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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter II. Spirit of the Nation: Customs, Language, Religion

Second conversation concerning the Czech language

Josef Jungmann
Traduction de Derek Paton et Robert B. Pynsent

Texte intégral

1Title: O jazyku českém rozmlouvání druhé (Second conversation concerning the Czech language)

2Originally published: First published in Hlasatel český (The Czech Herald), no. 1, vol. III, 1806, Prague

3Language: Czech

4The excerpts used are from Felix Vodička, ed., Josef Jungmann: Boj o obrození národa. Výbor z díla Josefa Jungmanna (Prague: F. Kosek, 1948), pp. 31–50.

About the author

5Josef Jungmann [1773, Hudlice (central Bohemia) – 1847, Prague]: linguist, translator, literary scholar, and lexicographer. He studied philosophy at Prague, where he was particularly interested in mathematics, physics, history and literature. In the humanities he was at first influenced by German professors, the historian Ignatz Cornova and the aesthetician A. G. Meissner. Later he attended the lectures of František Martin Pelcl on Czech language and literature, which shifted his interests toward national culture. After his studies he was hired to teach at a grammar school in Leitmeritz (Cz. Litoměřice) and later also in Prague. He married a wealthy Leitmeritz German woman and was granted burgher status in 1805. He became a leading member of his generation of Czech patriots, who radicalized their struggle for Czech cultural autonomy. Their main aim was to raise the Czech language to a level that would make it possible to use it to write modern works of literature. With his teaching and especially lexicographical activities, Jungmann was instrumental in this respect. Seeking to expand the Czech vocabulary he revived words from the old Czech literary language of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and created neologisms on the basis of other Slavic languages, namely, Polish and Russian. With his masterful translations of Chateaubriand, Milton, Goethe and others into Czech, he laid the foundations of modern Czech poetic vocabulary. During the 1820s he gathered around himself a few younger intellectuals (F. L. Čelakovský, Ján Kollár, František Palacký, P. J. Šafařík) with whom he worked to realize, intellectually and institutionally, his ethno-linguistic national cultural program. He was engaged in most of the heated debates on the grammatical and orthographical codification of Czech. After the ‘discovery’ of allegedly ancient (but in fact forged) Czech manuscripts in 1818, Jungmann, who was convinced of their authenticity, drew important conclusions regarding the historical roots of Czech literature in, for example, one of his major works, ‘History of Czech literature.’ This, together with the emphasis on the connection between academic activities and the nascent national ideology, became a source of personal and generational conflict between Jungmann and the authority of the previous generation, Josef Dobrovský. Jungmann’s major accomplishment, however, was a five-volume Czech-German dictionary containing more than 120,000 headwords depicting the Czech lexical fund in a historically, geographically, and socially broad perspective. With the dictionary, Jungmann to some extent achieved his main goal, which was to elevate Czech to a modern tool of communication.

6Main works: Slovesnost aneb Sbírka příkladů s krátkým pojednáním o slohu [Literature, or a collection of examples with a short treatise on style] (1820); Historie literatury české aneb Soustavný přehled spisůčeských, s krátkou historií národu, osvícení a jazyka [History of Czech literature, or an overview of Czech writing, with a short history of the nation, education, and language] (1825, 1845, 1846); Slovník česko-nemecký [Czech-German dictionary], 5 vols., (1834–39).


7At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the new Romantic concept of ‘nation’ that was developed in Western Europe began to spread among Czech and Bohemian German elites. The ideas that appeared in German-speaking areas (Jakob Grimm, Friedrich Schlegel), treating the vernacular language as a stable community-building element (in contrast to the changing political order) and the only way to raise the education of humankind, naturally found fertile soil in Bohemia as well. This was supplemented by a new vision, emerging from the French Revolution, defining the nation as an entity unified by the quest for freedom.

8Josef Jungmann was one of the most important representatives of the ‘second’ generation of Czech patriots, among whom language still evoked the greatest interest. Nevertheless, in comparison to the prevalently ‘scholarly’ interest of the former generation, Jungmann and his compatriots were much more enthusiastic about the Romantic ideas of language and nation, especially those inspired by Johann Gottfried Herder’s approach, which demonstrated a high regard for the Slavonic nations and languages. In the atmosphere of a cultural ‘revival,’ primarily in verse, fiction, and drama, the Czech patriots developed their ideas of fatherland and nationhood, which went beyond the former concepts linked with the region and the estates. In turn, the fatherland came to be identified with the language and customs of the nation, that is to say, all people using the Czech language in contrast to the former ‘political’ nation of the nobility. Owing to the strong German cultural influence, the ethno-linguistic conception of the Czech nation was shaped by the organic theory of the nation developed in Germany (Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Ernst Moritz Arndt, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn). Subsequently, two approaches originated among Czech patriots. The moderate or ‘utraquist’ position (named after the moderate camp in the Hussite movement four centuries earlier) was based on the principle of tolerance between Czechs and Germans in Bohemia and was propagated by a circle of Czech and German teachers at Prague University (Jan Nejedlý, Johann Gustav Meinert, Bernard Bolzano). The second approach, represented by Jungmann and his followers, was more radical and egalitarian, though not necessarily hostile to the Germans.

9In his first ‘Conversation concerning the Czech language,’ Jungmann lamented the condition of contemporary Czech in comparison to ‘the golden age’ of the language, that is, its humanist period in the sixteenth century. He concluded, however: “only the nation whose language has not completely died is still alive.” In the second dialogue presented below, Jungmann turned his thoughts to the future prospects of the Czech language. In terms of genre, the ‘Conversations’ are still to be classified as an apology of the language cultivated in previous decades, yet they differ from the previous cases in the structure of argumentation. First, Jungmann compared the Czech and German national movements. Even though Czech culture was in an inferior position to the German, this did not necessarily mean the general inferiority of the Czech nation. As Jungmann argued, the Germans had been in a similarly inferior position towards the French a few decades earlier. Secondly, Jungmann applied the Herderian ‘primordialist’ conception of the nation that considered language a kind of incorporation of the national spirit, since it mirrored its character and customs. Thirdly, a new trait is evident in the structure of Jungmann’s ‘utilitarian argument.’ The Czech language was to be preserved not primarily because the nobility needed it to communicate with the serfs, but because the ‘common people’ needed it. In this sense, Jungmann stressed the civic and democratic if not egalitarian element in the projected Czech nation-building process, which was a condition for subsequent mass propaganda.

10Jungmann’s ‘Conversations’ are generally perceived as an important moment in the evolution of ideas on the Czech language and on the use of the concept of ‘nation.’ It was widely interpreted as Jungmann’s first draft of the ‘national program.’ Recent interpretations, however, tend to argue that national agitation was not Jungmann’s prime intention. Indeed, there was no substantial response to his article for more than ten years. It was only in the 1820s that his linguistic concept of the nation found broader acceptance. In subsequent years Jungmann came to be known as the ‘creator’ of the Czech national program and, later, a symbol of Czech nationalism. This was also why the critics of the integral nationalism of the 1890s (Tomáš G. Masaryk, Hubert G. Schauer) steered clear of Jungmann’s national cultural program.


Second conversation concerning the Czech language

  • 1 The names of the speakers are significant. Slavomil suggests a person with pro-Slav sentiment, Pro (...)

12Protiva:1 I was rather surprised that you of all people led the conversation away from the matter at hand to quite a different matter or, to put it more plainly, from love of country to love of the Czech language, which seemed ridiculous to me. […]

13Slavomil: […] If I asked you what nation lived in Austria, you’d surely say, ‘Germans,’ just as you would allot France to the French, Russia to the Russians, and you would not deny that each of these nations has its own country. Well, what makes the French French, the Russians Russian or the Germans German?

14Protiva: The fact that each has its own community and administration!

15Slavomil: But what if all their lands were united under one administration? Wouldn’t the number of nations remain the same?

16Protiva: There would be one community comprising Germans, Russians and French.

17Slavomil: One community, but of different nations. Each of those nations would be delimited by itself, and I don’t think anybody could too easily persuade the Russian that France was his country. Although the French, the most cosmopolitan of cosmopolitans, who are at home everywhere, would not fail to glorify everything west of the Rhine as their country. And, so, where one administration, one code of law, and, let’s say, even one religion prevailed, where would the obvious distinction between these nations come from?

18Protiva: I understand. You’re saying that language is what defines nations and their homelands.


20In other words, there are as many nations as there are languages, and as many homelands as there are nations?

21Slavomil: Because one part of the Earth with its inhabitants would be called a country with separate rights in accordance with its language.

22Protiva: Czechia is the part called Bohemia. And in Hungary there are at least three homelands, and what’s so jolly about that is that they’re all mixed up!

  • 2 Boii (Bojové in Czech)—the name of a Celtic tribe which settled in the area of Bohemian basin in t (...)

23Slavomil: Go on, laugh as much as you like! That’s the way it is. We are not arguing about a concept, but about the thing itself; and I think that if the Czech nation were Germanized or died out by any other means (may its spirit protect it from all Czech-haters and ward them off) the name Czechia would belong to this land as little as the name Bohemia belongs to it, since no Boii2 have lived here for a very long time. […] For if one could not imagine a homeland without a nation or a nation without its own language, I would again have to conclude that no one other than he who loves the language of his nation can boast of true love of his country.


25Protiva: Although I myself doubt that one language, even if today some supernatural power were to put it on the lips of all nations, could endure long enough to avoid being divided up by a new Babel; nevertheless, I consider that if the Czech nation were Germanized it would not be detrimental to the glorious, wondrous variety of languages in the world and to the character of the nation; for not even the most sophisticated argument would persuade me that the same nation, if it changed its language, would be a different nation tomorrow from what it is today. But you must admit that something glittering about the Czech language caught your eye, making it impossible for you to consider that one language is like another. […]

26Slavomil: […] Does not each nation have its own experience and manners? And isn’t language like a repository of all human knowledge and arts, the wealth of which, just as in a family, passes from father to son? And what’s more, language is a most excellent philosophy, formed by its particular geographic region, mores, mentality, inclinations and those thousands of other distinctions inherent in every nation. Consequently, as every effect has its cause, language, by its composition, sound and nature, constitutes the most reliable, most faithful picture of its inception, communal development, cultivation, character and customs. Thus, as a whole nation lives in one language, and expresses itself in it as a sign and evidence of its character, so in studying the language one learns about the nation, and that nation is distinguished from other nations as one man is distinct from another who has a different education and upbringing. And the true patriot, disregarding certain extreme philosophers, may therefore, without fear of lapsing into harmful prejudice, love any language of his nation; yes, I repeat, for some people cannot be told frequently enough, that without love for the language of one’s country it is not possible to imagine love for the country, that is, love for the nation; and the Czech may therefore sing with great boldness: If we become Germans, we shall be a nation, but no longer Czechs! […]

27Protiva: […] This conversation has become unexpectedly serious. Let it be, as you say, that Czechs remain Czechs only as long as they speak Czech: but, I ask you, what difference does it make whether they are Czech or German, as long as they are happy? Or don’t you think that a German can be as happy as a Czech?

28Slavomil: O, my dear Protiva, I wish you understood me better! After all, I’m not so dim as to hold that view. I respect Germans, as I do any other enlightened nation, and every Czech will be so just and acknowledge that, with respect to art and learning, we owe them at least as much as they themselves owe the French. How could I ever think that just because they are Germans they could not be happy, when I extol and love the thing that makes them happy, that is to say, scholarship and art? But whether the Czechs can be happy if their Germanization continues is truly another question. Consider that, and judge for yourself! A man who speaks only Czech is excluded from all offices, cannot be even a temporary clerk, but is instead condemned to the plough or the shoemaker’s last of his forefathers as in the Egyptian captivity, whereas the puffed-up alien is employed in the administration of the land and enjoys the benefits of its prospering; for at great expense and effort he can acquire that German key to office in schools that are, to be sure, contaminated with the German language, but are still supremely suitable for extinguishing the last spark of Czech intelligence. […]

29The Czech will learn very little about modernized husbandry, little about nature, little about the achievements of scholarship or other things necessary for an educated nation, whereas the German not only prospers because he has so many learned writings but he is also abundantly equipped with all the necessary writings, manuals of some sort for all skills and knowledge. And if the German then belittles the Czech, saying that he is not as good as a German, that he’s not fit for various workshops and factories, does he not then perhaps deserve a rap on the knuckles, as in fables the right hand reproaches the left for being a clumsy clot. What a fool! If one exercised both hands equally, what would prevent the left hand from being on par with the right in everything? […]

30Protiva: All that constitutes evidence that where there is greater respect for skill there tends to be greater respect for industry, efficiency and productivity. But you may be most pleased to know that a nation acquires skills best through a cultivated language. And I think that the Czech, when he grows accustomed to the German language, acquires skills and education sooner and more easily than if he were to get an education in his own language, which has, as the Czechs themselves complain, been neglected for two hundred years; because anyone can grasp that it is easier to understand a hundred books in a foreign language than to write one good book in one’s own.

31Slavomil: Can anyone doubt that an ability to use languages is good for the country? But if the ability remains in a foreign language, without being disseminated among a great part of the nation, then, I think, it contributes less than the wealth that John Tight rakes in for the rye and saves in an iron chest in his cellar; whereupon, his dear son John Loose, keeping an eye on his father, as soon as he escorts him to the door, runs to lift the lid, and, the wastrel puts the money into free circulation amongst the people. […] That’s my reply to your first objection. Let me now slightly change your second one as follows: It is easier for a nation to produce a hundred good writers than to turn a whole nation into another one. Indeed, give the Czechs what they need for that, and I guarantee that in twenty years you’ll see miracles in their literature; whereas those fifty years during which the benefactor of our nation promised that he would completely Germanize Bohemia have long since passed, and it is increasingly clear that he has failed. So may God punish all those Czechs-haters by making them see Bohemia blossom the more abundantly the more they hoped for its demise. […]

32But let us thank God that things are never so bad they couldn’t be better. The Czech people does exist. Let the Lords speak French or Chaldean (the more reasonable among them love the language of their people). It doesn’t matter that the people believe them to be what they pretend to be, that is, foreigners, and the less they are loved by them the less they love them in return. But it doesn’t become them to speak to their subjects through an interpreter, which is really the same as if they were listening with somebody else’s ears, eating with somebody else’s hands, and needed somebody else’s eyes and legs, and let themselves be led as if blind and lame. If blindness and lameness are wretched, what should I say about those comical apes among the lower classes, who think that not knowing Czech makes them upper-class, and consider Czech a peasant language. Poor little things! They don’t know that where it is indigenous every language is a peasant language, and that the peasant is the most important inhabitant of the land, the one who could actually say to them: What’s that shrieking round my head? I give you food; if you are human beings as I am, talk so that I can understand you! Is it odd that many persons wish to have their children learn German? But Germans also send their children to Bohemia; both, therefore, feel the need to know both languages. None the less, should the Czech cease being Czech because the German has settled in his country? Why shouldn’t the German cease being German instead? […]

33Protiva: From what I can see, contempt for the Czech language ultimately comes only from not knowing it; I now admit the need for the language, and the fact that it has many hidden advantages. I believe you in all those respects, for you are knowledgeable in that area. But I doubt it could ever be raised even to an average level of perfection as long as it is constricted by this vice and prevented by it from developing (and I say this frankly, as our only witness is this silent grove).

34Slavomil: Do you mean the constitutional order?

35Protiva: Precisely! Because it is clear that the good of the honorable ruling house demands that Czechs should become Germans; that would provide the rulers with ease of administration, unity and strength of government. For, in a word, France is invincible because of its linguistic unity.

36Slavomil: I would talk openly, even if the whole world were my witness. Our court treats even enemies justly. Should we be reluctant to speak the truth before it? Deep night would overtake us on these moss-covered roots before I could finish explaining how Czechs always behaved towards each other as non-Czechs; so that, although all the famous rulers from this great house did not act the same towards the Czechs, it can be said that if the Czech language died the Czechs themselves would be to blame. For did they ever unanimously request the rulers of this country to preserve their language, or did they even let it be known that it was dear to them, were they ever denied anything they asked for? Was not the ruler always most indulgent to the wishes of his loyal subjects? The invincibility of France?—I think it has quite different, political, attributes. What is certain is that the dialects of the French tongue, Breton, Cymric and Basque, are quite clearly distinct; and, leaving out the German and other more widespread dialects, is not Celtic still heard among them? After all, multilingual nations have ruled before in the world; and have not monoglots also been slaves? And was our honorable court ever conquered? And if it ever fought with less fortune than its adversaries, was that the fault of the languages of its nations? Was it not actually stronger for its having led into the field as many different kinds of fighters for honor as it had nations? Is it any wonder they are devoted with all their hearts, for they know that it respects the rights, religions and languages of its nations! Nevertheless, if you think that it needs a unity of languages, which, may I rightfully ask, of those four main languages should be the chief one? I think it should be the Slavonic, simply because four are more than two, and more than one and three-quarters—for that is the approximate ratio of Slavs to Germans to Magyars to Italians in the Monarchy.

37Protiva: But I know that the Slavs are the strongest. Consider, however, that they represent many different nations; because the Czech, Slovak, Moravian and even the Pole, Serb and Croat are not the same.

  • 3 Ger. Tachau, Böhmisch Kamnitz.

38Slavomil: But they are all Slavs who differ from each other only in dialect, although perhaps not more than the Tachov and Kamenice3 Germans in this country differ. But anyway, they would all soon be united by literature and politics. I, for one, have little difficulty imagining a mediating dialect that could unite the fraternal Slavs; it would have to be like High German among the German dialects or like the dialect of poetry or at least that of Plutarch among the Greek dialects.


1 The names of the speakers are significant. Slavomil suggests a person with pro-Slav sentiment, Protiva someone who is ‘against.’

2 Boii (Bojové in Czech)—the name of a Celtic tribe which settled in the area of Bohemian basin in the last four centuries BC, from which the Latin name Bohemia also derived.

3 Ger. Tachau, Böhmisch Kamnitz.


Derek Paton (Traducteur)
Robert B. Pynsent (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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