This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Nuts and Bolts: hacek.

English doesn't go in much for putting squiggles above or below its letters. We don't often come across things like ā or ç or ú.

But just sometimes when a new word comes into English one of these squiggly things (which are usually called accents, but which are officially called diacritical marks) comes with it.

You see them in place names, most commonly: the Polish Częstochowa, for instance.

Czech has given us one of these new squiggles, the haček - or, if you prefer, the háček. Rather neatly, you can see a háček on its middle letter.

What a háček does it to change the sound of the letter it's above: a c with a háček becomes a ch sound (as in church) and an s with a háček turns into a sh, as in ship.

So, when you say the word háček, that middle c is a ch. The whole thing sounds like hah-check.

(Sometimes a háček is called a wedge, but as it's not really all that wedge-shaped I don't think this helps anybody.)

Czech also sometimes uses a háček over a r, which turns it into a fricative trill. A fricative trill has been described as a cross between an r and a z.

I've no idea what this sounds like, but it's quite fun trying to do.

Thing To Try To Do Today: a fricative trill. The word háček was invented in the early 1950s and is the Czech for little hook.





  1. I just tried doing a cross between a r and a z.
    The result? My dear husband thought I was trying to be a pirate!
    I guess I failed? :)

    1. Ah, but then he wouldn't want to be married to someone boring, would he.
      Would he?
      My fricative trill sounds more like a slightly constipated food processer...

  2. Romanian and Spanish (the other two languages I kind of speak) use diacritical marks to change the way a letter is pronounced, and I find them exceptionally useful. Romanian native speakers often drop the marks in handwriting because they're so familiar with the language and context, but for me they're just brilliant.

    1. Yes, I too found myself regretting the absence of diacritical marks when I was writing this post, Eddie. They're really useful in German, too: although when we write German without them we get over the problem by bunging in the odd extra e, so I suppose dms aren't the only solution.