Past Posts of the Future and other Miscellania…

P1050157I picked this magazine up in the Czech Republic recently – strange to see a page of Americana stuck in the corner of a post-Communist room.  The story of this paper’s arrival to the CZ might interest a reader, but it involves the private lives of friends, so no story.  What I can write is that it involves traveling for work, shared housing, and uncancelled subscriptions – scintillating!

More striking is the page two advertisement.

P1050158Cleaner energy seems to be most profitable as a carrot and stick.

Meanwhile a temporary drop in gas prices has more people buying SUVs and heavy trucks in the USA…  With a true respect to the personhood of anyone doing this, and admitting that I do not know everyone’s situation that may or may not justify buying these machines, my fiscally conservative reaction is, “Asinine,unaware, and shortsighted.”

In a use of free energy:

Tastings and December Prague 009This picture was taken from the opposite end of a pedestrian tunnel over in southern Prague.  I walked down the stairs and -WHAM! – this picture stopped me.  The artists used the space and sunlight to accentuate their work.  The gray illumination of the Prague winter made the graffiti at once energetic and serene, a confrontational love letter to the city.  I will assume others have appreciated the space too; the piece has been there since 2013 but taggers have left it almost alone.  Comparatively, some of the works I featured a few months back have already been covered.

Learning Czech:

P1050156The books above represent a challenge to most foreigners.  On the right is a Czech dictionary.  On the left is a compendium of Czech grammar.  You cannot see it, but the grammar book is slightly thicker than the dictionary.  You can notice it – the book of grammar is also a good inch longer.

Why?  Before I answer that, I would like to point out that Czech is a Slavic language. This means, anglophone readers, that our inheritance of French, Spanish, Italian, and German words is fairly worthless when learning Czech.  The Czech words come from a different branch of languages, so basic words have very different origins.  Take the word “dog.”  In German, one says, “Hund,”  which sounds like “hound.”  The Italian word, “cane” comes from the same Latin as the English “canine.”

In Czech, dog is “pes” –  no connection with English, no easy mnemonic device, unless your pet isn’t house-trained…

If one was to look at “pes,”  a Romance-language speaker might think it related to the Latin “piscis,” the source of the Zodiac symbol Pisces, the fish.  Bonne chance, mis amici!  In Czech, “fish” is “ryba.”  But “ryba” sounds like “rib.”  We often eat “uzená žebra” in the Czech Republic; this might sound like “oozing zebra,”  but the Prague zoo is one of the best in the world, ranked 7th – so please, come for our healthy ungulates, but stay for our smoked ribs.

As difficult as Czech vocabulary is, its burden is light compared with the onerous exactions of Czech grammar.  Even Czechs find their grammar difficult.  I’m not writing of, “I’m doing good,” versus, “I’m doing WELL,” peccadilloes, I’m writing that nearly every aspect of Czech grammar seems foreign enough to be extraterrestrial to an anglophone and some native speakers.  Take nouns.  Nouns are categorized into male, female, and neutral nouns.  Male nouns are further separated into animate and inanimate male nouns.  Regardless of sex, each noun has 14 declensions to be memorized, depending on if it is singular or plural and how it acts in a statement (Subject, direct object, indirect object… etc, roughly speaking)  Animate male nouns have 3 different patterns to those declensions with some permutations, and some of those permutations have permutations.  Inanimate nouns have 2 different major patterns with permutations and…  Female nouns have 3 different patterns to those 14 declensions – with permutations, ditto the neutral nouns.  Then there are some exceptions.  These sentences have been about noun grammar only.

“It can’t be that hard,” you scoff; “Justin, you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill.”  I reply, “Yes, you are right.  I am making the struggle bigger than it is;  I am making an Everest out of a Kilimanjaro.”

So why learn Czech?  Any mountaineer would understand the paraphrase:  “Because I’m there.”  I live there.  I work there. I have the time to investigate the language.  Czech is an intense challenge, but one that rewards me with new friends and new perspectives.

That’s about all for now.  In an upcoming post I will write about one of the perpetrators… uh, fathers of the Czech language.

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