Czech (čeština) is one of the West Slavic languages, along with Slovak, Polish, Pomeranian (Kashubian), and Lusatian Sorbian.
The term “Old Czech” is applied to the period predating the 16th century, with the earliest records of the high medieval period also classified as “early Old Czech”, but the term “Medieval Czech” is also used.
Around the 7th century, the Slavic expansion reached Central Europe, settling on the eastern fringes of the Frankish Empire. The West Slavic polity of Great Moravia formed by the 9th century. The Christianization of Bohemia took place during the 9th and 10th centuries. The diversification of the Czech-Slovak group within West Slavic began around that time, marked among other things by its ephemeral use of the voiced velar fricative consonant (/ɣ/) and consistent stress on the first syllable.
The Bohemian (Czech) language is first recorded in writing in glosses and short notes during the 12th to 13th centuries. Literary works written in Czech appear in the late 13th and early 14th century and administrative documents first appear towards the late 14th century. The first complete Bible translation also dates to this period. Old Czech texts, including poetry and cookbooks, were produced outside the university as well.
Literary activity becomes widespread in the early 15th century in the context of the Bohemian Reformation. Jan Hus contributed significantly to the standardization of Czech orthography, advocated for widespread literacy among Czech commoners (particularly in religion) and made early efforts to model written Czech after the spoken language.
Early Modern Czech
There was no standardization distinguishing between Czech and Slovak prior to the 15th century. In the 16th century, the division between Czech and Slovak becomes apparent, marking the confessional division between Lutheran Protestants in Slovakia using Czech orthography and Catholics, especially Slovak Jesuits, beginning to use a separate Slovak orthography based on the language of the Trnava region.
The publication of the Kralice Bible between 1579 and 1593 (the first complete Czech translation of the Bible from the original languages) became very important for standardization of the Czech language in the following centuries.
In 1615, the Bohemian diet tried to declare Czech to be the only official language of the kingdom. After the Bohemian Revolt (of predominantly Protestant aristocracy) which was defeated by the Habsburgs in 1620, the Protestant intellectuals had to leave the country. This emigration together with other consequences of the Thirty Years’ War had a negative impact on the further use of the Czech language. In 1627, Czech and German became official languages of the Kingdom of Bohemia and in the 18th century German became dominant in Bohemia and Moravia, especially among the upper classes.
Josef Dobrovský, whose writing played a key role in reviving Czech as a written language.
See also: Czech National Revival
The modern standard Czech language originates in standardization efforts of the 18th century. By then the language had developed a literary tradition, and since then it has changed little; journals from that period have no substantial differences from modern standard Czech, and contemporary Czechs can understand them with little difficulty. Changes include the morphological shift of í to ej and é to í (although é survives for some uses) and the merging of í and the former ejí. Sometime before the 18th century, the Czech language abandoned a distinction between phonemic /l/ and /ʎ/ which survives in Slovak.
With the beginning of the national revival of the mid-18th century, Czech historians began to emphasize their people’s accomplishments from the 15th through the 17th centuries, rebelling against the Counter-Reformation (the Habsburg re-catholization efforts which had denigrated Czech and other non-Latin languages). Czech philologists studied sixteenth-century texts, advocating the return of the language to high culture. This period is known as the Czech National Revival (or Renaissance).
During the national revival, in 1809 linguist and historian Josef Dobrovský released a German-language grammar of Old Czech entitled Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache (Comprehensive Doctrine of the Bohemian Language). Dobrovský had intended his book to be descriptive, and did not think Czech had a realistic chance of returning as a major language. However, Josef Jungmann and other revivalists used Dobrovský’s book to advocate for a Czech linguistic revival. Changes during this time included spelling reform (notably, í in place of the former j and j in place of g), the use of t (rather than ti) to end infinitive verbs and the non-capitalization of nouns (which had been a late borrowing from German). These changes differentiated Czech from Slovak. Modern scholars disagree about whether the conservative revivalists were motivated by nationalism or considered contemporary spoken Czech unsuitable for formal, widespread use.
Adherence to historical patterns was later relaxed and standard Czech adopted a number of features from Common Czech (a widespread, informal register), such as leaving some proper nouns undeclined. This has resulted in a relatively high level of homogeneity among all varieties of the language.