Why Study Czech?

Ask the experts: Masako Fidler (Brown University), Bronislava Volková (Indiana University), and Craig Cravens.

Craig Cravens (UT Austin) writes,

The Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than any other country in the world. The Czechs put away an astounding 163 liters per person a year.

This includes men, women, and children, and since women and children don’t consume a lot of beer (preferring wine and milk respectively), a lot of Czech men are drinking a lot of Czech beer. "

Pilsner Urquell, the world’s first pilsner beer, was invented in a Czech brewery in 1842. It is now the preferred style of beer throughout the world. Look at any can of Budweiser, Miller, or the plethora of other “lesser” beers, and you will see the words “Pilsner style beer.”


Czech playwright Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” for his 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). The word immediately spread throughout the world.

And then of course there is Prague, the “city of a hundred spires.” Located in the geographical center of Europe, Prague is indeed the heart of the continent.

“But shouldn’t I study something more practical?”

The Czech and Slovak Republics joined the European Union in 2004 and are the fastest growing markets in the Union. Western European nations are moving their factories eastward to burgeoning markets with fewer governmental restrictions and a population more eager to work. In 2005 Peugeots, Citroëns, and Toyotas started rolling off the line of a new factory at Kolin in the Czech Republic. In 2004 the South Korean car and appliance maker Hyundai chose Slovakia for a giant car manufacturing plant, joining earlier carmakers such as Volkswagen and Porsche and instantly giving the country the nickname the Detroit of Europe. In May 2006 Hyundai confirmed its intention to invest up to 1 billion Czech crowns in a plant in Nosovice, in northern Moravia.

In May of 2006, the world’s largest bank moved to the Czech Republic.

The property investment company Property Secrets recently write that property values in the Czech Republic are set to rocket 15 per cent per annum for the next ten years.

And don’t forget, Czech is a gateway language.

Czech is a Slavic language, related to Russian, and even closer to Polish and Slovak, which can easily be learned after Czech. Unlike Russian, it uses the Latin alphabet and is thus more immediately accessible to the western learner.

Czech is difficult, make no mistake, but for that more rewarding.

So think about Czech — the other Slavic Language

Contact Professor Craig Cravens for more information.

Interesting fact: The famous Chilean poet and 1971 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Pablo Neruda (Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto), took hs pen name, eventually his legal name, from the 19th-century Czech poet Jan Nepomuk Neruda (1834-1891).


Bronislava Volková describes Czech Language and Literature at Indiana University:

Why Learn Czech? Why Study Czech and Slovak Culture?


Since Russian language and literature are usually the Slavist's main field, another language and culture is generally required. Outside the East Slavic group, Czech is an excellent choice. One of the two most significant West Slavic languages, Czech has the advantage of a simple orthography using three diacritical marks, and a simple stress rule (stress is always on the first syllable).

Bohemia - The Czech lands are the birthplace of the first Slavic literary language, Old Church Slavic, formed by Constantine and Methodius in the 9th century. Later, in the 19th century, Slavic Studies was conceived as a discipline in Bohemia, the site of the first Slavic Congress. Finally, in the 20th century Prague became the site of the development of one of the most important linguistic, literary and semiotic schools in the world, the internationally based Prague Linguistic Circle. Since many important works can be read only in Czech, study of the language can greatly benefit the Slavist in his or her research.


Czech is of importance because of a considerable German lexical element, which has interesting stylistic functions, especially in the spoken language. For historical reasons, Czech has a well-developed diglossic system, where a spoken and a written variant are kept separate by the speaker and are also used in an intertwined way for stylistic purposes. The extremely rich and original linguistic tradition is exemplified in the well-known Prague School of Linguistics and Semiotics, a monumental movement of thought in the 20th century influencing linguistic thinking all over the world.


Many American readers know of one of the greatest satires of all times, Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk, others know Čapek's philosophical relativist novels, his artistic detective stories or his science fiction. (The word "robot" was created by Čapek from an old Czech word for heavy work, "robota"). But not many people are aware that these two authors are but a fraction of a rich and unique literary culture, especially rich in poetry (Nobel laureate Jaroslav Seifert is a significant, but again a small fraction of it). Bohemia and Slovakia have produced a great pléiade of outstanding poets, such as Mácha, Vrchlický, Neruda, Král', Holan, Halas, Nezval, and many others, as well as the writers Kundera, Škvorecký, Vaculík, Hrabal. Others still rest in darkness for the Western world. It is also barely known that Czechs produced their own avant-garde movement, poetism, a unique synthesis of constructivism, dadaism and cubism; these were all transformed into a qualitatively different, playful movement with its own theory and interdisciplinary applications (one creator of this movement was Jaroslav Seifert). Jan Mukařovský's theory of literature is only now making its full impact on Western theory.

The social and cultural milieu of Bohemia produced such important German language authors as Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel and Rainer Maria Rilke; writers such as Werfel, Rilke, Max Brod, and E. E. Kisch wrote in Prague between the First and Second World Wars.

Czechoslovakia also produced a remarkable new wave of cinema, concerned with realistic, understated insight into life, as well as poetic surrealist films. Names like Forman, Jireš, Němec, Kádár, Chytilová, Passer, have gained world renown ever since the 1960s.


Today's Czech Republic lies on the border of East and West. The earliest state of the region, the Great Moravian Empire of the 9th century, saw two important developments: the democratic concept of the linguistic accessibility of religion and culture (unheard of in Western Europe at the time), and the birth of the first Slavic literary language, Old Church Slavic. Later, Bohemia posed the first successful challenge to the outdated practices of the Catholic Church as the first carrier of the Protestant idea in Europe; it was the home of the early encyclopedist Comenius, who reformed the outdated scholastic education so effectively that he is to this day known as the "teacher of the nations." His ideas even now serve as the basis of modern pedagogy. This great humanist also shares the fate common to the Czech people--he is one of the first of hundreds of thousands of Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks who for historical reasons and reasons of conscience or profession were forced to emigrate. The wealth of Western cultures owes much to such exiles.

Many important historical events — the Thirty Years' War, the First and Second World Wars — had their inceptions or took decisive turns precisely on the territory of this early industrialized country on the crossroads of the East and West.


The Czech lands are a place of important developments in modern semiotic theory, not only of literature and linguistics, but also in visual arts, music, theater, film and folklore.


During many culturally and artistically rich periods, Bohemia was at the heart of Western Culture. It played the role of catalyst, ready more than any other nation to absorb foreign influences, but also to creatively transform them into something unique. Thus during the Gothic period, Bohemia created the so-called "beautiful style", and much more recently, during the European avant-garde, poetism. Some modern painters (Toyen, Šíma, Štyrský, Muzika, Kotík, Zrzavý, Tichý) not only achieved broad renown, but anticipated new art forms. Those forms included artificialism, mental countryside painting, and magic realism. The application of modern forms to content and value concerns had taken place in Czechoslovakia as early as the 1940s - earlier than in other countries. Only a few Czech painters have achieved worldwide acclaim, like Kupka or Mucha, who created a unique Art Nouveau style ("le style Mucha"). Much translation work remains to be done in bringing so many exquisite artists to the attention and awareness of the North American public.


Czechs are said to be a "nation of musicians." Already in the 17th and 18th centuries there was such a surplus of excellent musicians that they emigrated in large numbers to Western Europe. There, they formed important new directions in music, especially in Germany (for example, the Mannheim School, where they contributed to the development of the modern sonata form). The 19th century composers Smetana and Dvořák are well known; however, a great musical tradition preceded those composers, one that enriched the musical world with such forms as pastorella and melodrama. The modern composer Janáček, the pioneer of onomatopoetic music, has only recently been discovered by the Western world. The tremendous musical creativity of both Janáček and Martinů finds its source in the remarkable themes of Czech and Moravian folk songs. Other great neglected modern composers are Josef Suk (father of the famous violinist) and the Slovaks Ján Ciker and Eugen Suchoň.


Bohemia, and Prague in particular, were the seat of a richly developed Jewish culture. The Gothic-Jewish quarter of Prague with its beautiful synagogues is the oldest preserved in Europe and embodies the continuity that this Jewish community enjoyed. It is not by chance that during the Second World War Hitler chose Prague for his "Museum of the Extinguished Race"; thus an invaluable collection of Jewish materials and objects was formed and is preserved to this day in the Jewish Museum there. One of the greatest Jewish writers of our time, Franz Kafka, grew up and wrote in Prague, in the center of this special mixture of intercultural relationships.


Bohemia and Slovakia offer highly interesting and important resources for the study of political science. They are countries that historically and culturally belong primarily to the West; however, until recently they found themselves under the domination of the Eastern Soviet Empire. Czechoslovakia had its own communist tradition, conceived originally independently of Russia, and an extremely well-developed democratic tradition, being the only democracy in Central Europe between the wars. Because of these elements and because of Czechoslovakia's unfortunate and prolonged experience with totalitarian regimes, both the underground Czechoslovak and émigré literatures played an important if little-recognized role in the fate of the modern world. Today, as members of the EU, the Czech Republic and Slovakia offer examples of economic transition and business opportunity.

Some Famous Czechs:

Interesting Czech-American fact: Several chapters of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are set in Prague.

"What can I do with Czech?

Recent alumni of the Czech program at Brown University, according to Masako Fidler, have combined Czech with a wide range of academic interests and career paths, often taking advantage of the Brown-in-Prague program:

Interesting fact: Charles University (Univerzita Karlová) was founded in 1348, making it not only the oldest university in Eastern or Central Europe, but also older than plenty of universities in Western Europe (Vienna, Leipzig, Basel, Tübingen, Copenhagen, Aberdeen, etc.), not to meniton North America.

Information from Craig Cravens (University of Texas at Austin), Masako Fidler (Brown University), Bronislava Volková (Indiana University), and the web enrollment survey of the CCPCR.

Czech is taught at the University of Arizona, Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Florida, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, The Ohio State University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toronto, the University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and in summer programs at the University of Chicago and Indiana University.

To add information about courses or suggest additions to this page, contact Sibelan Forrester.