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Review of  Moravians in Prague

Reviewer: Michael Grosvald
Book Title: Moravians in Prague
Book Author: James Wilson
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Czech
Issue Number: 22.2572

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AUTHOR: James Wilson
TITLE: Moravians in Prague
SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Study of Dialect Contact in the Czech Republic
SERIES TITLE: Prague Papers on Language, Society and Interaction / Prager
Arbeiten zur Sprache, Gesellschaft und Interaktion
YEAR: 2010

Michael Grosvald, Department of Neurology, University of California at Irvine


This book presents the results of sociolinguistic research in which the author
investigated 39 university students from Moravia (approximately the eastern
third of the Czech Republic) living and studying in Prague, the country's
administrative, cultural and economic center. This study sought to determine to
what extent the linguistic behavior of these speakers of Moravian dialects of
Czech would reflect accommodation to Common Czech (CC). At least some such
accommodation seemed likely to take place, given that CC is the dialect
prevalent throughout Bohemia, the larger part of the country in which most
Czechs live and in which Prague is located.

In Chapter 1, the author introduces his study and states his aims and
objectives. He notes that the literature on dialect contact contains relatively
few studies of linguistic accommodation on the part of adults who have migrated
to a different speech community within the same country. The language situation
in the Czech Republic also happens to be particularly intriguing, as there is a
significant gap between CC and Standard Czech (SC). Despite its status as the
official standard, SC is widely perceived as archaic, resulting in a situation
that the author refers to as ''semi-diglossic'' (p. 2). At the same time, many
speakers of Moravian dialects have a negative attitude toward CC, considering it
ugly, unrefined, and so on. This is probably due at least in part to the fact
that SC and Moravian varieties of Czech have some linguistic features in common
not shared by CC; in fact, a widely-held lay perception is that the 'best' Czech
(p. 35) is spoken somewhere in Moravia. Despite this popular belief, SC itself
has no native speakers, and so any particular Moravian dialect will tend to
differ appreciably from both SC and CC.

Therefore, speakers of Moravian dialects who have migrated to Prague encounter
numerous sources of linguistic and cultural tension depending on whether they
retain their native forms (which are often derided in Bohemia as amusing or
'hickish'), adopt forms from SC (which will often be perceived as bookish,
pompous or stilted), or accommodate to the prevailing dialect of CC. Of course,
the typical pattern among speakers is some mixture of these options; variations
in this pattern presumably depend on speaker-specific factors such as his or her
region of origin, gender, amount of time already spent in the new speech
community, and any number of other social and cultural variables such as
speakers' attitudes toward their native and present linguistic communities and
the extent of their integration into the new community. Speakers' tendency to
accommodate may also vary for different phonological, (morpho)syntactic or
pragmatic features and constructions.

Chapter 2 situates this study in the context of previous work such as that of
Labov (e.g. Labov 1966, 1972a, 1972b), communicative accommodation theory (Giles
1973, Giles & Smith 1979), and the dialect contact framework of Trudgill (1986).
The author outlines some reasons for which dialect contact of the kind he is
researching has been relatively understudied. For example, he notes a tendency
-- at least on the part of many earlier researchers -- to treat speakers of a
dialect as members of an isolated, 'autonomous' group. In addition, studies of
dialect contact have often focused on short-term exposure, on late stages of
contact at which point new dialects have already arisen, or on the linguistic
behavior of adolescents and pre-adolescents. The last point appears to reflect
the belief that a critical or sensitive period for language acquisition carries
over to the acquisition of new dialects of a given language, and a subsequent
assumption on the part of researchers that the speech of adults learning a new
dialect must somehow be less worthy of study as a result. Finally, previous work
has often been based on informal observation and reflection rather than
systematic research.

Chapter 3 presents an in-depth discussion of the Czech language, which the
author traces from its modern roots in the thirteenth century up to the present.
Of particular import is the 'Germanization' period (p. 17) which started around
1620, soon after the beginning of the Thirty Years War. During this time, the
Czech language was replaced by German in most official domains, although Czech
was still spoken and continued to evolve. In the subsequent period of Czech
National Revival, beginning in approximately 1770, revivalists decided to adopt
the older version of the language as the standard rather than the version then
in use. The resulting gulf between the official version and more-widely-used
'common' (p. 10) version of the language has had consequences up to the present
day. Also covered in this chapter are a number of related issues concerned with
language planning, linguistic research, and the status of CC in Moravia and the
rest of the present-day Czech Republic.

Chapter 4 provides a description of the 'contact hypothesis' that the author's
study is intended to investigate. Based largely on assertions made by the Czech
linguists Sgall and Hronek (e.g. Sgall & Hronek 1992), the hypothesis states
that speakers of Moravian dialects will abandon features of their own dialects
in favor of CC when living in Bohemia. A second part of the hypothesis, that
Bohemian speakers of CC living in Moravia will not adopt features of Moravian
dialects but rather will further the spread of CC to Moravia, is beyond the
scope of this study. However, both components of the contact hypothesis together
illustrate the perceived asymmetry in social status among the different
non-standard varieties of Czech, with speakers of Moravian dialects seemingly at
a disadvantage relative to Bohemian speakers of the more-widely spoken CC. The
author also points out some weaknesses of the contact hypothesis; these include
its vagueness and the fact that it is ideologically driven, having initially
been articulated by proponents of CC as a variety of Czech 'functionally
superior' to SC and Moravian dialects (e.g. Sgall 1960).

Chapter 5 presents the author's research methodology. Interviews were conducted
at a dormitory that houses domestic and international students of medicine and
physical education. Because students coming from areas near Prague are not
guaranteed a place in such facilities, the proportion of students from Moravia
living in the dormitory was high (28%) relative to that in the country as a
whole (perhaps 5 - 10%). Each participant was recorded during two interviews
conducted the same day. The first interview was carried out by a native speaker
of CC and provided raw data on participants' use of the linguistic forms under
investigation. The second interview, conducted by the author, consisted of
open-ended 'life-style' and 'attitude' (p. 78, 82) questions, probing issues
such as those related to network integration (e.g. how much time was spent
during off-hours socializing with Bohemians vs. other Moravians) and attitudes
toward Prague and CC.

In Chapter 6, the author introduces the six linguistic variables he chose as
targets of study for his quantitative analysis; three are classified by the
author as phonological and the other three as grammatical. The phonological
variables are V-insertion (VI), E-raising (ER), and Y-diphthongization (YD). VI
refers to the inclusion of prothetic /v/ in words (or word-internal morphemes)
with an initial /o/ (e.g. SC /okno/ ~ CC /vokno/ 'window'). ER refers to the
raising of long mid front /e:/ -- represented in IPA with epsilon, unavailable
here for typographical reasons -- to /i:/ (e.g. SC /mle:ko/ ~ CC /mli:ko/
'milk'). YD denotes the use of diphthong /ej/ in places where SC has long high
front /i:/ (e.g. SC /zi:tra/ ~ CC /zejtra/ 'tomorrow').

The three grammatical variables are Paradigm unification (PU), L-truncation, and
Gender neutralization. These refer, respectively, to simplification of the
third-person plural in the conjugations of particular verb classes, to the loss
of final /l/ in the masculine past tense of certain verbs, and to the loss of
gender distinctions in certain adjectival and pronominal plural forms.

These six characteristic features of CC do not occur consistently in all
environments, their use varies widely among speakers, and individual speakers
may apply them inconsistently even for particular words. Still, the author was
able to establish some hypotheses about the kinds of patterns that would most
likely occur. The independent variables that were incorporated into the analysis
included region of origin (Central Moravian, East Moravian and Silesian),
gender, length of residence in the CC community, and 'network integration' (p.
138). The author discusses his predictions in Chapter 7.

In Chapter 8, the outcomes of the analysis are presented, and the results
interpreted. While other factors are also at work, network integration emerged
as the most important independent variable examined in the study; Moravians with
stronger connections to the local CC-speaking community tended to accommodate
more. This pattern was seen clearly only for speakers who had already spent at
least several years in the CC community, however, and females showed this
pattern more than males. Although the accommodation analysis distinguished three
regions of Moravia, no significant differentiation was found based on speakers'
region of origin. Other, more complicated patterns were also found; for example,
VI and YD were more influenced by length of residence in the CC community than
were ER and PU.

Chapter 9 concludes the book with further discussion of issues raised by the
study's outcomes, and suggests directions for future research. The author states
that the contact hypothesis is generally supported by his findings: ''Moravians
living in Prague do in fact accommodate to CC'' (p. 231). However, a number of
more surprising outcomes were also found, leading the author to the conclusion
that despite their accommodation, Moravians still use CC differently from
Bohemians: many Moravians tend to use what the author terms 'a kind of
''elevated'' CC' (p. 234).


The research presented in this book is well-motivated and interesting, and the
book itself is engaging and enjoyable to read. Moreover, given the relative
dearth of sociolinguistic research on dialect contact in the context of
within-country migration, this work is a useful and important contribution. This
study is also noteworthy because of the somewhat unusual relationship between CC
and SC, and the fact that a project like this one would have been difficult or
impossible to carry out under the Communist regime. As the author notes, even
after the fall of Communism there has not been a proliferation of systematic
sociolinguistic studies of Czech dialects.

Indeed, a particular point of interest is the presentation and discussion of
various aspects of different Czech dialects. In fact, the topic matter is so
interesting that I would have enjoyed learning more about the individual
learners who took part, and learning more about their various dialects, though
some such information was presented. This is not to say that I felt there were
significant gaps in the discussion or analysis; rather, the subject matter that
was presented was engaging to the point that I wanted to know even more. Given
the potential scope of such research, however, it is understandable that some
lines of inquiry have had to be postponed, at least for the time being.

For example, the author acknowledges that the observed patterns of variation may
sometimes reflect the influence of (unexamined) prosodic and other factors such
as rhyme, meter and sentence position. He also notes the limitations of the
quantitative approach, but the qualitative findings that are presented, while
interesting, are also likely to be only part of a more complex, much broader
picture. In addition, despite this study's finding that region of origin did not
correlate with degree of accommodation, it would be interesting to see a more
detailed examination of features of particular Czech dialects and how they may
relate to the linguistic behavior of speakers of those dialects in this or in
other contact situations. In addition to its own intrinsic interest, which is
considerable, an important contribution of the present work is that it may serve
to inspire more such research related to Czech in particular as well as other
languages in general.


Giles, H. 1973. Accent mobility: A model and some data. Anthropological
Linguistics 15. 87-105.

Giles, H. and P. Smith. 1979. Accommodation theory: Optimal levels of
convergence. In Giles, H. and R. St. Clair (eds.), Language and Social
Psychology. Baltimore: University Park Press, 45-65.

Labov, W. 1966. The Social Stratification of English in New York City.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Labov, W. 1972a. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, W. 1972b. Some principles of linguistic methodology. Language in Society
1. 97-120.

Sgall, P. 1960. Obixodno-razgovornyj cesskij jazyk [The Czech Vernacular].
Voprosy jazykoznanija 9. 11-20.

Sgall, P. and J. Hronek. 1992. Cestina bez prikraz [Czech as it is]. Prague: H&H.

Trudgill, P. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford and New York: Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Michael Grosvald earned his doctorate in Linguistics in 2009 at the University of California at Davis. His background includes over a decade as a language instructor in Prague, Berlin, Taipei and the US; his interests include the phonetics and phonology of signed and spoken languages, second language acquisition, computational linguistics, psycholinguistics and the neuroscience of language. He is currently working as a post-doctoral scholar in the Department of Neurology at the University of California, Irvine.

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