Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Czechia?


You may have noticed on the news that the Czech Republic (urged on by President Zeman) is trying to rebrand itself as Czechia. This is meant to be the new official short English version of the country's name. The longer version still remains the "Czech Republic". On the other hand you may well not have noticed, which shows just what a task the Czechs have set themselves.

There isn't even universal support for the name change in the Czech Republic. I was listening to a Czech radio station the day the change was announced and the general hilarity of the commentators required no translation. One Czech friend said to me, "They are changing it because Czechia is easier to print on ice-hockey shirts." Another said it was to keep the president from meddling in more important matters.

You will find the arguments for the new name here:  http://www.go-czechia.com/ And ironically you will also find there some of the counter arguments, as the 16 myths the site tries to debunk on its main page are actually arguments against the new name.

As someone who promotes the country, I can't say I will be rushing to use the new name. I am perfectly happy with the "Czech Republic". I seldom feel the need to shorten it and only then in casual conversation. Frankly if I don't see the need for the new name, I very much doubt many other English speakers will do so.

Czechia may take hold in some official English language usage, although I suspect for the most part the BBC and other such organisations will avoid "Czechia" and continue to use "Czech Republic". I feel sorry for the poor staff of the Czech Tourism, who are already having to deal with a large proportion of the British population who still haven't stopped calling the country Czechoslovakia, and who now have an added complication.

The main argument against the name change is that it doesn't take account of how the English language and its speakers work. English is not a language of rules, it is a language of evolving usage. Registering the name doesn't mean we will use it. We will only use it if it has a function and I don't know what that function is right now

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, the point is that "Czechia" is not just the short version of "the Czech Republic"; it has a slightly different meaning. Czechia is not to replace the Czech Republic: both BBC and you can happily continue to use it. Czechia is supposed to replace agrammatical abbreviations (which you yourself admit using in informal speech) like "Czech" (used as a country name), "Czecho", or the awkward "what´s now the Czech Republic" formula in historical contexts.

Anonymous said...

Czecho or Czech are affectionate English nicknames for the country used in informal speech, with the emphasis on affectionate. Why would anyone want to stop their use?

Zoe Brooks said...

I can possibly see the case for the use of Czechia in the historical context. But despite the introduction of "Czechia" I will continue to use the English phrase "The Czech Lands" (or when appropriate Bohemia or Moravia). "The Czech Lands" is good precisely because it is not used for a current geo-political area.

I understand why the Czech Government is unhappy with a certain Czech brewery stating on its bottles that the beer was brewed in Czech. But they need to be cautious about how they ask English-speakers to stop using that word. They are already getting a bit of a backlash if the comments on various newspaper articles are to be believed.

I refer back to the main and final point in my post: the problem is how the Engish language works. It is governed by usage not rules. Adjectives can become nouns - so "Czech" and "Czecho" are not agrammatical if they are being used as nouns. Moreover as the English language has no problem with having lots of words meaning pretty much the same thing, I expect "Czechia" will not replace "Czech" or "Czecho" but will join them in usage.

Anonymous said...

English can change surprisingly quickly. Very recently there was still a country called "The Ukraine". It's now universally simply "Ukraine".

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