Liam Proven (lproven) wrote,
Liam Proven

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Fun with Czech! [cont. from p.94] #projectPrague

Yesterday's Czech lesson was in the Locative case.

Locative, lokál, the declension for the state of being in a location. Used only after v (in), na (on or to), po (past, after, on, to, for, by – yes, all of them), při (by, nearby, with) & o (about, with). Although s is normally "with". Except if the word starts with a vowel, then it's se, although that normally marks a reflexive verb. Lots of verbs are reflexive.

The locative is, naturally, different for all four genders, and in the plural, and there are different endings depending on the final letter, or possible the penultimate letter, or possibly both, or you might drop the penultimate vowel, and then you might change the last letter.

*Brief pause for broken weeping*

One of the problems with learning Czech is that Czech people only do very basic grammar at school, so unless they have special training, they don't know how it works -- they just do these many incredibly complex convolutions, like declensions on multiple different plurals of irregular nouns in a hierarchical gender system, without thinking.

Which means that, because they don't know they are doing it, they can't not do it in order to, say, make life easier for a beginner. They can't stop doing something they're not aware of doing, nor can they explain it.
Many years ago my then-lodger Ulrike asked me what the difference between "who" and "whom" was, & I had to think hard to answer.

But I could, and it maps easily onto one structure of her native German, so from then on she used them perfectly – better than a native. We English-speakers only have he/him, she/her etc. and it only applies to pronouns, not to normal nouns or to possessives.

Czech has cases for:

  1. the thing doing the verb

  2. the thing being owned (also, all plurals >=5)

  3. the thing being given something

  4. the thing the verb is being done to

  5. the thing being summoned or identified

  6. the place the thing is in, or on, near, past, close to, with or about

  7. the thing being used for something or with something else

Yes, they must be in that order. People don't know the names, only the number. I use the mnemonic "No Good Driver Arrives Very Late & Intoxicated" to remember the names (in English/Latin).

Czechs use a system of little questions to work out which they're using:

  1. pád (Nominative) - Kdo? Co? [Who? What?]

  2. pád (Genitive) - Bez koho? Bez čeho? [Without whom? Without what?]

  3. pád (Dative) - Ke komu? K čemu? [To whom? To what?]

  4. pád (Accusative) - Vidím koho? Vidím co? [I see whom? I see what?]

  5. pád (Vocative) - Oslovujeme, voláme [Who! What! (calling or addressing someone/something)]

  6. pád (Locative) - O kom? O čem? [About whom? About what?]

  7. pád (Instrumental) - S kým? S čím? [With whom? With what?]

These help me not one whit. Not even slightly. None of them "sound right" to me.

The saintly Jana has memorized all the names for the cases so she can tell me which word is in which case when I ask. I can hear her quickly asking herself "kdo? bez koho? ke komu? vidím koho?" Then she goes "it's in accusative."
All these use-cases overlap. They apply to all nouns, to names, to posessives and to pronouns, are different for number (of which there are four: ordinary singular, plural singular, two to four, and five and higher), and are different for all four genders (and of course there are at least two to four patterns per gender plus exceptions).

Some nouns, for instance, have the feminine ending but are masculine, which means in some declensions they take the feminine forms, but not always. I think. For these nouns there's a special extra feminine ending bolted on (-kyne) to tell you that that form is really feminine.

The declensions for case #4, the most common – no, of course they're not in frequency order, that would be way too easy – make many masculine nouns (e.g. names) in the accusative take the same ending as feminine nouns in nominative. The endings for case #6 sometimes are pronounced the same as the different endings for case #2. The endings for nouns in case #5 closely resemble the endings for adjectives in case #4. And so on.

Vowels are closely rationed in Czech, you see. There's a national shortage. There's no easy way to distinguish "bull" from "bool", or "hut" from "hoot", or "bat" from "bart". So endings get endlessly recycled because there just aren't enough vowel sounds to give every case in every gender a unique ending.

I am slowly compiling tables of declensions and endings in a series of spreadsheets. If I can find a way to export these to LJ simple HTML, I'll post them on this blog.
Tags: czech, projectbrno, projectprague

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