Czechs borrow to expand their vocabulary

Martin Prošek, photo: archives of the Czech Language Institute

I first asked Mr. Prošek why it had taken almost 40 years since the publication of the last monolingual dictionary so complete:

“The reason there was such a long hiatus is that in the meantime the lexicographers have been working on different tasks. One of the tasks was a different dictionary published in 1971, which has only one volume.

“They also published an academic dictionary of terms, and then they also worked on phraseology dictionary support work. And later, in recent years, they released two dictionary volumes of newly borrowed words, which mapped out the new development of the lexicon, which is why there was such a long hiatus.

How has the Czech language developed over these four decades? I imagine that it must have developed quite quickly, with the Velvet Revolution and the opening of the country to the West …

“That’s right. If we consider the period you are talking about, we can say that the Velvet Revolution happened roughly in the middle of the period and the first half of the period was not so hectic in terms of the period. of language development compared to the development of the second half of the period.

“So I totally agree that the velvet revolution and openness to the world was one of the main influences that left its mark on the face of the tongue. So basically we can say that the most notable development in the language is that a lot of new loanwords have entered the language.

I imagine most of these borrowed words come from the English language. Is it correct?

“It’s true, but we also have to mention that English is certainly not the only influence on Czech. There are also words borrowed from other languages. There are for example French terms, in particular those related to food, such as “bageta”, “croissant” or “bujabéza”.

“There are also many terms from Asian languages, such as martial arts or certain spiritual and religious movements. But of course, the English language represents the largest part of the new lexicon entering the Czech language. “

“The velvet revolution and openness to the world were one of the main influences that left an imprint on the face of the tongue. ”

Which areas of the lexicon have developed the fastest?

“Most of the words that have entered the language are related to technology, especially information technology. There are also many words of this kind in business, in economics for example. And surprisingly, for the general public, there aren’t that many English words in the general language, for example on TV or radio. Most English words really belong to more specialized fields.

You have also decided to delete some words in the new dictionary edition. How do you actually decide which words are going to stay and which words are going to cross out?

“The main criteria we use to decide is the frequency of the word. Nowadays, we track how often we can trace against linguistic corpora, which are basically a large set of texts with grammatical annotations with annotations telling us the sources of the text, the type of journal or the source from where it comes from, so frequency is the most important criteria these days.

Would you say that some of the words you decided to leave out were words that young people today would not really understand?

“Not just for children. We are essentially omitting words that have simply disappeared or are simply disappearing from the language nowadays, for example babictví or bezdětek.

“There are also words that are no longer used because the thing they were linked with is non-existent, for example Austrofil, no one who follows the policy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so that kind of vocabulary doesn’t is not included in the dictionary of modernity. Czech longer.

The new dictionary is expected to have around 150,000 entries. How much is it compared to the previous edition released 40 years ago?

“The 40 years ago edition had around 192,000 entries, but we cannot compare these two directly because the previous edition also included a selection of 19th century words, which the new edition does not.

Illustrative photo: Štěpánka Budková

“It is essentially centered on modern language, which is defined as the language of about three generations, and the earliest time taken into consideration is the year 1945.”

I imagine creating a dictionary should be a fairly long process. How long have you been working on it?

“It really is. We started working on this edition of the dictionary in 2012. We have developed software to make a dictionary. We have prepared a methodology to create the dictionary and the first full series has been published in the last few days. .

Will this new dictionary be considered an official standard?

“It certainly will be. To be more precise, we do not mean to say that this is a standard that must be followed on every occasion and under all circumstances. In the Czech linguistic environment, there is no law that says that a certain dictionary or a certain language reference work should be used in all circumstances.

“Following reference books in language is compulsory only for schools. Once you get out of school, whether you actually respect linguistic reference books such as dictionaries is a matter of social and cultural tradition. So we would certainly be very happy if the language users respect the dictionary and we would highly recommend using the dictionary.

“It will certainly be seen as a norm through this cultural tradition I’m talking about, but not because the Czech Language Institute is an official body that has the legal power to control someone’s linguistic behavior.”

The unilingual dictionary is only one of the tasks of the Czech Language Institute. What else are you working on right now?

“There are several projects underway in the Institute. I would probably mainly name those that have the greatest impact on the general public and among these I rank the projects that concern the compilation of large linguistic datasets.

“There are several databases built at the Czech Language Institute. For example, there is a developing database of old Czech expressions called Vokabulář webový. There are also place name dictionaries developed within the institute.

“Most of the words that have entered the language are related to technology, especially information technology.”

“Listeners can also know about the Internet Language Reference Book or Internetová jazyková příručka which is progressively improved and new language units are added according to different criteria.

“Our Moravian branch is working on publishing large datasets regarding Czech dialogues. Some older dictionaries are also published in digital form. So I think if language users browse our website, they will find many sources that they can use for language teaching.

Finally, when will this unilingual dictionary be complete?

“It depends on several factors. This is in fact the first dictionary of Czech which is published mainly in electronic form and the printed form is only for consideration. We are also thinking about ways to incorporate improvements and modifications. progressive in the dictionary.

“It is therefore in fact a pilot project, checking the possibilities of publication on the Internet, verifying the possibilities of progressive improvement of the dictionary by a constant dialogue between the manufacturers of dictionaries and the users of the dictionary.

“So we estimate that the dictionary could be completed in ten years or so, but like I said, this is only an estimate.”

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