Monday, November 28, 2011

Czech R and Ř

"T-D, T-D, T-D-ahhhva. T-Dava," said Caroline, standing at attention in front of her kindergarten’s director, years ago. "T-D-am. T-D-aktor," she continued, giggling a little as familiar words turned to nonsense. She repeated the list again, faster this time. We were in the director’s office and Caroline was learning to roll her Rs.

"T-Dava, T-DRava, Trrrrrrrrava." It didn’t take many visits for Caroline to catch on. Rs in Czech are easy to pronounce once you realize that they begin in the same place in your mouth as a D, and then roll. Soon Caroline was rolling her Rs with great drama and length, applying her lessons to every R in Czech (as you should) and every R in English (as you shouldn’t).

We learned rhymes together, lines like:
Trubač troubí, vytrubuje, trubka se mu blýská. Trubač troubí tramtarata, trubka zrovna výská.
(All about trumpets and trumpeters)

And my favorite to say really fast:
Franta frká: frky, frk, holub vrká: vrky, vrk
(Frank has to blow his nose, a dove has to coo)

From R, lessons moved on to Ř. An Ř is typically the last sound children learn to pronounce when they are growing up here, because of its difficulties. Caroline's teacher explained that an Ř is a rolled R spoken through nearly closed teeth. She had Caroline practice by baring her teeth like a wolf and whispering her Rs to create the famous rrrzh sound. "Řepa, řeka, řekla, řekl", Caroline worked on her word list until she finally graduated to a nursery rhyme:

Řežu, řežu dříví,
až jsem celý křivý.
Cut cut wood,
I'm already all crook'd.

This time, the lessons were useful for more than just Caroline. I worked along with C until we could both bare our teeth and pronounce our Řs. Remember the fairy tale from a few days ago? Tři oříšky pro Popelku becomes easy to say if you can remember to roll your Rs, and keep your teeth together. If I were to mangle an English phonetic spelling, it might look like this: Trrzhee orrzheeshky pro Popelku. Go ahead and try, then let me know how it goes!

  • In Czech pronunciaton, a háček, or hook, softens letter sounds. Š = sh, ž = zh, č = ch, etc.
  • Here's a sound file for tři.


meredith said...

Wow, that looks hard to pronounce! I'll stick to the swallowed French "r".
I've seen some wreaths here with the four advent candles, on tables, but no wreaths on doors.

Barrett Bonden said...

I've never yearned to be younger than I am - until now. Youth is the way to swallow up a new language then utter it out of the corner of your mouth, unself consciously, while you play ball, watch TV, get dressed for school. How wonderful for a language not to be a discipline but merely a measure of growing up.

Thank you for the mangled phonetics. I tried it but now I need the stresses. Is it Pop-el-ku or Po-PEL-ku? Already I've OD'd and I turn instead to the 98% of French I do not know. Tell C. the accents make the words look like hedgehogs.

Julia said...

Meredith - Czech is much easier to pronounce than French, I can guarantee it! It is interesting about those Rs though, isn't it? I wonder if R is the most nationalistic sound in a language, and if so, why?

BB - Good point about stresses, Czech is almost always stressed on the first syllable (PO-pel-ku). Accent marks make vowels slightly longer but don't affect their stress (something that is hard for me to remember on occasion).