Czech Language/Pronunciation

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In Czech (čeština), the correspondence between written and spoken text is straightforward. It can be worked out by using the basic pronunciation of individual letters (roughly one letter - one sound) and applying regular phonological rules (for example, voicing assimilation and final devoicing).

The order of the Czech letters is: a, á, b, c, č, d, ď, e, é, ě, f, g, h, ch, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, ň, o, ó, p, (q), r, ř, s, š, t, ť, u, ú, ů, v, (w), (x), y, ý, z, ž.

(The letters in the parentheses, i.e. q, w and x, are used in foreign words only.)

Samohlásky (Vowels)[edit | edit source]

Krátké samohlásky (Short Vowels)[edit | edit source]

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
A a tam ("there") /a/ a in ah
E e den ("day") /ɛ/ e in get
I i pivo ("beer") /ɪ/ e in enough (same as y)
O o oko ("eye") /o/ o in orange
U u nula ("zero") /u/ oo as in stool
Y y syn ("son") /ɪ/ e in enough (same as i)

Dlouhé samohlásky (Long Vowels)[edit | edit source]

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
Á á káva ("coffee") /aː/ a in ah
É é mléko ("milk") /ɛː/ a in care
Í í víno ("wine") /iː/ ee in seen (same as ý)
Ó ó dóm ("cathedral") /oː/ o in more
Ú ú ústa ("mouth") /uː/ oo in stool (same as ů)
Ů ů stůl ("table") /uː/ oo in stool (same as ú)
Ý ý výlet ("trip") /iː/ ee in seen (same as í)

Note: the difference between ⟨ú⟩ and ⟨ů⟩ is that ⟨ú⟩ occurs almost exclusively in the initial position or at the beginning of a word root in a compound, while ⟨ů⟩ can only occur in the middle or final position.

Háček samohlásky (Háček Vowel)[edit | edit source]

The háček is the v-shaped diacritical mark over several Czech consonants (namely: n, d, t, z, r, s) which alters the sound of the consonant. There is only one vowel in Czech that can take the háček, and that is the 'e'. The effect is to essentially add a 'y' sound to the beginning of the 'e' sound, as in 'yet'. There is an exception to this rule: whenever the preceding letter can carry the háček, the word is to be pronounced as if it was in fact there. So for example in "oběd" the "ě" is pronounced as "yet" but the word "děti" is pronounced as "ďeti".

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
Ě ě pět ("five") /jɛ/ ye in yes

Dvojhlásky (Diphthongs)[edit | edit source]

A diphthong is a pair of vowels that form one grapheme (sound). In English, the 'ou' in 'out' form a diphthong; you do not pronounce the 'o' and the 'u' as separate sounds in that word. In Czech, there are three diphthongs: au, eu, and ou. When these groups come together at morpheme boundaries, they do not form dipthongs in standard Czech; for instance naučit, neučit, poučit ([-au-, -eu-, -ou-] or [-aʔu-, -eʔu-, -oʔu-]). Vowel groups ia, ie, ii, io, and iu in foreign words are likewise not regarded as diphthongs; they may also pronounced with /j/ between the vowels [ɪja, ɪjɛ, ɪjɪ, ɪjo, ɪju].

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
Au au auto ("automobile") /aʊ̯/ ou in ouch
Eu eu pneumatika ("tire") /eʊ̯/ eu in pneumatic
Ou ou houba ("mushroom") /oʊ̯/ ow in know

Souhlásky (Consonants)[edit | edit source]

One interesting thing about the Czech language is that some consonants can act as vowels, which means that you may come across Czech words that appear to have far too many consonants for the number of vowels presented. 'Brno' [ˈbr̩.no] is such a word. (Brno is a city in the Czech Republic.) In cases such as these, knowledge of the actual sounds made by each consonant and the stressing of the syllables is invaluable.

Tvrdé souhlásky (Hard Consonants)[edit | edit source]

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
D d dva ("two") /d/ d in dog
G g gauč ("couch") /g/ g in get
H h hlava ("head") /ɦ/ h in hair (never dropped)
Ch ch chlapec ("boy") /x/ ch in loch
K k koza ("goat") /k/ k in kind
N n noc ("night") /n/ n in night
R r rok ("year") /r̝/ r in river, but rolled
T t teta ("aunt") /t/ t in time

Měkké souhlásky (Soft Consonants)[edit | edit source]

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
C c noc ("night") /t͡s/ ts in cats
Č č číslo ("number") /ʧ/ ch in church
Ď ď teď ("now") /ɟ/ 'dyeh' said as one syllable
J j jeden ("one") /j/ y in yes
Ň ň kůň ("horse") /ɲ/ ni in onion
Ř ř řeka ("river") /r̝̊/ "rzh" but with the r rolled
Š š škola ("school") /ʃ/ sh in ship
Ť ť trať ("track") /c/ "ty" in "best yet"
Ž ž žena ("woman") /ʒ/ "s" in "measure"

Obojetné souhlásky (Ambiguous Consonants)[edit | edit source]

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
B b boty ("shoes") /b/ b in boy
F f fazole ("beans") /f/ f in film
L l lavice ("desk") /l/ l in love
M m matka ("mother") /m/ m in mother
P p pole ("field") /p/ p in pole
S s sedm ("seven") /s/ s in seven
V v voda ("water") /v/ v in vodka
Z z zítra ("tomorrow") /z/ z in zipper

Digraphs[edit | edit source]

Specifically, a digraph is a pair of characters used to write one phoneme (distinct sound) or a sequence of phonemes that does not correspond to the two characters in sequence. Thus, while the character pair is not a letter, it represents a single sound.

Czech Letter Czech Word IPA Sound English Sound
dz podzim ("fall") /ʣ/ "adze"
džungle ("jungle") /ʤ/ "gin & juice"

Stress[edit | edit source]

In Czech, the primary stress is always on the first syllable of a unit (usually identical to a word). Of course, there are a few exceptions. The exceptions are:

  • Monosyllabic prepositions form a unit with following words (if the following word is not longer than three syllables). The stress is placed on the preposition: e.g. ˈPraha (Prague) --> ˈdo Prahy (to Prague). This does not apply to long words, e.g. ˈna ˈkoloˌnádě (on the (spa) walk).
  • Some monosyllabic words (e.g. mi (me), ti (you), to (it), se, si (oneself), jsem (am), jsi (are), etc.) are clitics — they are not stressed and form a unit with preceding words. A clitic cannot be the first word in a sentence, because it requires a preceding word to form a unit with. Example: ˈNapsal jsem ti ˈten ˈdopis = I have written the letter to you.

For long words, there is a secondary stressing of the syllables, which is placed on the odd syllables. This offers a distinct cadence to the Czech language. ˈNej.krás.ˌněj.ší = The most beautiful.

Stress in Czech denotes boundaries between words, but does not distinguish word meanings. It also has no influence on the quality or quantity of vowels. Vowels are not reduced in unstressed syllables and both long and short vowels can occur in either stressed or unstressed syllables.