How exactly does one pronounce "Strč prst skrz krk"?
May 17, 2007 6:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good Czech pronunciation guide.

I bought a book on Russian grammar (Forbes' Russian Grammar, third edition, Oxford University Press 1964) which has a fantastic 40 page pronunciation guide for each letter, describing numerous cases and how pronunciation varies.

Unfortunately, every Czech pronunciation guide is about two pages long, and is decidedly lacking, not to mention mildly contradictory when put next to another---for example, is there a slight y-glide before i and í? Or are they actually pronounced identical to y and ý, respectively? And should these be pronounced like the i in bit? or more like the ы in Russian?

Ideally I would like a book that goes over this fairly well, in fairly good detail. Bonus points if it contains other Slavik languages as well, although not strictly necessary.
posted by vernondalhart to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Note: I am not a native speaker, but I learned to speak czech fluently while living there as a teenager.
I have several Czech books and dictionaries from when I lived there, but since they are all published in the Czech Republic, most have only a page. This book, Contemporary Czech, has 4 pages and is pretty accurate. It answers all your questions, and matches what answers I would have given you as well. It's the best book I've found so far, and it's got a lot of extra notes if you are coming from Russian.

i and í are pronounced the same as y and ý most of the time. Only after t, d, and n does the i get the glide. It softens the preceding consonant in those cases (making them t', d', and n' respectively). It's not like the i in bit or the 'ы' in Russian. It's pronounced like long e in english ('it' in czech would sound like 'eat' in english, but not as long in duration). The 'ы' sound in Russian does not exist in Czech.

As for your title words, I always thought of 'r' as a vowel in czech, and to some extent 'l' as well. So my attempt at a rough guide for the curious reader (I assume you are looking for something more technical) for the four words above is "sterch", "pursed", "skers", and, "kirk". Note that "pursed" is as the english word, with the unvoiced d becoming a t.

My favorite was always čtvrt' for no vowels, although I'm certain there are longer ones. And of course the root word of that, four (čtyři), is no picnic to pronounce either even though it has plenty of vowels.
posted by metajack at 7:39 PM on May 17, 2007

I don't like to admit it, but I have a PhD in Slavic languages. I speak good Russian, and appauling albeit grammatical Czech.

There are no good books on Czech for foriegners, but Heim is better than most. Sorry. Believe it or not, the English e as tea, is closer to the Czech i/y than any Russian counter parts and it is not a short i like in bit or knit!

In fact, learning when to use i and when to use y is very difficult for native speakers of Czech because they literally are the same sound. My't (to wash) and Mi't (to have) . T, D, and N are softened before i, but not before y. Ty (informal you) and Ti (to you) have identical vowels, but different t sounds.

The other problem you are going to run up against is standard/literary pronunciation which is simple (because it is artificial), and spoken pronunciation, which is ignored because it is not literary. Words are prounced one way in formal situations, and another at home. This is true for all Czechs and all Moravians, and will lead to considerable problems with in any almost any word with the vowels i/y.

In spoken Czech, I/Y will sound like the Czech ej. A long I and a long Y are prounced ej/ as in neighbour and way in spoken Czech. Ty'den is Tejden; byt (beet) is normally pronouced bejt (bait); maly' is pronounced as male' in informal situations. This makes it hard to learn proper grammar. One needs to write male' pivo, but one says (in a pub) maly' pivo.

Think i/i is bad, o is usually pronouced vo. Okno/ vokno/ and ona/ vona are common variants, and you really do need to use both pronunciations in different settings.

Czech is a wonderful but confusing language. When it comes to pronunciation, try to think as little as possible about Russian. More often than not, it will mess you up, and there are thousands of false cognates. The Czech work for mother really is matka; not something you would want to confuse in Russian. Don't even ask me about the work for coin!

Okay. I've had a few beers, so I may not be very clear. Feel free to write to me at if you have questions.

Mejte se hezky!
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:44 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Small note: The y/i pronounced as "ej" is actually a regional accent, mostly commonly encountered in Prague. People in Moravia do not do this, and in fact, we poked much fun at our friends from Prague for their accents, much like people poke fun at a Texas drawl, etc. To me, having lived primarily in Brno, the closest comparison (to the 'newscaster' American accent) I can think of for the 'ej' pronunciation in English is the Bronx/NY accent. My wife (who does not speak czech) also noticed this when we were in Prague last. Even 15 years after having lived there, people in Prague still identified me as Moravian from my Czech accent. I'm unsure what the equivalent "newscaster Czech" accent is, but I believe that the Moravian accent is closer than the Prague one.
posted by metajack at 9:33 PM on May 17, 2007

I definitely agree about Moravian Czech, but there are still dialects even in Brno that are pretty non-standard and funny--(chsu z Brna). I think the ej is more of a class issue. You will still hear it, but less in Moravia. I lived in Brno too, and it's still my favorite city in the country.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:11 AM on May 18, 2007

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