Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Literary Czech, Common Czech, and the Instrumental Plural

Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Literary Czech, Common Czech, and the Instrumental Plural

Article excerpt

The gap between spoken Czech and the stylized literary language, spisovna cestina, is so great that in categories such as the instrumental plural of all nominals, the prestige-code desinences are bookish or archaic, while in the spoken code they are nonstandard and colloquial; no neutral register exists. Instr pl noun phrases (modifier plus noun) are among the most marked in colloquial morphology, as they have both nonstandard theme vowels and a nonstandard case-marking vowel. Nonetheless, they are fully established in all supraregional spoken forms of Czech, Common Czech of Bohemia, Moravian inter-dialects, and Lach. Unlike one-dimensional morphological markings such as the loc pl in -ach in velar stems, they cannot be recognized in the prestige code. The hierarchical differentiation of these forms is analyzed in the wider context of other colloquial morphological features. It is argued that in code mixing or code switching all varieties of nonstandard morphology make their way into formal speech not as mere stylistic coloration but as agents of discourse function. Contemporary writers such as Hrabal in Prilis hlucna samota make selective functional use of colloquial morphology for thematic focus.

1. Introduction

It has long been recognized that the morphology of nominal forms in Literary Czech (LC, spisovna cestina), along with other phenomena of phonology, morphology, and lexis, reflects an arrested stage in the development of the language. (1) In spoken Czech functional gender differentiation in noun plurals disappeared centuries ago, with the exception of masc personal. Oblique plural declensional types tend toward unification, as they do in other North Slavic languages. Dat and IOC pls (2) in all Czech dialects and interdialects, including LC, have the shape V-in, V-ch, as in LC loc stromech, Lach (Silesian) strontacli, Hanak (Central Moravian) stromoch. (3) The instr pl in all Czech spoken forms of speech has everywhere become nearly fully unified around a central model with the case marker -ma. All declined nominals without differentiation by gender or class share this common ending. In Common Czech (obecna cestina) the nouns are fully integrated, with V -a- for hard stems, -e- for soft.

In most of Moravia the connecting vowel in nouns is a; in Silesia, the case marker is the older -mi. (4) LC y/i in masc and neu declensions is to be found only in the peripheral SW Czech Doudlebske dialect, a vestige doomed to be lost in the process of interdialectal leveling (Vazny 1970). (5) Jakobson (1971) and Slosar (1986: 131) point out that the loss of the declensional distinction between a direct case (acc or nom) and the instrumental is not to be found in the modern Slavic languages with unified plural endings. (6)

1.1 LC and CC from Gebauer to the 1960s

Why then has LC for so long approved this case ending? For an answer we may look to the complex relationship of LC and spoken forms of Czech. The history of the theory of LC is long and colorful and can only be adumbrated here. Jan Gebauer (1960) and the first edition of the Pravidla ceskeho pravopisit (1902) set written standards for the past century, including progressive innovations imported from the literary work of Czech writers of the late 1800s. Puristic fears of German encroachment on the fragile language of the first Republic (1918-1939)--fears resurrected from the time of the Revivalists of a century past, when Czech was truly imperiled--were effectively countered by the Prague Linguistic Circle and their leaders Bohuslav Havranek, Vilem Mathesius, and Roman Jakobson (see Jakobson 1932). The Circle defended LC from unhealthy and artificial incursions of "lawgivers" (zakonodarci jazykove spravnosti), and advanced the functional development of LC based on contemporary literary norms, some of which were remote from spoken usage. In the 1940s the French linguist Vey described a colloquial variety of Prague Czech strikingly at variance from literary norms and codification (Vey 1946); in 1955 and 1961 the Czech emigre Henry Kucera published statistical studies of colloquial speech, opening the discussion to the study of the hierarchical switching or oscillation between codes (LC and colloquial Czech) and, significantly, variants within the two codes suggesting their functional alternation in discourse (Kucera 1955). …

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