Where am I?

Let’s say for a moment that you’re going to the bank. In czech you would say Jdu do banky. – “I’m going to the bank.” No problem. Of course, if you’re gong to the post office you would say Jdu na poštu.

D’oh! How you say “to” depends upon where you’re going. Banks and post offices strike me as being pretty similar, but in the czech tongue they are very different. Not only does the preposition change, banky and poštu are themselves different cases of the nouns. The first is the accusative form of banka while the second is the genetive form of pošta.

How you say “post office” and “bank” changes again once you get there. Jsem v bance translates to “I am at the bank”, while you would tell me you’re at the post office by saying Jsem na poštÄ›. In the case of the post office, na now translates to “at”. At least once you get there you can use the locative form for the name of the place no matter where you are. Remember, the rules apply to names as well: Jsem v Pizza Hutu.

And what if you’re going nowhere? Well, in czech, you’re not going nowhere: Nejdu nikam. Once you start negating you don’t stop until you run out of words. The idea that a double negative implies a positive strikes czechs as rather odd. All that negating leads to sentences like Nikdy nic nikde nikomu neříkej a nijak se nezabývej žadným problémem – which would translate literally to “Don’t never not say nothing to no one and in no way don’t bother with no problem.” (I got that sentence from a book. Don’t ask me why it uses nijak instead of žádný. I know you were going to.)

Then again, if you’re already nowhere it’s Nejsem nikde. There are different kinds of nowhere here, depending on whether it’s a destination or a location.


13 thoughts on “Where am I?

  1. That long negative quote had me rolling! That was funny. Damn, now I don’t feel like Norwegian is that hard. I think you have the more difficult language to learn..

    Geez! Your entry actually cheered me up. Thanks Jer.

  2. Based on the experiences of my students, I’m still not going to declare Czech a more difficult language to learn than English. But I will declare that such heavy declenation probably makes it the second-most difficult language to learn.

    However, I’ve never had a student whose native language was Czech. The closest have been Russian, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian (with more Serb than Croat — this student was a real patriot).

  3. I think my esteemed colleague fuego summed it up best: it’s easier to just start talking in english – there are fewer barriers to stringing words together and being understood.

    Mastery, or even speaking properly with any consistency is another matter altogether. I’m still working on that in English, and I’ve been working on it a long time.

  4. Had trouble reaching the server that hosts my blog yesterday, so things may be in a funky state right now.

    On another note, I have the cover at Piker Press this week with Hell Cricket. I intentionally under-edited it, but now it seems too choppy. Still, I like the story overall. It probably deserved one more pass, reading out loud.

  5. True enough. I have no ear yet for the tongue. In French I instinctively knew when to use d’ instead of de. In czech, when to use ve instead of v is a mystery. “Because using v sounds awkward” isn’t a helpful explanation when everything sounds awkward.

  6. Neglected to tell you why bank and post office are treated so differently. Post Office, being a public institution, is treated grammatically like a park or open space.

  7. Hi everybody.. I am so proud of you all that you are learning Czech..it is really difficult language.. not for me as a native speaker, of course.. but I know it is hard for foreigners..Study hard.. and if you want write me to my email ..Kate

  8. Before I left for eh states, I had Iveta give me extra homework, and a lot more vocabulary to study. In the entire five weeks I spent maybe fone hour studying. Now I have to cram for my next lesson. (Don’t tell Iveta…)

    By the way, I did send a response to your email, but my connection here at the Strašnice bowling alley is dicey.

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