Why is the “cz” digraph important to Czechs?
and Why is “Czech” spelled with a “cz” in English?
By the ISO 3166, CZ stands for Czechia; by the International Components for Unicode (ICU) Locale, cs_CZ is the locale for the Czech language (1), and “.cz” is the country code top-level domain for Czechia. In this article, I will argue that the digraph “cz” spread in English through Czech and will also try to answer why is “Czech” spelled with a “cz” in English when neither language uses “cz” in native words. Let’s see the details!
DISCLAIMER: This article cites some resources stated in a Quora discussion here.
→ Article published and downloadable as a PDF on Academia here.
Why is the “cz” digraph important to Czechs?
Polish and Czech alphabets are the only two Latin-based orthographies developed for Slavic languages and some language-related discussions may lead to biased conclusions. As Wikipedia has marked a considerable decline in reliable information, after numerous rejections of corrections performed by seasoned linguists, I dare write this article to argue that the first Czech primitive spelling “cz” in the Latin script was adopted under Czech influence by Latin, and posteriorly by Polish, German, other Slavic languages, and English.
Statement Nº 1
English has had to adopt the old Czech spelling before the reform from the 14th century, and since there is no written evidence of English use of “cz” before the 16th century, it was not possible to adopt it from Czech.
Statement Nº 2
The English Wikipedia states that “cz” was adopted in English from Polish at the end of the 18th century, and this—without citing any reliable sources. There is a similar statement in the Oxford Dictionary, which has become a paid resource now, and while there is no reliable evidence either, OED simply nails that the etymological use of “cz” comes from Polish since in Czech one write “Bohemian Čech,” and in Polish: “Czech.”
Statement Nº 3
The differentiation of “Bohemian” and “Czech” was made by 19th-century German nationalists and resulted in the massive spreading of the word “Czech” in modern English, so it was German that brought “cz” to English.
Statement Nº 4
“Cz” was a common Latin transcription of the Czech (Slavic) č-sound “long before Czechs started to write Czech texts in Latin script,” so it was Latin who gave English the use of “cz.”
Argument Nº 1
Czech replaced the Glagolitic script with Latin script in the 11th century and started immediately using it. Czech use of “cz” was documented as early as the beginning of the 11th century and has continued to be used in limited sectors until Modern days. The Poles adopted the Latin script in the 12th century and Polish authors spent the Middle Ages producing highly inconsistent texts where it was unclear whether “c” should stand for “c,” “cz,” or “k,” or “z” should stand for “z,” “ż,” “ś,” and “ź.” This lingering proves the Polish language was subjected to different influences and there are a few name places that bring historical evidence such as Bydgoszcz, Częstochowa, and Szczecin.
Argument Nº 2
In Polish nomenclature, digraphs and diacritics are treated as two letters coming together and not as a single letter as it happens in Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, and Russian. It is close to the mind to think that the pronunciation of “cz” in Polish varies from one word to another and, if you perform a phonogram on how both Poles and Czech pronounce words containing “cz,” you will be made aware of the fact that there is always a residual sound when “cz” is pronounced in Polish.
Argument Nº 3
In the 14th century, Jan Hus reformed the Czech writing system and replaced the digraphs with diacritics. One of the main differences between written Czech and Polish became the sound “ch” (as in “church”): Czech started writing a “č” in lower case instead and “Cz” remained for the upper case until standardization occurred while Polish retained “cz” for both lower and upper case. Nonetheless, Czech continued using “cz” and that use may be traced notably in musical pieces.
Argument Nº 4
The word “Czech” was traditionally translated with the names based on the Latin name Bohemia and sometimes as an equivalent of Bohemia. Most ignored that it meant “Bohemian” in the local language, and continued using it to refer to the country and its nationals. Latin use of “cz” is documented in the 16th- and 17th-century maps of Bohemia where Latinized local names were already written with “cz,” and “Czechia” is documented in the 1569 Latin preface to the “Musica” of Jan Blahoslav. “Cz” was intensively used in Latin texts in the Baroque Period and the Middle Ages, but, as explained before, it is Latin that reflected the Czech language and continued using “cz” to refer to Czech sources, Czech religious texts, literary texts by Czech authors, and music pieces by Czech composers.
Argument Nº 5
The term “Czech Kingdom” with “cz” figures in a 16th-century list of passengers of an English ship as a place of origin declared by Dutch religious refugees to America. It is also found in the 17th-century US military records. “Cz” is documented in the second half of the 19th century in “The Condensed American Cyclopaedia” (New York, 1877): “The Bohemian, properly Czech (…), language is the harshest, yet richest, of the Slavic idioms”; and, according to Google Ngram Viewer, the use of “cz” in English started with any frequency around 1910, and around 1915 the use of Czechoslovakia appeared. As you may trace it back by your means, “cz” in English has always come in liaison with something Czech without implying translation from any other language. While there are some twenty-some words in English that contain “cz” with Czech, Russian, and Polish origin, English most probably adopted it from the prints by Wenceslaus Hollar and pieces such as the issued in 1625 “Mikrokosmos: A little description of the great world. Augmented and reissued” (second edition) where Peter Heylyn uses “Czechians” and explicitly references Czech sources, including Jan Dubravius; 1634, Pavel Stránský published “Respublica Boeiema” in the Dutch town Leiden; 1723, Jan Dimash Zelenka published “Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis conspicua orbi regia Bohemiae Corona – Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao,” and the name of part XXXIII (Act 3) is “Aria. Allegro. En duplo sole Czechia,” melodramatic, well-known oratorical musical composition, and many more.
Argument Nº 6 (for fun)
In Modern times, you still greet people in Polish as if they were all Czech: “Cześć”
As seen from documentary evidence, and by simple logic: Czech introduced “cz” to other languages even when the Czech language underwent the Diacritic orthography reform in the 14th century.
Why is “Czech” spelled with a “cz” in English when neither language uses “cz” in native words?
Czech written literature appeared in the 13th century but the first book printed in Czech “Příběh o Trójské válce” (History of the Trojan War) was published in 1468. Under the Austrian rule, German was the main language of Czech literature and government, and as original printing presses didn’t have special characters like the Czech “č” or the English “ð” (th), Czech texts were printed and handwritten in the Fraktur typeface until the Antiqua appeared in 1840 and Cž/Cż looked like Cʒ with a somewhat blurred diacritic sign above ʒ:
- the upper case Č (“ch” as in “chip”) was written as “Cž” and printed as “Cż”;
- the lower case Fraktur letter “z” was written as “ʒ.”
Source: Wikipedia, Title page of Česká mariánská muzika by Adam Václav Michna z Otradovic (1647)
The digraph “cz” comes from the old Czech orthography that is typical for West Slavic languages such as Czech and Polish. The original English word for český was Bohemian, derived from the ancient Celtic tribe Boii that lived in Bohemia. English adopted Czech relatively recently and nearly with the original Czech spelling Cžech, which in Old Church Slavonic was spelled with a “č” for lower case and “Cž” for upper case. The reason behind this is that the Czech digraph “ch” is pronounced similarly like “ch” in German (Bach) or Scottish (loch), but Anglophones cannot pronounce it properly, so they pronounce it as [k] or [t͡ʃ] like in “chocolate.”
CORRECTIONS AFTER PUBLISHING
- 19 October 2020: Maria (Slavyanova) Jindrová signaled an omission in the mention of the ISO language that was rectified from “CZ” to “cs_CZ”, and reference was made to the UCI to support inclusion.
- What have you learned from this article?
- What can you say about the use of “cz”?
- Is there something else you’d like to add?