Digraphic Orthography

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Digraphic orthography (Spřežkový pravopis)

The first digraphic orthography was created at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It can be seen in the oldest preserved medieval Czech verse legends (e.g. Legenda o Panně Marii, o apoštolich, o seslání Ducha sv., o Pilátovi a Jidášovi, o umučení Páně, etc.) and also in the oldest manuscript fragments of the medieval Czech Alexandreida. It was a relatively advanced system, especially with respect to its recording function (zaznamenávací funkce), which was an attempt at transcribing the phonetic aspects of the language of these works, and it was followed quite closely. Of particular interest is the consistent differentiation between the pre- and post-alveolar sibilants (ostré a tupé sykavky): s – š, z – ž. The consonant s is written as a doubled zz, š is written as a doubled ſſ. e.g. bizzcupzztwa, miezzta... waſſ, ſſezzto etc. The consonant z is written like the modern Czech z, e.g. cazal (kázal), pozzazal; ž, however is usually written as s, e.g. siwot, w toms, gdys etc. The consonant c is written as cz, e.g. czoz, w ruczie, cropiecze, cziezztu; č is written as chz e.g. benatchzene, rsieczh, zzkonchzal etc. A simple c, as is clear from the examples given above, often signifies k: cazal, zzconchzal


Vowel length, for the most part, is not yet indicated, and if it is then it is expressed by a doubling of the relevant vowel. Sometimes length is indicated by a diacritic mark over the vowel, but a diacritic over the letter y often did not express length, but rather indicated the soft i (albeit still not consistently, e.g. zzdyrsiety̌). A quite consistent differentiation is made between the etymological i and y. Syllabic r and l are most often written with an accompanying vowel, i.e. yr, yl, e.g. nepoſſkwyrnyl, mylchziu. The short and long diphthongs ie are not differentiated, e.g. rsiechz, naywiecze. The consonant ř is most commonly written in digraphic orthography as rs: krsezztyene, pohrsebli etc. As a rule, the consonant j is wrriten as g: gho, gim, but can also be written in other ways: Judy, iessczie. In some cases the assimilation of the voicing of paired consonants that was starting at the time is indicated: gdys, gde etc.


Translation (in progress) by James Partridge, from: Porák, Chrestomatie, pp. 14-15. 


Further reading