Main Challenges Faced by Czech as a Medium-Sized Language: State of Affairs at the Beginning of the 21st Century

Jíři Nekvapíl, Universitat Carolina, Praga | 3 desembre, 2009

Jiří Nekvapil, of Charles University, Prague, focuses on the main challenges faced by Czech as a medium-sized language, and starts by wondering to what extent the challenges are felt by the general population, by intellectual elites and by linguists. After providing a detailed account of the demolinguistic and ethnolinguistic composition of the Czech Republic, he deals with one of the characteristic features of the Czech linguistic ideologies: the ideology of language threat associated with the “language of a small nation” complex, which may lead Czech speakers to regard it as a minor language.

One of the consequences of this ideology for Czechs is the historical need to reassure themselves that the language is not really in danger. Another consequence is the widespread expectations that Czech will only be only spoken by Czechs; that is, foreigners are not expected to learn it. It is interesting to see that these ideologies seem to be well rooted in spite of the fact that, in comparative terms, foreign languages have a smaller presence in the Czech Republic than in many other central and Western European middle-sized language communities, mostly limited to multinational companies and scientific and university scenarios. Nevertheless, they exert their influence when it comes to designing language policies, especially in connection with language promotion beyond its borders, which appear to be quite weak, or when dealing with the teaching of Czech as a second language to recent immigrants. Still in the language ideologies arena, Nekvapil refers to a debate connected with language corpus, namely the debate on the effects of the destandardization of Czech, i.e. the increase in variability of standard Czech due to the introduction of non-standard features in domains which require the standard language. A final and very important point is made by Nekvapil with regard to the relationship between Czech and Slovak. In the past, both varieties used to be mutually comprehensible, and therefore there was a common market for both languages. But since the end of Czechoslovakia, this fluidity seems to be in retreat, with young Czechs reporting a decreasing ability to understand Slovak.

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