pronunciationguide.info

Czech and Slovak

[diacritics] | [vowels] | [vowel combinations] | [consonants] | [stress] | [slavic prepositions] | [bottom]

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.

Diacritics

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:

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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 haeks (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 haeks; thus one often sees, e.g. Dvorák instead of Dvoák, and Janácek instead of Janáek. 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 haek, Czech also uses an acute accent (á, é, etc.) to indicate a lengthening of vowels, see below.

Vowels

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 and ó, which are listed separately below.

a, áah
e, éeh
yeh
i, íee
ooh
óoo, as in "root" (elongated)
u, ú, oo, as in "root"
yih, like the y in "rhythm"

Vowel Combinations

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.)

Consonants

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: Plze = puhl-zehny [audio sample] (though it's better known by its German name, Pilsen = pill-zin [audio sample]) and Brno = ber-no (though in English it's usually stressed on the second syllable [audio sample]). And for a more extreme case: Str prst skrz krk (sterch perst skerz kerk [audio sample]) means something to the effect of "stick finger through throat".

The little inverted carat over some letters is called a haek (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 haek are usually some variety of sh sound, thus , , , = ch, sh, zh, rzh. The haek is used somewhat differently for (see below) and (see above).

cts, always
ch, as in "church"
chkh, lightly gutteral, as in German "Bach"; can be approximated as h
, dy, e.g. ábel = dyah-bel
gg, always hard, as in "get"
hkh, equivalent to ch
jy, as in German "Johann"
ny, a palatalized n like Italian or French gn
rr: rolled as in Italian
rzh, the r and zh (like s in "measure") should be pronounced simultaneously (e.g. Bedich = bed-rzhikh [audio sample]); may be approximated as zh, or separated into r-zh when between syllables (e.g. Dvoák = dvor-zhahk [audio sample])
sh
, ty, e.g. áva = shtyah-vah
zh, like the s in "measure"

Stress

Stress falls almost always on the first syllable. As in French, accents (á, é, etc.) sometimes affect the pronunciation of vowels, but do not imply stress (e.g. Janáek = yah-nah-chek [audio sample]).

Slavic prepositions

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 Janáek 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.

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list of names with audio samples

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