Story of the Czech language
Estimated native speakers: 12 million
Estimated total speakers: 13 million
Official/de facto official language in: Czech Republic
Language family: Indo-European – Balto-Slavic
A brief history:
Czech started to deviate from the other West Slavic languages at the start of the second millennium AD... although it is still mutually intelligible with Slovak and, to a lesser extent, Polish to this day. The earliest existing texts date back to the twelfth century but the modern language really started to take shape with the writing of Jan Hus and the development of Czech humanism. The language's orthography didn't settle until the arrival of the printing press in the sixteenth century and even then written varieties of the language varied according to the writer.
The Czech intelligentsia fled during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. During this period the language of the people became markedly more dialectical while the émigrés developed the prestigious literary style that remains to this day. The work of Komenský (Comenius) is seen as the zenith of literary Czech and was used as the starting point for the modern language. When Joseph II abolished serfdom in 1781, countryfolk began moving to the cities where their language met with that of the recently-returned intelligentsia.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the spoken and literary languages move closer together and a decline in the local dialects; a process that accelerated first after the second world war and later after the end of Soviet communism.