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The Czech alphabet is a version of the Latin script, used when writing Czech. Its basic principles are "one sound, one letter" and the addition of diacritical marks above letters to represent sounds alien to Latin. The alphabets of several other Central and Northern European languages (Slavic, Baltic) are based on the Czech alphabet, omitting or adding characters according to their needs. The most notable exception is Polish, which developed its own Roman script independently. The Czech alphabet is also the standard script used by linguists for transliterating Slavic Cyrillic (Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and others).
The alphabet consists of 42 letters (including the digraph Ch which is considered a single letter in Czech):
- A, Á, B, C, Č, D, Ď, E, É, Ě, F, G, H, Ch, I, Í, J, K, L, M, N, Ň, O, Ó, P, Q, R, Ř, S, Š, T, Ť, U, Ú, Ů, V, W, X, Y, Ý, Z, Ž
The letters Q and W are used exclusively in foreign words, and are replaced with Kv and V once the word becomes "naturalized"; the digraphs dz and dž are also used mostly for foreign words and do not have a separate place in the alphabet.
Most of the diacritic letters were added to the alphabet through reforms brought about by the manuscript Orthographia Bohemica, probably authored by Jan Hus at the beginning of the 15th century (1406 or 1412), to replace the digraphs and trigraphs used to write Czech sounds that had no equivalent in the Latin alphabet (the Polish language still uses this previous orthography). During the 16th century, the letter "Ů" (historically an "Ó" but now pronounced as "Ú") was added to the list. The only digraph left in the alphabet is "Ch", being ordered between the "H" and "I", indicating the sound similar to the German "ch" or the Russian "Х" [x]). It is considered a single letter – in some crosswords it takes only one square and in certain instances of vertical writing (as on shop signs) it stays together. The prevalence of single-square ch in crosswords declined somewhat with the widespread use of computers in the Czech Republic. However, the digraph Ch has different forms in titlecase (Ch) and in all-uppercase (CH).
The acute accent (čárka) letters (Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú, Ý) and the kroužek letter Ů all indicate long vowels. They have the same alphabetical ordering as their non-diacritic counterparts. When there is no difference besides accentuation, the accented letters are to be sorted after the unaccented ordered by the complexity of the accent. Therefore in a sorted list of wordforms, kura (of a chicken) comes before kúra (treatment), which in turn comes before kůra (tree bark). The háček (ˇ) indicates historical palatalization of the base letter. The letters Č, Ř, Š, and Ž currently represent postalveolar consonants and are ordered behind their corresponding base letters; while Ď, Ň, Ť represent palatal consonants and have the same alphabetical ordering as their non-diacritic counterparts.
Letter names and pronunciation
Letter Name IPA value English Approximate A a á /a/ father Á á dlouhé á /aː/ (long) father B b bé /b/ bed C c cé /ts/[n 1] cats Č č čé /tʃ/[n 1] chat D d dé /d/ den Ď ď ďé /ɟ/ duel E e é /ɛ/ men É é dlouhé é /ɛː/ (long) men Ě ě[n 2] ije,
é s háčkem
/ɛ/, /jɛ/ men, yes F f[n 3] ef /f/ fat G g[n 3] gé /ɡ/ goat H h há /ɦ/ hat Ch ch chá /x/ (Scottish English) loch I i í,
/ɪ/ in Í í dlouhé í,
dlouhé měkké í
/iː/ (long) me J j jé /j/ youth K k ká /k/ cat L l el /l/ lip M m em /m/ map N n en /n/ nap Ň ň eň /ɲ/ canyon O o ó /o/ rod Ó ó[n 3] dlouhé ó /oː/ door P p pé /p/ poke Q q kvé /kv/ R r er /r/ (trilled) rat Ř ř eř /r̝/[n 4] bourgois  S s es /s/ sip Š š eš /ʃ/ ship T t té /t/ tip Ť ť ťé /c/ tune U u ú /u/ (short) toot Ú ú dlouhé ú,
ú s čárkou
/uː/ (long) zoo Ů ů[n 2] ů s kroužkem /uː/ (long) zoo V v vé /v/ void W w dvojité vé /v/ void X x iks /ks/ flex Y y ypsilon,
krátké tvrdé í
/ɪ/ in Ý ý dlouhé ypsilon,
dlouhé tvrdé í
/iː/ (long) me Z z zet /z/ zoo Ž ž žet /ʒ/ measure
- Unofficial ligatures are sometimes used for the transcription of affricates: /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/. The actual IPA version supports using two separate letters which can be joined by a tiebar.
- the letters Ě and Ů are practically never capitalized; because they cannot occur at the beginning of any word. These rather synthetic forms are only used in the small caps writing style, e.g. in newspaper headlines.
- The letters F, G, and Ó, represent sounds, /f/, /ɡ/, and /oː/ which, when not allophones of /v/ and /k/ in the case of the first two, are used almost exclusively in words and names of foreign origin. They are now common enough in the Czech language, however, that few Czechs have problems pronouncing them.
- The "long-leg R" 〈ɼ〉 is sometimes used to transcribe voiced 〈ř〉 (unofficially). This character was withdrawn from the IPA and replaced by the "lower-case R" with the "up-tack" diacritic mark, which denotes "raised alveolar trill".
All the obstruent consonants are subject to voicing (before voiced obstruents except 〈v〉) or devoicing (before voiceless consonants and at the end of words); spelling in these cases is morphophonemic (i.e. the morpheme has the same spelling as before a vowel). An exception is the cluster 〈sh〉, in which the /s/ is voiced to /z/ only in Moravian dialects, while in Bohemia the /ɦ/ is devoiced to /x/ instead (e.g. shodit /sxoɟɪt/, in Moravia /zɦoɟɪt/). Devoicing /ɦ/ changes its articulation place: it becomes [x]. 〈Ř〉 is devoiced after unvoiced consonants; 〈X〉[clarification needed] is voiced in words with the prefix 'ex-' before vowels.
In computing, several different coding standards have existed for this alphabet, among them:
- ISO 8859-2
- Microsoft Windows code page 1250
- IBM PC code page 852
- Kamenický brothers or KEYBCS2 on early DOS PCs and on Fidonet.
- For some time in the 1990s, even the difference between accented and unaccented letters was not respected in crosswords, presumably because the software used could not handle accented characters gracefully.
- "Czech Alphabet and Pronunciation". Mylanguages.org. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
- "Přehled kódování češtiny". Cestina.cz. Retrieved 2013-11-19.