These are Slavic languages stretched over the Latin alphabet, which means that the correspondence between letters and sounds may often not be what you'd expect. However, the rules for Czech pronunciation are perfectly consistent and unambiguous, so with the aid of this guide as a reference, you should never have difficulty pronouncing a Czech name. The Slovak language is very closely related, and rarely encountered in classical announcing, so you're safe assuming it's basically the same as Czech.
Achtung! Czech uses some symbols that aren't always available in the standard fonts on most computers, which means you may or may not be seeing this page displayed correctly. The following table should determine whether or not you have the necessary fonts:
|ì||should look like|
|ù||should look like|
|è||should look like|
|ï||should look like|
|Ï||should look like|
|ò||should look like|
|ø||should look like|
|¹||should look like|
|»||should look like|
|«||should look like|
|¾||should look like|
If the first group of symbols doesn't at least approximately match the second, then much of what's displayed below will not look right either. You may be able to remedy this by installing the necessary Central European fonts.
These symbols, in particular the haèeks (see below), are vital clues to the proper pronunciation of Czech names. Unfortunately, since they are nonstandard in America and Western Europe, people (and record labels) in these countries often print Czech names without the haèeks; thus one often sees, e.g. Dvorák instead of Dvoøák, and Janácek instead of Janáèek. With less familiar names this can mislead one into faulty pronunciation. There's no easy solution to this problem, one must simply try to learn and recognize patterns.
Aside from the haèek, Czech also uses an acute accent (á, é, etc.) to indicate a lengthening of vowels, see below.
In most cases accent marks don't alter the sounds of Czech vowels, they merely elongate them, which is irrelevant for announcing purposes. The two exceptions to this are ì and ó, which are listed separately below.
|ó||oo, as in "root" (elongated)|
|u, ú, ù||oo, as in "root"|
|y||ih, like the y in "rhythm"|
Two vowels that appear next to each other in a word are always pronounced separately: e.g. ou is exactly what it looks like: oh-oo. (In normal speech of course, they may be slurred together.)
In Czech there are two consonants that do not always behave as consonants: l and r. When surrounded by other consonants, each takes on the role of a vowel, that is, it becomes the nucleus of a syllable. So for example, the following city names are pronounced with two syllables each: Plzeò = puhl-zehny (though it's better known by its German name, Pilsen = pill-zin ) and Brno = ber-no (though in English it's usually stressed on the second syllable ). And for a more extreme case: Strè prst skrz krk (sterch perst skerz kerk ) means something to the effect of "stick finger through throat".
The little inverted carat over some letters is called a haèek (hah-chek), and is a characteristic trademark of Czech and Slovak spelling (though it also appears in some other Slavic languages, notably Croatian). It's easy to get used to the pattern: consonants with a haèek are usually some variety of sh sound, thus è, ¹, ¾, ø = ch, sh, zh, rzh. The haèek is used somewhat differently for ò (see below) and ì (see above).
|è||ch, as in "church"|
|ch||kh, lightly gutteral, as in German "Bach"; can be approximated as h|
|ï, Ï||dy, e.g. ïábel = dyah-bel|
|g||g, always hard, as in "get"|
|h||kh, equivalent to ch|
|j||y, as in German "Johann"|
|ò||ny, a palatalized n like Italian or French gn|
|r||r: rolled as in Italian|
|ø||rzh, the r and zh (like s in "measure") should be pronounced simultaneously (e.g. Bedøich = bed-rzhikh ); may be approximated as zh, or separated into r-zh when between syllables (e.g. Dvoøák = dvor-zhahk )|
|», «||ty, e.g. ¹»áva = shtyah-vah|
|¾||zh, like the s in "measure"|
Polish, Czech and Russian all have in common the rather peculiar feature of zero-syllable words, i.e. words such as "w" or "z", spelled with a single consonant and nothing else. These words are prepositions and are thus, by the nature of prepositions, never found in isolation: they always precede another word. For example, there is a set of piano pieces by Janáèek called "In the Mist", but the Czech title is V mlhách. This is pronounced by pretending the "V" is part of the second word, which results in vml-hakh (Czech has occasional syllabic l's and r's, you may recall). Yes, it's a mouthful, but that's what Slavic languages are all about. All other cases of zero-syllable prepositions follow this basic pattern.