in spoken language both in Moravia and Silesia. Some Moravians and Silesians therefore tend to say that they use "proper" language, unlike their Bohemian compatriots.

A special case is the Cieszyn Silesian dialect, spoken in the microregion of Cieszyn Silesia. It is spoken generally by the ethnic Polish minority. The dialect itself is a dialect of Polish but with strong Czech and German influences.

It should be noted that some south Moravian dialects are also sometimes, although rarely, considered (also by Czech linguists in the 90's or later, e.g. Václav Machek in his "Etymologický slovník jazyka českého", 1997, ISBN 80-7106-242-1, p. 8, who speaks about a "Moravian-Slovak" dialect from the region of Moravian "Slovácko") to be actually dialects of the Slovak language, which has its roots in the Moravian empire when Slovaks and Moravians were one nation (without Bohemians) with one language. Those dialects still have the same suffixes (for inflected substantives and pronouns and for conjugated verbs) as Slovak.

The minor dialect spoken in Pilsen and parts of Western Bohemia and in wester parts of former Prachens region differs, among other things, by intonation of questions: all the words except for the last word of a sentence have a high pitch. This is the reason why the people from Pilsen are said to be "singing". Words that start questions are often given an additional "-pa": "Kolipa je hodin?" (regular Czech: "Kolik je hodin?"; English: "What time is it?"). The words like "this" (regular Czech: "tento/tato/toto") are often replaced by "tuten/tuta/tuto"); some examples: "What is this? or "What's happening?" is "Copato?" instead of "Co se stalo? / Co je to?" or "Why?" is "Pročpa?" instead of "Proč?". The region of Chodsko is the home of a very special Czech-Polish dialect of the Chods people who were displaced in about the 10th century from Silesia owing to the protection of the western border of Bohemia.


The three genders are masculine, feminine, and neuter, with masculine further subdivided into animate and inanimate. Words for individuals with biological gender usually have the corresponding grammatical gender, with only a few exceptions; similarly, among the masculine nouns, the distinction between animate and inanimate also follows meaning. Other words have arbitrary grammatical genders. Thus, for instance, pes (dog) is masculine animate, stůl (table) is masculine inanimate, kočka (cat) and židle (chair) are feminine, and morče (guinea-pig) and světlo (light) are neuter.

Tenses and conditionals

Comparered to other Romance languages, Czech has a rather simple set of tenses. They are present, past, and future.

  • Past is used in almost all instances of past action, and replaces every past tense in English (past perfect, imperfect, pluperfect, etc.). The past tense is usually formed by affixing an -l- on the end of the verb, sometimes with a minor (rarely significant) stem change. After adding the -l-, letters are added in order to agree with the subject (-a for feminine, -i or -y for plural).
  • The present tense is precisely the same as in English. It is also used in cases where one would say, for instance, "I've been doing this for three hours". In Czech, the present indicative is used and is directly translated as "I do this for three hours".
  • There are also sometimes second forms of certain verbs (like to go, to do, etc.) that indicate a habitual or repeated action. These are known as iterative forms. For instance, the verb jít (to go by foot) has the iterative form chodit (to go regularly).
  • There is also no tense shifting (as in reported speech). E.g. "He loves her" -> "He said he loved her", the time is shifted from present to past. In Czech it is "Má ji rád" -> "Řekl, že ji má rád". The "má rád" implies present tense in both cases.
  • The conditional is something of an oddity, with no real indication of time. It is the same regardless of whether the action discussed is a future, present, or past action. The conditional is formed by using the auxiliary "conditional marker" and the past tense of the root verb.

The future tense is another fickle part of Czech grammar. Often, verbs that appear to be present tense are actually future tense. For instance, the verb "vyhodit" (throw out) appears like a normal present tense, but actually indicates a future action. Vyhodit is actually a modified form of the verb "hodit" (to throw), with the prefix "vy-" added. The addition of such prefixes almost always changes the aspect of the verb, to the perfective aspect. This form of the verb has no present tense — it indicates a completed action, so a present tense wouldn't make sense: either the action is already completed (past) or yet to be completed (future). A different form, "vyhazovat", indicates an ongoing action (imperfective aspect) and has all three tenses.


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