Czech chemical nomenclature

Foundations of the Czech chemical nomenclature (official term in Czech: české chemické názvosloví) and terminology were laid during the 1820s and 1830s. These early naming conventions fit the Czech language and, being mostly work of a single person, provided a consistent way to name chemical compounds. Over time, the nomenclature expanded considerably, following the recommendations by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in recent era.

Unlike the nomenclature that is used in biology or medicine, the chemical nomenclature stays closer to the Czech language, uses Czech pronunciation and inflection rules but developed its own, very complex, system of morphemes (taken from Greek and Latin), grammar, syntax, punctuation and use of brackets and numerals. Certain terms (such as etanol - ethanol) use the phonetic transcription, but the rules for spelling are inconsistent.


Medieval alchemists in the Czech lands used obscure and inconsistent terminology to describe their experiments. Edward Kelley, an alchemist at the court of Rudolf II, even invented his own secret language. Growth of the industry in the region during the 19th century, and the nationalistic fervour of the Czech National Revival, led to the development of Czech terminologies for natural and applied sciences.

Jan Svatopluk Presl (1791–1849), an all-round natural scientist, proposed a new Czech nomenclature and terminology in the books Lučba čili chemie zkusná (1828–35) and Nerostopis (1837). Presl had invented Czech neologisms for most of the then known chemical elements; ten of these, including vodík - hydrogen, kyslík - oxygen, uhlík - carbon, dusík - nitrogen and křemík - silicon, have entered the language.[1] Presl also created naming conventions for oxides where the electronegative component of the compound became the noun, and the electropositive component became an adjective. The adjectives were associated with a suffix, according to the valence number of the component they represented (originally there were five suffices: -ný, -natý, -itý, -ový, -elý, later expanded to eight by Vojtěch Šafařík: -ný, -natý, -itý, -ičitý, -ičný and -ečný, -ový, -istý, -ičelý, representing oxidation numbers from 1 to 8). For example železnatý corresponds to "ferrous" and železitý to "ferric".

Salts were identified by the suffix -an added to the noun. Many of the terms created by Presl derive from Latin, German or Russian; only some were retained in use.

A similar attempt, published in "Orbis pictus" (1852), by Karel Slavoj Amerling (1807-1884) to create Czech names for the chemical elements (and to order the elements into a structure, similar to the work of Russian chemist Nikolay Beketov) was not successful.[2]

Later work on the nomenclature was performed by Vojtěch Šafařík (1829-1902). In 1876 Šafařík started to publish the journal "Listy chemické", the first chemistry journal in Austria-Hungary (today issued under the name "Chemické Listy") and this journal has played an important role in the codification of the nomenclature and terminology. During a congress of Czech chemists in 1914, the nomenclature was reworked, and the new system became normative in 1918. Alexandr Sommer-Batěk (1874-1944) and Emil Votoček (1872-1950) were the major proponents of this change. Presl's original conventions remained in use, but formed only small part of the naming system.

Several changes were applied to the basic terminology during the second half of the 20th century, usually moving closer to the international nomenclature: for example, the former term kysličník was officially replaced by oxid (oxide), uhlovodan by sacharid and later even karbohydrát[citation needed] (carbohydrate) and the spelling of some chemical elements changed; and berylium should be now written beryllium.[3] Adoption of these changes by the Czech public has been quite slow, and the older terms are still used decades later.

Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (founded in 1953) took over responsibility for the maintenance of the nomenclature, and proper implementation of the IUPAC recommendations. Since the Velvet Revolution (1989) this activity has slowed down considerably.


  1. ^ "Czech names for chemical elements by Presl and Amerling" (in Czech). Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  2. ^ "Amerling's line of elements" (in Czech).
  3. ^ "Comparison between the names of chemical elements in 1946 and today" (in Czech).

External linksEdit