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14-11-2019, 06:10 UTC
Living Czech

Take a letter, Miss Jones...

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Hello and welcome to Living Czech. I'm Nick Carey, and I am joined in the studio today by Zuzka Durcakova, our very own producer from the studio. The theme for this week is a part of Czech that causes problems for almost all foreigners when learning the language. And it is only one letter. Yes, for those who already speak some Czech, it will be obvious that this is the letter ø.

The letter ø, as far as I know, exists only in Czech, with similarly pronounced forms in almost no other language. I have been informed by an Armenian that there is a letter in Armenian that is pronounced almost exactly like the ø, which is an interesting piece of linguistic news. I am not sure, however, if I was having my leg pulled, so if there are any Armenian speakers listening, please let me know.

The pronunciation of the letter ø can possibly be described as a mixture of an s and a rolled r, and the closest equivalent in English that I have heard is the s in pleasure. A good way to learn the pronunciation of ø is apparently to stand in front of a mirror and repeat the word dobøe, good, ten or twenty times a day. After a few weeks of saying dobøe over and over again, you should not only have a streaky mirror, but should be belting out dobøe with a fair degree of confidence. You should then be able to move on to words such as øeøicha, watercress, øeka, river, or øepa, turnip.

If by any chance you don't get your ø absolutely correct, then I wouldn't worry too much. Quite a few of the Czechs themselves have problems pronouncing it, and children unable to say ø are sent to speech therapy. President Vaclav Havel has a speech impediment himself cannot say the letter ø properly. If he can't, then don't worry if you can't.

The Czechs themselves have at times capitalised on the inability that some foreigners display when trying to pronounce ø. During the Second World War, the members of the Czech resistance apparently used passwords such as øedkev, radish, øehtaèka, a baby's rattle, or øí¹e, an empire, to catch out possible German spies. It seems likely from this that maybe there were not a great deal of resistance fighters with speech impediments, or that they did not survive long if they did.

There are also a couple of tongue-twisters in Czech that use ø. The most famous of these, and the most difficult is tøi sta tøi a tøicet støíbrných støíkaèek støíkalo pøes tøi sta tøi a tøicet støíbrných støech, which means three hundred and thirty three silver fire hoses squirted water over three hundred and thirty three silver roofs. Now, as they may have been a bit fast, let's have one more time, Zuzka, in slow motion this time: tøi sta tøi a tøicet støíbrných støíkaèek støíkalo pøes tøi sta tøi a tøicet støíbrných støech. This tongue-twister, as you can imagine, takes a fair while to get the hang of, and if someone wants to try it out on you, I would recommend standing back, as those who are uninitiated in the ways of the ø can drench you with quite a large dose of phlegm.

The other tongue-twister, though, is considerably easier, and is: øekni øekni øeøicha. This means say say watercress.

Well, that's all we have time for this week. Next week we will take a look at different forms of entertainment in Czech. Until then, mìjte se fajn, or take care.

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