Thursday, June 23, 2005

Slovak for You - Book Review

Slovak for You
by Ada Böhmerová
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

Once upon a time, or so it seemed, the best way to learn Slovak was to learn Czech and try to sort out the differences. Those Slovaks I know would consider such a statement heresy, but the sad fact was that there was very little out there of any quality for learning the Slovak language.

The poverty of good Slovak materials became readily apparent to the author of this text when she began teaching her language in the US in the 1990s. To fill the need, she wrote her own textbook based on handouts and materials that she used for her classes. The result is a thorough and thorougly usable guide to the Slovak language.

Slovak for You starts with an introduction that makes clear the author's grounding in language teaching methodology. The text meets the introduction's promises. Unlike the too common teach yourself programs that either give you tables to memorize or conversations to memorize, this manual has the essential tools for communicative language teaching and learning with a view toward real proficiency. The units do not merely give you a few phrases for certain situations but teach the necessary skills for navigating linguistic situations that never seem to come up in phrasebooks.

As a textbook, Slovak for You is quite nice. It abounds in realia (education jargon for the stuff you see in real life, as opposed to in textbooks). From folk songs to want ads to pictures of daily life, the student gets to see Slovak not as a code for speaking in Slovakia but as the way a people expresses itself. The conversations, too, have an authentic feel that will give the student the sense that he or she is actually using the language, not just parroting phrases. And the grammar is comprehensive enough that the curious can learn more than they ever wanted to know about the structure and syntax of the language while clear, not too frequent tables will provide the less dedicated learner with an easy outline of the essentials from each chapter.

For the self-taught, Slovak for You will present a little more of a challenge. The CDs (not available at the time of this review but coming soon) should give a good idea of pronunciation as well as helping in the development of a Slovak ear. But because Slovak grammar is quite different from English, relying less on word order and more on word endings, those new to language learning will need to frequently remind themselves that not all languages work like theirs and that what one really needs to know is how to express an idea, not how to translate a phrase from English. Those who have had a foreign language in high school, however, shouldn't have too much trouble.

The best thing to be said for Slovak for You, if you're teaching yourself, is that you don't have to learn it all. With the wealth of actual language examples available, I would stick to working my way through the texts and glancing at the tables and their explanations. Anything else, I'd skip altogether, at least on a first run-through. That alone will be enough to immerse you in the language and give you an idea how to communicate.

Whether you're preparing a class or teaching yourself, Slovak for You is one of the better textbooks available. Used in combination with a Pimsleur type program, even the self-taught will develop a strong foundation in the language. But the book is especially useful for actual classes. Students will appreciate a text less focused on using the right word-endings in phrases like "The teacher is holding the pencil" and instead directed toward soaking up the language and culture in order to get a feeling of really knowing Slovak. And teachers will be glad for this wide-ranging resource which won't leave them forever scrambling for supplementary handouts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Colors II

Here’s the second group of colors, again with memory tips and derivations.
yellow / żółty / žlutý / žltá
orange / pomarańczowy / oranžový / oranžová
pink / różowy / řůžový / ružová
purple / fioletowy / nachový / nachová
brown / brązowy / hnědý / hnedá
yellow:  same source as green, namely ghel- (bright, shining, yellow).  Try thinking of “gelled jello” to get to Czech/Slovak zh(uh)ltee/a.
orange:  means oranges.  think of an orange pomegranite for Polish.
pink:  is like a rose – or maybe a rozhe
purple escapes my understanding
brown:  Polish is “brown-zowie!”  (bran-zovee).  You’re on your own for Czech and Slovak.

Colors I

We’re breaking up the colors into two bunches. Here’s the first group, along with some derivations and memory hints.

black / czarny / černý / čierna
white / biały / bílý / biela
red / czerwony / červený / červená
blue / niebieski / modrý / modrá
green / zielony / zelený / zelená

black: think charred and charnel
white: probably from IE bhel-, shine; think lily-white/bily-white
blue: the Polish means sky-colored, same source as nebula; modr- seems to be from the same source as madder, an herb from which a dark blue dye is made
green: from IE ghel-, yellow(ish). Green isn’t yellow! It’s melony zellow!
red: comes from the word for worm. We thought it referred to the carbuncle (ruby-like object) formed on the skin where a worm has burrowed in. Vermillion (like vermicelli, little worms) followed this path. But a reader tells us:
The word does come from "worm" (czerw), but that's because the worm (called kermes in English) was the source for red dye for centuries in Eastern Europe. It's similar to the cochineal insect in the Americas, which also yields a red dye. The grubs were gathered in June, and they gave the name for the month of June in Polish (Czerwiec).
Thanks to J. Armata for the information.

Sites and sights to see

English / Polish / Czech / Slovak
castle / zamek / zámek / zámok
cathedral / katedra / katedrála / katedrála
church / kościół / kostel / kostol
monastery / klasztor / klášter / kláštor
monument / pomnik / pomnik / pamätníkpalace /pałac / palác / palác

A few of these, at least, should look pretty familiar.  For the most part they’re imports.  Just to help out a little:

The words for “cathedral” are pretty obvious.
The words for “church” are like “hostel.”
The words for “monastery” are like “cloister.”
The words for “palace” should be obvious.

Slavic family

The following list of kinship terms will help you easily connect the Slavic language terms while showing how the terms have in some cases spread out across Indo-European and in others have not.

English / Polish / Czech / Slovak / Dutch / Latin
wife / żona / manželka / manželka / vrouw / uxor
husband / mąż / manžel / manžel / man /
mother / matka / matka / matka / moeder / mater
father / ojciec / otec / otec / vader / pater
daughter / córka / dcera / dcéra / dochter / filia
son / syn / syn / syn / zoon / filius
sister / siostra / sestra / sestra / zuster / soror
brother / brat / bratr / brat / broer / frater

Looking at the table, you’ll see that matka/matka/matka/mater, syn/syn/syn/zoon, siostra/sestra/sestra and brat/bratr/brat/broer are close to one another, bringing together other IE languages and Slavic.

The word for father, ojciec/otec/otec, adheres within Slavic but looks out of place against other IE languages. This is because the Slavic languages (like the Celtic languages, incidentally), lost initial “p” in a lot of places. Probably the “ts” sound on the end arises from a front “r” getting mispronounced, as in Lat. cathedra (chair) > OFr chaire > Fr chaise.

As for daughter, the cór- of the Polish is like the Czech and Slavic, but there’s a diminuitive suffix on the end, i.e. it means “little daughter.” Because IE kinship terms are all over the map, I wouldn’t be astonished to find out this is connected to Latin soror, but I don’t have good evidence for that relationship, and have to consider “daughter” the odd-man-out in Slavic vs. IE kinship terms.

[Update: A reader points out a likelier connection to "daughter":
The word change is clearer when able to read in cyrillic with Russian and Bulgarian where there is an "o" between, making dcera 'back' to 'dochera' to align with Germanic tochter and English daughter.

Czechs seemed over the centuries to prefer a back-throat and dental sound instead of labial with some of the vowels shortening almost to disappearing and in some cases disappearing as in 'sem' for jsem.'
Thanks to our reader for the explanation. And remember, we're all langauge learners here - if you've got a tip about a language or language learning, let us know so we can make this site the best possible resource for everybody.]

Finally, as far as “husband” and “wife” are concerned, I confess total ignorance. You can see a feminine/diminuitive ending on “wife” in Czech and Slovak, which is also, helpfully, the same in the two languages. And if you’re looking for a memory device, the three Slavic terms for husband all start with the sound, “man,” which is just like the Dutch, though I’m not sure if they’re related. The Polish “żona” has the same source as queen, which in IE was something like “kona.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

How are you feeling?

Jestem głodny/ głodna. – I’m hungry. (yestem gwodn-ee/a)
Jestem spragniony/spragniona. – I’m thirsty. (sprag-nyon-ee/a)

Jest mi gorąco. – I’m hot (It’s hot to me). (yest me goran-choe)
Jest mi zimno. – I’m cold. (zeem-no)

Mám hlad. – I’m hungry (I have hunger). (mahm h-lat)
Mám žizeň. – I’m thirsty. (zhee-zenyuh)

Je mi horko. – I’m hot (It’s hot to me). (yeh me horkoe)
Je mi zima. – I’m cold. (zee-ma)

Mám hlad. – I’m hungry (I have hunger). (mahm h-lat)
Mám smäd. – I’m thirsty. (s-mat)

Je mi teplo. – I’m hot (It’s hot to me). (yeh me te-ploe)
Je mi zima. – I’m cold. (zee-ma)

Remember to pick the right form (masculine or feminine) for Polish “I’m hungry/thirsty.” See “Feelings” for notes on that and caveats on the pronunciations.


Jestem szczęśliwy/ szczęśliwa. – I’m happy. (yestem shchen-shleev-ee/a)
Jestem smutny/smutna. – I’m sad. (smootn-ee/a)
Jestem zmęczony/ zmęczona. – I’m tired. (zmen-choe-n-ee/a)
Jestem wdzięczny/ wdzięczna. – I’m thankful. (vuhjenchn-ee/a)

Jsem šťastný/šťastná. – I’m happy. (yuhsem shtyah-stn-ee/a)
Jsem smutný/smutná. – I’m sad. (smootn-ee/a)
Jsem unavený/unavená. – I’m tired. (unaven-ee/a)
Jsem vám vděčný/ vděčná. – I’m grateful. (vahm vuhdyechn-ee/a)

Som šťastný/šťastná. – I’m happy. (som sh-tyah-stn-ee/a)
Som smutný/smutná. – I’m sad. (smootn-ee/a)
Som unavený/unavená. – I’m tired. (unaven-ee/a)
Som vďačný/ vďačná. – I’m grateful. (vuh-dyachn-ee/a)

You’ll notice that all these expressions take a form that readily translates “I am…” In Slavic languages, adjectives have to agree in gender and number with the noun they refer back to. Therefore, if you’re male, you use the masculine forms (ending in y/ý); if you’re female you use the feminine forms (ending in a/á).

Using the pronunciation guide is simple: Pretend you’re from the Midwest U.S. and charge through what I’ve written (complete with added syllables to get you over the consonant clusters) as resolutely as you can. We offer a 100% guarantee you won’t be mistaken for a native, but you’ve got a fair shot at being understood without having to learn what all the accent marks mean.

The student who wants a better accent will, of course, need to find a native speaker or good cassette program as some of these sounds and sound combinations don’t really exist in English and must be heard to be learned.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Western Slavic Greetings - Review

If you’ve looked at “Hello and Goodbye” and “Western Slavic Greetings” you’re ready for this page. If not, go look at them first.

Now that you’ve seen a little bit about the greetings, let’s put a few things together.

The first thing you have to focus on is that while these languages are different, there’s a lot that holds them together. Compare the following expressions, focusing not on difference in meaning but on similarities between phrases. I’m giving very rough phonetics here to highlight similarities; the phrases with proper spellings follow.

Cz. doe-bray rah-no / Slk. doe-bray rah-no
Pol. jen doe-bree / Cz. doe-bree den / Slk. doe-bree dyen
Pol. doe-bray vyechoor / Cz. doe-bray veh-chair / Slk. doe-bray veh-chair
Pol. doe-bra nots / Cz. doe-bro nots / Slk. doe-brew nots
Pol. doe vee-dze-nya / Slk. doe vee-deh-nya

You can see connections. Here they are officially spelled:
Cz. dobré ráno / Slk. dobré ráno
Pol. dzień dobry / Cz. dobrý den / Slk. dobrý deň
Pol. dobry wieczór / Cz. dobrý večer / Slk. dobrý večer
Pol. dobranoc / Cz. dobrou noc / Slk. dobrú noc
Pol. Do widzenia / Slk. Do videnia

So far, of course, you’ve seen the expressions together, but might have had to look back to remind yourself which is which. Let’s put the greetings together one more time, but in a new way that helps you relate them to each other instead of thinking of them as individual versions of English phrases:

dzień dobrydobré ránodobré ráno
"dobrý dendobrý deň
"dobré odpoledne"
dobry wieczór""
"dobrý večerdobrý večer
dobranocdobrou nocdobrú noc

Looking at this table, you can see how the greetings transition from one to the next and that in some cases, like the Pol. Dobry wieczór, what's at issue is not a difference in meaning but in when one goes, in effect, from saying "Good day" to "Good evening."

Now that some connections have been made and you've looked at the greetings from a couple different angles, test your learning by finishing the table below. Fill in all the blanks, repeating expressions as necessary.
dzień dobry-dobré ráno
-dobrý den
-dobré odpolodne-
dobry wieczór-dobrý deň
-dobrý večer-
dobranoc-dobrú noc

Check your answers against the tables above.

Finally, remind yourself of Pol. Do widzenia and Slk. Do videnia and the unrelated, hence tricky, Cz. Na shledanou

Friday, July 09, 2004

Western Slavic Greetings

More Greetings

dobr- – good

Dzień dobry (jen doe-bree) – good morning/day
Dobry wieczór (doe-bree vyeh-choor) – good afternoon/evening
Dobranoc (doe-bra-notes) – good night

dobr- – good

Dobré ráno (doe-bray rah-no) – good morning
Dobrý den (doe-bree den) – good day
Dobré odpoledne (doe-bray ot-pol-ed-nay) – good afternoon
Dobrý večer (doe-bree veh-chair) – good evening
Dobrou noc (doe-brew notes) – good night

dobr- – good

Dobré ráno (doe-bray rah-no) – good morning
Dobrý deň (doe-bree den)– good day/afternoon
Dobrý večer (doe-bree veh-chair) – good evening
Dobrú noc (doe-brew notes) – good night

*All pronunciations very approximate

And all together, for comparison:
English / Polish / Czech / Slovak
good morning / dzień dobry / dobré ráno / dobré ráno
good day / dzień dobry / dobrý den / dobrý deň
good afternoon / dobry wieczór / dobré odpoledne / dobrý deň
good evening / dobry wieczór / dobrý večer / dobrý večer
good night / dobranoc / dobrou noc / dobrú noc

Notice the following:
dzień / den / deň – day and Sp. día - day
wieczór / večer / večer and Lat. vespera - evening
noc / noc / noc and Lat. nox - night

While they’re not immediately apparent, the connections within Indo-European aren’t entirely obscured.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

When you don't speak the language...

Language issues

In this lesson, we’re going to learn a few “meaning units” and build some short phrases around them. First go through the lesson quickly so you can see the similarities between languages. Then review more carefully. Finally, do the exercise.

rozumi- (row-zoo-me-) – understand : row me to the zoo, I understand
nie (nyeh) – not : just like the yays and nays

rozumiem (roh-zoo-myem) – I understand
nie rozumiem – I don’t understand

rozumí- (row-zoo-me-) – understand
ne- (nay-) – not

rozumím (roh-zoo-meem) – I understand
nerozumím – I don’t understand

rozumi- (row-zoo-me-) – understand
ne- (nay-) - not

rozumiem (roh-zoo-mee-ehm) – I understand
nerozumiem – I don’t understand

mówi- (movie) – speak : imagine talking in a movie

mówię (moo-vyeh) – I speak
mówi (moo-vee) – (you) speak
mówi (moo-vee) – (he) speaks
pan – Mr./you (to a man) / pani – Ms./you (to a woman)
pan/pani mówi – you speak

mluví- (mloo-vee) – speak : associate with Polish mówi- (movie)

mluvím (mloo-veem) – I speak
mluvíte (mloo-vee-teh) – you speak
mluví – he speaks

hovorí- (hoe-vo-ree-) – to speak : speak only if you have a reason

hovorím (hoe-vo-reem) – I speak
hovoríte (hoe-vo-ree-tyeh) – you speak
hovorí – he speaks

angielsku (ang-yel-skoo) - English : like Anglo-Saxon
po angielsku (po ang-yel-skoo) – English language
czy (chee) – question word
Czy pan/pani mówi po angielsku? – Do you speak English?

anglicky (ang-lit-ski) – English
Mluvíte anglicky? – Do you speak English?

po anglicky (po ang-lit-ski) – English language
Hovoríte po anglicky? – Do you speak English?

ktoś (k-towsh) – anyone / tu – here
Czy ktoś tu mówi po angielsku? – Does anyone here speak English?

někdo (nyeg-do) – anybody
Mluví někdo anglicky? – Does anybody speak English?

niekto (nyek-toe) – anybody
Hovorí niekto po anglicky? – Does anyone speak English?

Now it’s time to make sure you picked up some of the above. Figure out the proper response to the following three situations in the designated language.

1. You’re walking down the street in Warsaw (Poland) and someone asks you for the time. You think. But you don’t know since you don’t speak Polish. You say, “I don’t understand.”

2. You twisted your knee while walking in Prague and people are trying to help. But you can’t explain what’s wrong. You ask, “Does anybody speak English?”

3. You got as far as “Hello” at a bar in Bratislava, but the burst of Slovak that followed was over your head. You ask, “Do you speak English?”

1. Nie rozumiem. / 2. Mluví někdo anglicky? 3. Hovoríte po anglicky?