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Geoff Piper : Let's Adopt Czechia

I am a linguist and so suffer from what the French call „déformation professionelle“ – the typical drawbacks of the trade for those who practise it and not usually for the others. I speak several languages quite well; Czech is not one of them but I have a good grasp of its syntax and grammar and am much interested in things Czech in general. I have recently been very struck by the resistance of native English-speakers to the form CZECHIA for the country whose capital is Prague. I have only heard one argument against it, „it does not sound right...“ Well, most linguists do indeed accept this as a legitimate argument, but not across the board. If a word or expression „doesn´t sound right“ because it runs counter to the genius of a language, OK. But each and every new word can „sound wrong“ on first hearing, only to become completely accepted with use – think of „software“ or „egghead“ or „upbeat“. 

But that is not the main reason for the word and I believe there are five other good reasons for adopting it.

The main reason (for non-linguists!) is probably that the Czech Foreign Service itself advocated it as long ago as 1993! The objection? „Who are they to tell us how to speak our language?“ ! ! Indeed – though one should perhaps remember that many country names, like „Pakistan“ or „Sri Lanka“, came initially from those countries and are in no way made up by the native English-speaker.

 

Secondly, the Czech business world, desperately wanting a form less cumbersome than „Czech Republic“, and aware of the opposition to „Czechia“, has done such a good job introducing „Czech“ (yes, for the country, not the people or language !) that many Czechs actually think this a correct English form ! The Pilsen brewery, for instance, has a massive sales campaign with the slogan „Brewed in Czech“ – and it is not alone in the Czech business – or indeed private – sphere.

 

Thirdly (this is the one that counts for the linguists !), the form „Czech Republic“ should not stand as the name of a country in a list like „France, Germany, ...“ for it is a political, not geographical, term. Either „the French Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Czech Republic“ or „France, Germany, Czechia“ etc.

 

Fourthly, the form „Czechia“consists merely of the accepted adjective „Czech“ (for nationality or language) plus the affix -ia, which is perfectly normal English for several countries (Russia, India). It is therefore difficult to see in what way „Czechia“ is un-English. Fifthly, Czechia neatly parallels two forms which are gaining ground in French and German respectively and which make perfect sense in those languages: La Tchéquie and Tschechien. „Tschechien“ has virtually conquered the entire German-speaking press; „la Tchéquie“ has a little way to go but no-one doubts the outcome.

Could there simply be something ultra-conservative in the Anglo-Saxon mentality at play here?! To sum up, I believe that the opposition to „Czechia“ amongst native English speakers is simply a „gut reaction“ which does not stand up to scrutiny and which, indeed, may pass so quickly that those who read these lines may wonder, in a few years´ time, why they ever debated the question...

 

 

Geoff Piper, UK 
president of The Music Enterprise Agency
the supporter and promoter of Czech music