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(For: journal of the Czech journalists and translators)
“Where are you from?“ - “I am from Czechia.“
Unfortunately, few people know that the said geographic name is not only correct but, in informal situations, certainly more adequate than “the Czech Republic“. English-speaking/writing media and institutions are usually somewhat embarrassed when we try to inform them about CZECHIA as the standard one-word geographic name authorized and recommended by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1993) and included in the UNO Gazetteers of Geographical Names (1993). 1) On the other hand, the German equivalent TSCHECHIEN was almost immediately adopted in German-speaking countries and has been widely used there as a natural and necessary counterpart to “die Tschechische Republik“. 2) If users of English language ignored CZECHIA, it would be a serious and needless deviation from traditional rules underlying the system of geographic names in general:
A vast majority of modern states have adopted two names. The political name gives information about the type of government (Kingdom, Federal Republic) and therefore usually consists of more than one word; it is applied in diplomatic negotiations, in texts of treaties, etc. The geographic name, as a rule in one word, appears in maps, on postage stamps, on the outfit of national football teams and, in particular, in daily conversation and in texts of non-official character. In accordance with this model, this country used to be known under the names Československá republika/the Czechoslovak Republic, and Československo/Czechoslovakia. After the “velvet divorce“ in 1993, each of the two newly arisen states followed the traditional model: the Slovak Republic/Slovakia, and the Czech Republic/ —?? I dare say that most non-prejudiced persons would automatically add what is missing: CZECHIA. Quite right. Why should there be a gap in the system? There are no rational reasons for that, either historical or linguistic. The name CZECHIA is no ad hoc invention. If you visit St. James´ church in Prague-Old Town, you can read the name CZECHIA period. In terms of linguistic, the suffix -ia is a frequent phenomenon in English language and the word is derived from the name of the majority nation just as the original is. Then, why do some of us (and, consequently, our English-speaking partners) hesitate to use CZECHIA?
Let us recall the period following the separation. Unlike the Slovaks, the Czechs had always felt that it was sufficient for them to call their country Československo/Czechoslovakia. In fact, most of them (except linguists, historians and geographers) did not know that their territory had its own geographic name Česko, which only needed to be revived and re-adopted. Most citizens of the separate “new“ name Česko (which actually dates back to 18th century). 3) Thus it happened that the political name Česká republika/the Czech Republic entered all fundamental laws and documents whereas Česko/Czechia had to wait for a sort of “public consensus“. As a result, a one-word geographic name could not be introduced by a simple directive “from above“, although professional discussion and assessment had been finished by that time; it only could be “recommended“.
An explicit approval was given to the one-word geographic name Česko/Czechia by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a memorandum sent to all Czech embassies and diplomatic missions in 1993: the Ministry recommends to use the official title “only in important official documents and texts (such as laws, treaties, notes, etc.), in titles of important institutions of the state (such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Embassy of the Czech Republic in ....) and in official speeches and addresses. In all other cases, the one-word name Česko can be used. (....) Its equivalents in some of the worldwide languages are: Czechia in English, Tschechien in German, Tchéquie in French, Chequía in Spanish, Cecchia in Italian, Čechija in Russian.“ 4)
This statement could encourage all users of English language, both native and non-native, to adopt CZECHIA as easily as the Germans had adopted TSCHECHIEN. Unfortunately, the information was not published on a large scale and did not reach all areas of social activities other than foreign service (such as international trade and industry, culture, sports, schools, and all kinds of international contact). If no help comes “from above“, we will gave to help “from below“ - this is what we had in mind when we founded in 1998 the Civic Initiative Czechia(Občanská iniciativa Czechia) in Brno, a group consisting of linguists and other professionals who work mainly at universities and research institutes in Brno and in Prague. A detailed description of our activities lies outside the scope of the present article. The following are only a few examples of our target groups.
If some readers have decided to joins us, they will soon find out a lot of other objectives and they certainly will not suffer from a lack of work. We all feel it is high time we helped CZECHIA as fast as possible, before the opinion “Czech Republic is good in any context“ becomes deeply rooted. For this reason, I would recommend to tackle the task in a very pragmatic way, namely, to separate CZECHIA from ČESKO. We cannot waste time waiting for all inhabitants to get accustomed to Česko: some people will not be able to understand our rational reasons till the end of their lives. But this, in my opinion, should not prevent us from using the English equivalent in English texts. The word Czechia could be acceptable even to hard-core opponents of Česko.
It is both interesting encouraging to witness a similar situation occurring – vice versa – in German-Czech relation. As we know, the name Tschechien has been commonly used by native speakers. I listened recently to a Czech interpreter (who is not very enthusiastic about Česko) translating simultaneously a German politician´s speech. I wondered what she would do when the politician said “Tschechien“. If she translated “Česká republika“, it would cause a shift of meaning because the two words are not pure synonyms… I will keep her decision a secret but I do hope that it has helped her to overcome her prejudice.
I can imagine the readers asking: “Why on earth do the people complicate their lives? Why so much ado about a name?“ Well, I think the answer is simple: First, our country needs it. Second, we follow the example of Jan Werich, the wise Czech comedian, who said approximately this: “The fight for common sense is obligatory.“
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