Cuckoo’s eggs or enrichment?

Are foreignisms like cuckoo’s eggs in the mother tongue and should we remove them continuously to keep the language clean? Or can the language be enriched by adopting foreign words? What is the historical point of view to this “problem” and how we see it in the present days?

Let’s have a look at Czech and German. Austrian German adopted a lot of Czech words related to gastronomy – see the article Czech food in Austrian German. And the other way round – Czech uses a lot of words with the German origin. The reasons for adopting are historical, of course, but not only. These small sounds play a big role: b – p, d – t, g – k. The linguists call them voiced (b d g) and unvoiced (p t k) consonants.

The principle is easy: When German says a word beginning with b, Czech hears p and so on:

German says (translation) – Czech hears = Czech adopts

Beisel (pub) – paisel = pajzl

Bärendreck (bear droppings) – perendrek = pendrek

blank sein (be broke) – plank sein = bejt plonkovej

Geländer (railing) – kelendr = klandr

Gewehr (rifle) – kevér = kvér

Gesicht (face) – kesicht = ksicht

Glück haben (be lucky) – klik haben = mít kliku

Dutzend (12) – tucent = tucet

doppelt (double) – toplt = tuplovaný

Another example is one of the most popular and most commonly used Czech names – Jan. The name Jan has a Hebrew origin, but nobody calls Jans Jan. Mostly they are addressed as Honza, Honzík and the like. Where did it spring from? Again from German!. The German version of this name is Johannes and the shorter version is Hans. There is just a small step from Hans to Czech Honza. But that is not the end! The Czech surnames Hanzlík, Hanzelka, Hanzalík were created form the first name by adding the German (-el, -l) and the Czech (-ka, -k) endings.

What was the historical point of view to adopting Germanisms and how linguists see them today? In the 19th century there were attempts to clean Czech and remove all adopted words, especially Germanisms. However, does the “clean” version of any language exist? Alternatively, can we trace it? A lot of adopted words are considered to be purely Czech, e.g. škola has Greek origin. What Czech word could replace it?

The linguists of that time tried to eradicate the Germanisms by codification – just Czech equivalents were labelled as standard, also at the cost of artificial inventing. They left not just a couple of funny words (that are used just in history lessons) for their descendants, but also the fact that the language could not develop by natural way and vocabulary was deprived of interesting synonyms, abstract nouns or technical terms.

Here and now we see adopting words in a different light. The so called Prague school said, that a lot of Germanisms are considered to be internationalisms and if we refused to use them, we would lose expressions existing in other languages. However, in practice Germanisms still appear mostly in the spoken language.


14.2.2012 –

14.2.2012 –


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