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Melvyn Clarke

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Czech-English translation tips

It can sometimes be difficult to put your finger on exactly why a translation looks inadequate. A grammatically sound text can still have that indefinable raw feeling about it, where perhaps the translator has not made full use of the expressive resources of English or has missed a nuance in Czech and left the reader in linguistic limbo...

This collection of notes addresses such problems and is aimed mainly at readers who already have a basic familiarity with the obvious pitfalls of Czech > English translation. We claim no special authority in presenting this compilation and welcome more seasoned or reasoned opinions from others.


There are many cases where a possessive pronoun needs to be recast in some other form, particularly where it acts as direct object of a verb:

Tento vycet deseti doporuceni neni jiste vycerpavajici, ale jejich dusledne uplatneni vzdy vyrazne zmenilo prebeh a predevsimm vysledky pravidelnych porad sledovanych manazerskych tymu.

This list of ten recommendations is certainly not exhaustive but the course and especially the results of regular meetings in the management teams under observation have always been significantly affected when they have been applied consistently.

Muz, ktery na ni zautocil, tam byl
Her attacker was there.

Dnes obiha v ruznych vyskach na 550 satelitu. Pravdepodobnost jejich srazky s meteorem stoupa s jejich mnozstvim
Up to 550 satellites are currently orbiting at various heights. The likelihood that one of them may collide with a meteor rises in proportion to their number.

designation of the operated track and a description of it,
oznaceni provozovane drahy a jeji popis,

Prehled a popis ruznych druhu ocunu, rostoucich ve Stredni Asii, doplneny o strucny klic k jejich urcovani a uvedeni moznosti jejich pestovani i u nas.
A summary and description of various crocus species growing in Central Asia with a concise classification key for identifying them and an account of the opportunities for growing them here.

This problem can sometimes be dealt with by repetition of the subject:

podminka pro provozovatele drahy vydat vnitrni predpisy o organizovani drahy, a zajistit jejich dodrzovani.
a condition for the track operator to issue internal regulations on the organization of the track and to ensure adherence to these regulations

In very formal texts, use of therein, thereon etc might be considered
rekonstrukce drahy nebo jeji casti
reconstruction of the track or a part thereof.

Touto koncesni listinou se nahrazuje puvodni vyse uvedena koncesni listina vcetne jejich zmen
This licence deed supersedes the above original licence deed including the amendments contained therein


English often prefers prepositional phrases to straight participles.

It is being reconstructed - it is under reconstruction
The observed team - the team under observation
The considered design - the design in question
The disputed matter - the matter in dispute

Zakladem bezpecnosti je sama pouzita technologie
The basis for this security is the actual technique in use

Tak muzeme pridat bezdratovy segment do jiz stavajici klasicke site
In this way we can add a wireless segment to a standard network that is already in existence.


The position of an adjective before or after a noun can occasionally change its entire meaning in English. As you drive into Prague, why do the numerous roadside hoardings offering "free rooms" strike you as not quite right? Because an adjective before a noun can denote a permanent state and after a noun a temporary state. In this case, a "free room" could be a room without charge.

The questions involved are not necessarily involved questions and present shareholders are not forced to be the shareholders present! I have seen the latter mistake in a translation of a company memorandum, changing the entire company voting procedure with a single deftly-placed word.

Poukazy jsou platne pouzena vyznacenou dobu
Vouchers are only valid for the period indicated.


One of the differences I find between Czech and English in the lexical sphere is that of the greater or lesser degree of specificity used in referring to certain objects, i.e. the use of hyponyms and hyperonyms.

Consider, in your typical French thriller, when a robber enters a bank, bystanders shout, "Attention, il a un revolver". Now it would stand out a mile if you translated with the same degree of specificity. Of course, English has a word for revolver, but the more general word "gun" would be more appropriate. In Czech, we would be even less specific and shout "Pozor, m� zbr��", or "je ozbrojen".

Likewise, if I need something to write with, in Czech my first reaction would be "mas propisku?". English can certainly give an exact rendering - "ball-point pen" or "biro", but I would suggest that in most cases we would use the more general category of "pen".

Other examples that come to mind are "automat", used for any device from a cash dispenser to a fruit machine, perhaps "prasek" where Anglophones would perhaps often use the brand-name of the medication (maybe this goes for a lot of other consumer goods too), "curtains", where a Czech would differentiate "zavesy" and "zaclony", "sign" which covers everything from "znamka", "znak" and "znameni" to "stopa" and "odznak", and then there is the classic case of mushrooms and toadstools. Any Czech would take one look at your average indeterminate fungoid growth and tell you exactly what variety of boletus it is.


Sometimes you get the feeling that a subject is being explained to death, with a dozen words being used where none would do. In his The Noun in Translation, Ales Klegr gives one reason as: "an interesting difference between Czech and English: the much-favoured construction in Czech, termed the expicative genitive, in which the head (a general or generic term) is specified by a narrower, lower-level term (e.g. a hyponym). [In translation, this] tends to be reduced to the modifying element (the narrower term):

z doby detstvi - from childhood
dokonavaji dilo ocisty - completing the great purge
se stalo zalezitosti bezne praxe - became a routine procedure
synonymum slova zaklad - the synonym for foundation

Elsewhere, there is no shame in a little judicious "translation with the delete button" if the text is getting bogged down in pleonasms or other excesses.

Za dobu sve existence, a to jiz od pocattku sveho vzniku, firma X prispela vyraznou merou ke snizeni cenovych relaci
Ever since its very beginnings, X has contributed significantly to price reductions

Za tim ucelem vydal X firme Y povereniopravnujici firmu zajist'ovat tyto instalacni sluzby.
For these purposes X granted Y authorization to provide such installation services

Za timto ucelem realizuje vystavbu provozni laboratore
For these purposes it is building an operations laboratory

opatreni na ochranu ovzdusi s cilem zajistit bezpecne splneni zakonnych emisnich limitu
steps to protect the atmosphere aimed at safely complying with legal emission limits

garantujeme veskere nase usili smerujici k zachovani dalsi tesne spoluprace
we assure you of all our efforts to maintain further close cooperation

Odstranovani jinych prekazek omezujicich provozovani drazni dopravy
Removal of other impediments to the operation of the track

doklad prokazujici odbornou zpusobilost
proof of professional competence

Udaje vztahujici se k druhu dopravy a rozsahu sluzeb poskytovanych v souvislosti s prepravou osob a veci

information on the type of transport and the extent of services provided for the transport of persons and things,

Additions do sometimes need to be made:
Klient rovnez odpovida za to, ze informace, ktere poskytne agenture, nebudou zavadejici
The client is also responsible for ensuring that information provided to the agency is not misleading


It is a truism that we can very often discard "v oblasti", "v oboru", "na poli" etc as understood, i.e.

Pracuje v oblasti pocitacu - He works in computers
Pusobi ve sfere bankovnictvi - He is in banking

While "v ramci" often needs paraphrasing or ignoring or occasionally is neatly expressed by the preposition "within", "na uzemi Ceske republiky" can nearly always be reduced to "in the Czech Republic".
See Peprnik - Anglictina pro pokrocile p118.
However, I find that in a surprising number of cases, these phrases can be retained for purposes of euphony, consistency or precision and there have been occasions when I have actually inserted such a phrase to match the general style.


!!!this achieves in the long-term better results"

With very few exceptions, English verbs stay together with their object, so anything like this needs a quick Alt-X Alt-V:


An underestimated little word that can soak up a lot of verbosity
vzhledem k nabehu vyroby
with production just starting

Vzhledem k tomu, ze jsou pryc tri pracovnici, musime uzavrit obchod
With three members of staff away, we'll have to close the shop


Trva soustredena pozornost nastupujici generaci kvalifikovanych delnickych profesi, kterych je na trhu prace vazny nedostatek.

Attention continues to be concentrated on the upcoming generation of qualified tradesmen, of whom there is a serious lack on the labour market today.

I am told there has been a tradition in Czech bureaucratese going back even before the Communist era to speak of workers in inanimate terms. While this tendency can be seen aplenty in English corporatese too, there are occasions such as this when we have to animate things a little to get any sense at all.

Pri provadeni lekarskych prohlidek musi byt posuzujicimu lekari sdelen pracovni podminky, pro ktere je zdravotni zpusobilost posuzovana.
For the performance of a preventive examination the examining doctor must be informed by the track operator of the working conditions for which the person's state of health is being assessed.

Pro Vase budovy nabizime ruzne rezimy zabezpeceni, recepci navstev pocinaje a ostrahou mimo pracovni dobu konce
We offer various security procedures for your buildings, from visitor reception to security guards outside working hours:


"Never use the same word twice in the same sentence" is advice that even technical writers seem to take deadly seriously. But for legal and technical texts, uniformity of terminology should normally be enforced - especially on technicians with a literary bent.


With its well-developed system of endings denoting gender, Czech usually has less need to repeat a noun for the sake of clarity than English has. However, reverse situations can be found:
31.12 roku nasledujiciho po roce, po kterem byla vypoved' dorucena strane vypovidane.
31st December of the year following that in which the notice was delivered to the counter-party.

kompatibilita metodiky CRA s metodikou komplexniho hodnoceni svetovych agentur
the compatibility of the Czech Rating Agency's methodology with that of the comprehensive ratings given by world-renowned agencies

A note on style from Fowler: A dozen sentences are spoilt by ill-advised avoidance of repetition for every one that is spoilt by ill-advised repetition


It frequently happens in descriptive and expressive language that a low-frequency word has to be put through the following process:
  • Break it down into all its primary and secondary, conceptual and connotative meanings
  • Decide which of these have any valency with the given context.
  • Pare these down to two words (or at very most three if they have cumulative effect and do not disturb the dynamic of the text).
  • Bracket off any remainder for possible later weighting of subsequent componential analyses. A couple of English-Czech examples:

    dapper - upraveny a cily
    facetious - obhrouble nebo nejapne vtipny
    quaint - pritazlivy, starobyly a pitoreskni


    Dulezitym zdrojem informaci jsou dotazniky
    !!!An important source of information are questionnaires

    Questionnaires are an important source of information

    Where subject and complement are of different numbers, the English verb normally follows the number of the subject, whereas Czech allows for either.

    The Czech verb byt is "stronger" than English to be, in that it can stand more easily on its own and carry the meaning of exist or there is (as in brambory nejsou!). With the instrumental it can also have shades of represent, act as, consist in or even make.

    Podkladem pro uhradu dohodnute ceny je danovy doklad vystaveny agenturou
    The tax document made out by the agency acts as supporting documentation for payment of the agreed price

    Ten les bude dobra skrys.
    This wood will make a good hiding place.

    In definitions:

    Provozuschopnosti drahy je technicky stav drahy zarucujici jeji bezpecne a plynule provozovani

    By track serviceability is meant that state of repair of a track which guarantees its safe and uninterrupted operation


    Occasionally crops up in journalistic style and usually needs to be transformed into the appropriate past tense.

    Pro uplnost doplnme bronz Fucika mezi muzi a dva bronzy juniora Skop - ten si jeste o misto polepsil na ME 1995, kde ovsem zustal zcela ve stinu zlata a stribra Petra Jelinka. Mezi muzi se po rocni pauze znovu na scene objevuje Pospisil, a znovu uspesne - je to druhe misto tesne pred Vankem, ktery si vse vynahrazuje triumfem ve druhem zavode. Dalsi stribro pripojuje Pospisil v roce nasledujicim, kde jsou vsak vedle dalsiho stribra Sukenika, ustrednimi postavami juniori - krome bronzu Jelinka a Kotulana poprve zlate zazari Jakub Oma.

    For the sake of completeness let us also mention the bronze won by Fucik in the men's and the two bronzes won in the juniors' by Skob, who improved on that by one place in the 1995 European championships but was still overshadowed by the gold and silver won by Petr Jelinek. After a year out, Pospisil came back onto the men's scene, again successfully, in second place just in front of Vanek, who made up for everything with his triumph in the second competition. Pospisil added another silver the following year when apart from the other silver won by Sukenik, the central figures were the juniors: in addition to the bronzes won by Jelinek and Kotulan, Jakub Oma struck gold for the first time.


    Sometimes needs inserting

    Obvod drahy u ostatnich drah je vymezen svislymi plochami

    Track precincts for other kinds of track are demarcated by vertical panels


    The reader can be helped along with discourse markers like "but", "however", "nevertheless" or even...

    Uspesne obchodni spolecnosti se vyplati poskytnout zamestnancum nadstandardni platovou uroven. Tento standard ovsem nalezi jen tem, kdo penize svemu zamestnavateli vydelavaji; to nejsou ani uklizecky, ani topici, jenze i oni se obvykle dozaduji vyssiho standardu. Spravni spolecnost obsluznym profesim plati (a Vam uctuje) jen tolik, kolik je obvykle.
    It pays for successful companies to give their employees above-average salaries but this rate is of course only due to those who actually earn money for their employers, which is not the case with cleaners and boilermen. But then they too will usually demand the higher rate. A management company, in contrast, will only pay its auxiliary staff the going rate (and charge you accordingly).


    !!!The development of a young squirrel reared by its mother and that of an artificially reared one are described.

    At first sight this translation looks grammatically correct - so what is so awkward-sounding about it? The translator has slavishly followed the English rule of subject before predicate, but has ignored the fact that English prefers the longest noun phrase at the end of the sentence:

    A comparison is made between a young squirrel reared by its mother and another one reared artificially.

    Similarly, predicates like "...are presented" or "...are studied" can be transformed into nominalized introductions like "A presentation is made of" and "A study is made of..."


    A lot of theorists seem quite unabashed in taking English as a model for language use per se and then explain other usages in terms of this English model. Fortunately, we have our own world-renowned linguists with their own Czech bias just down the road here in the Prague Linguistic Circle. Some of its most famous participants made a special study of theme/rheme problems, i.e. issues involving the ordering of `that which is talked about' and `the statement that is made about it'. Such 'topics' and 'comments' can be of great importance to the translator from Czech because a) the order in which information is given can be one of the primary elements of a text to be conveyed and b) even if it isn�t, failure to create a well-integrated information-order structure, whether following the original or not, can be the reason your grammatically sound text still looks somehow diffuse and unfocused.

    Vil�m Mathesius, commented that "English differs from Czech in being so little susceptible to the requirements of Functional Sentence Perspective (FSP) as to frequently disregard them altogether." and "In English, the lack of a differentiated morphemic system in many areas places heavy constraints on word-order patterns. In Czech, with its richer morphemic systems, word order can follow the FSP much more faithfully". That is, in Czech the newly introduced information can always go at the end of the sentence whether as subject, object or whatever, whereas English is supposedly constrained by its hidebound subject-object word-order.
    Now few English speakers will have stopped mid-sentence to bemoan this lack, perhaps because a) English has several syntactic devices (described below) for putting information to the end of a sentence (for whatever reason - whether because it is new or to link it to its conjunction; b) new information does not have to go to the end of the sentence in English because c) (my own pet theory) English takes a lot more advantage of intonation to express what is theme and what is rheme than does Czech with its comparative monotone, and this can be expressed in English writing by means of punctuation, (which compared with the strict rules of Czech punctuation is positively freestyle) or in some cases even by italic and bold type faces.

    This issue crops up a lot in the problem of fitting a word into a position immediately before the conjunctions "who" or "which":
    V soutezi druzstev zvitezili Rusove, kteri meli ve vsech sesti kategoriich po dvou zavodnicich.
    The winners of the team event were the Russians, who had two competitors in each of the six categories

    Na cinnost PT, a.s. ma dopad rovnez rada faktoru, ktere lze jen tezko ovlivnit
    PT, a.s. activity is under the joint influence of several factors which can only be controlled with difficulty

    Below are several other strategies to be considered when faced with word-order problems.


    The most obvious choice. As Mathesius points out, the passive is used a lot more in English than in Czech.
    Janu navstivil Petr
    Jane was visited by Peter

    (In Czech, by the way, the passive is often used
    1) where the active would confuse subject and object because of identical gender.
    Cinovec doprovazi wolfram
    Cinovec je doprovazen wolframem
    So in such cases, the English translation need hardly follow suit
    2) Where one subject undergoes a number of actions:
    Hoch, ktery po autu hodil kamenem, byl chycen majitelem auta, vlacen na policii, vyslychan, odveden straznikem do skoly a pak brecici odevzdan rodicum
    In Czech, use of the passive can be journalistic or indicative of higher style, which themselves have to be accounted for).


    The English indefinite article, introducing a new item of information, can often by rendered in Czech by final position in the sentence:

    Do mistnosti vstoupila divka
    A girl entered the room

    Divka vstoupila do mistnosti
    The girl entered the room


    New information can be emphasised in English by fronting it in a cleft sentence. In Czech the rheme goes to the end.

    Tom vcera spravil Janin psaci stroj v kancelari
    It was at the office that Tom repaired Jane�s typewriter yesterday

    It was with a screwdriver that Tom repaired Jane�s typewriter
    Tom vcera spravil Janin psaci stroj sroubovakem

    Or by fronting it in a pseudo-cleft sentence

    Pozoruhodne bylo, ze to priznala
    What was remarkable was her admitting it.


    Firbas also lists a device he calls the "possessive passive" using the verb "to have" :
    He always has crowds attending his concerts - Na jeho koncerty v�dycky chod� davy lid�
    And the "perceptive passive" using the verb "to find":
    "Upon examination of these, I found a certain boldness of temper growing in me"


    Mezi zakazniky firmy X je napr. Y, vetsina energetickych podniku i armada.
    X's customers include Y, the majority of power utilities and the army,

    Vzniknout can be rendered with a similar shift in perspective.
    Ceska republika vznikla v roce 1993.
    The Czech Republic was established in 1993

    Tento postup vychazi z nasledujiciho filosofie:
    This approach is based on the philosphy that

    Najemce se zavazuje pouzivat predmet najmu tak, aby pronajimateli nevznikla zadna skoda
    The lessee undertakes to use the subject of lease in such a way as not to cause any damage to the lessor

    V dohodnute castce je obsazeno...
    The agreed amount comprises...

    Converse verbs can be a very useful way of overcoming word-order problems. Shifts in perspective involving buy/sell, lend/borrow belong/own etc can be used to get a word to the end of a sentence for reasons of thematic structure.

    emisnim merenim bylo zjisteno, ze
    measurements of emissions indicated that

    If such departures from the original text make you nervous about losing sight of terra firma, you can always check your position with a truth-conditional approach to the problem. Put your converse translation through the following analysis:
    Example: Tento obchod patri memu bratrovi - [B] My brother owns this shop
    1. Ask yourself if there is any conceivable set of circumstances where one utterance is true while the other is false, i.e. this shop belongs to my brother but my brother does not own this shop.
    2. Now ask yourself, does any such imagined situation a) stand in its own right or b) does it need an extra element to be made explicit, (i.e this shop "should" belong to my brother) for it to be meaningful.
    3. If b) then the converse view is valid and in most cases this translation should be good.


    In "Functional Sentence Perspective", Jan Firbas says, "it is worth noticing that an English adverb of indefinite time that has been framed in could be more readily rendered into Czech by an aspectual verb form than one that occurs outside the frame, serving as a setting or a specification
    v lete chodival na dlouhe prochazky
    He usually went for long walks in summer.


    Bureaucratic texts can go rather heavy on the abstract nouns which often need to be loosened up and recast in other forms

    Uzavreni dodatku je podminkou dalsi platnosti najemni smlouvy
    This lease contract only continues to be valid on condition this annex is concluded

    Bezdratove LAN, ktere vyzaduji rychlou obnovu sit'ovych systemu, , jejichz nefunkcnost by mohla zpusobit katastrofu.

    Wireless LANs involving the rapid restoration of network systems that could cause a disaster if not working

    Pro zvyseni atraktivnosti pro sve klienty firma zavadi system rizeni kvality ISO 9001.
    The company is introducing the ISO 9001 quality control system to make it even more attractive to customers

    However it is more common in English than in Czech to personalize an action thus:

    Pracuje pomalu
    He is a slow worker

    The Prague School has something to say on this matter too. Jan Firbas developed the idea that words with more specific meanings are more likely to function as rhemes while words with more general meaning tend to function as themes. The capacity of a word for assuming the rhematic function by virtue of its semantic specificity is by him called "communicative dynamism". It is viewed as a matter of degree: the elements of an utterance are no longer simply classed as theme or rheme, but are considered to have a given degree of thematic or rhematic function.
    Firbas uses this concept to compare verbs and nouns in Czech and English in terms of communicative dynamism. He concludes that verbs in Czech have greater dynamism than verbs in English. This is shown by the frequent use in English of semantically vague verbs in construction with a more precise noun, where in Czech a single precise verb might be used, i.e.
    konci - comes to a conclusion
    rozhoduje - makes a decision
    In Firbas' opinion, this difference accounts for the much greater overall frequency of nominal constructions in English than in Czech.


    A Czech technician student of mine once complained about the use of "should not" in English manuals. "You should not poke your finger into this socket" sounded to him somehow half-hearted and a provocation. If only they had used must..."


    V budove i okolo ni
    In and around the building

    Czech does not usually allow for more than one preposition before a noun except in the case of a few set expressions (Modlitba za v Panu zesnule )


    As a general rule I would say play down English swear-words - and conversely, many common Czech swear-words need to be spiced up in translation so as not to sound twee and 1930s. Colloquial words with originally sexual meanings that can easily be used among friends in Britain and America would sound like something from out of the gutter in literal Czech translation.
    So what is informal in English can be very informal in Czech, but then what is neutral in Czech can sometimes be informal in English:


    Ceska zena nedala cestine uhlazenou a uhybavou mluvu spolecenskeho salonu, nedala ji tedy ani prikraslujici rceni opisna. Spisovna cestina nema eufemismu, alespon zajiste nikoli takovych, jake jsou ve Francii a Anglii spolecenskou nezbytnosti pro vsechno, co se zacina pod krkem...
    Eisner was writing some fifty years ago but he did put his finger on a blind spot in the English language that is still very much there - in describing certain bodily parts and functions below the neck, English either gets technical or colloquial (or evasive as in my case) - using high style or low style with nothing neutral and stylistically unmarked in between.
    A similar case is that of "common-law spouse" or as the Australians neatly put it a "de facto". Czech solves this embarrassing Anglo-Saxon dilemma with an even neater "zena" and "muz" but how do we translate these words without sounding like Tarzan and Jane? I offer no solutions here and merely present these problems as examples of translation being an imprecise science.


    I would say there is on average more of a need to fuse sentences in Czech > English translations, especially in formal business texts.

    WaveLAN ma take ojedinely identifikacni system WaveLAN Network ID. Kazda deska se sama identifikuje pomoci tohoto tajneho identifikacniho kódu pro sit'. Navzajem spolu mohou komunikovat pouze desky s identifickymi kody.

    WaveLAN also has its own unique WaveLAN Network ID system whereby each board identifies itself with this secret network identification code and only boards with identical codes may communicate with each other.

    Proto or tak at the beginning of a sentence often signal the requirement to fuse sentences with so or even with an -ing form.

    Cast filtru byla znicena a do konce roku se filtr nepodarilo zprovoznit. Kotle ve Vytopne Krnov byly proto ve druhem pololeti provozovany pouze na puvodni mechanicke odlucovace.

    Part of the filter was destroyed and had not been put back into service by the end of the year so during the second half of the year the boilers at the Krnov Heat Generation Plant were only being operated with their original mechanical separators


    The words and phrases that simply serve to indicate the order of ideas and their relationship to one another (however, moreover, thus, in any case etc) can be the most expendable parts of a translation.
    Nejenom ....ale i

    Very often "not only... but also" is too strongly emphatic and a simple "both...and" is more appropriate, or even just a simple "and".

    Firma X nedodava jen kompletni technologii WaveLAN,ale je rovnez systemovy integrator Lucent Technologies [...] WaveLAN ma nejen ridici programy pro sit', ale take diagnosticky software, ktery Vam umozni snadno monitorovat sit' WaveLAN

    SITEL supplies complete WaveLAN technology and acts as a Lucent Technologies systems integrator [...] WaveLAN has both controlling network programs and diagnostic software to enable you to monitor a WaveLAN network with ease

    This example is from a promotional text where such emphasis might well be desirable, but even here, the repetition of "not only... but also" would perhaps sound somewhat bombastic.

    Sometimes some radical retailoring is required:

    Predmetem dodavky je krome hardwaru u vsech komponent i potrebny software. Vedle instalacniho softwaru, sit'ovych driveru, diagnostickeho softwaru jsou to i programy WaveAROUND a WaveMONITOR.

    Supplies include the hardware for all components and all the software you need: installation software, network drivers, diagnostic software, WaveAROUND and WaveMONITOR.


    Domnivam se, ze ji na nasem dobrem mineni nezalezi
    I don't believe she cares about our good opinion

    Predpokladam, ze jsme o moc neprisli
    I don't suppose we have missed much

    Zdalo se, ze me neslysel
    He didn't seem to have heard me


    Adjectives in English can sometimes merely summarize a relationship with a noun, whereas Czech prefers adjectives that give an explicit description of this relationship. For example the expression "fast food" would appear comical in literal Czech translation, evoking images of meals that have taken to their heels. "Churchill-sized cigar" would need a longer adjectival clause: "doutnik tak velky jak je kouril Churchill". Or how about "She was a jet-setter Seattle lumber heiress." in Czech?
    Translating into English, we should not be afraid to use this resource to summarize and condense.
    Mzda, ktera staci k zivotu
    A living wage

    Jidlo k okamzitemu podavani
    Ready-to-serve food


    It is not normal practice in Czech to intersperse a dialogue with italics to express emphasis. In many genres in English this is quite acceptable. Hana�s comment on this is that Czech will express English italicized forms with suffixes, enclitics, diminutives, syntax or full pronomial forms. Hence we might very occasionally venture to render these in English with a change of typeface:

    Bude tak potesen
    He will be pleased

    Moc se nam to libilo
    We have enjoyed ourselves

    Proc jsi mi nezatelefonovala? Prece jsem ti telefonovala /Ale ja jsem ti telefonovala
    Why didn�t you phone me? But I did phone you.

    You might like to have a look at a very detailed online dissertation comparing the use of italics in Czech and English.


    A singular can be used in Czech to denote the multiple occurrence of a single item. Here English usually prefers the plural.
    musi byt stvrzeno podpisem opravnenych zastupcu
    must be confirmed by the signatures of authorized representatives

    Pro tyto lazenske hosty bude klient zajist'ovat pobyty formou objednavky. Objednavka se stava zavaznou po potvrzeni klienta.
    The client shall arrange for the stays of these spa visitors by placing orders. Orders become binding upon confirmation by the client

    Cena za pobyt lazenskych hostu byla stanovena dohodou
    The price for the spa visitors' stays has been set by agreement

    Muzete provest spojeni sami a nemusite cekat na technika...
    You can make a connection yourself and needn't wait for a technician...


    Even in the most drily objective of Czech literature, dialogue is often coloured with a rich palette of descriptive communicative verbs: pravil, oznamil, pronesl and so forth whereas in English-language dialogue, such forms are strongly marked for expressiveness, and it is quite conventional to repeat "she said" for entire stretches. I wouldn't recommend making a serious report sound like an interview with Peter Rabbit.


    "And" needs to be inserted in some lists:

    Cena instalacniho materialu (kabely, vodice, pomocny material)
    Price of installation material (cables, conductors and auxiliary material)

    "And" needs to replace "or" in some lists
    Barokni umeni reprezentuji maliri jako K. Skreta, P. Brandl, J. Kupecky a mistri rokoka, N. Grund ci A. Kern.
    Baroque art is represented by the painting of K. �kr�ta, P. Brandl, J. Kupeck� and masters of rococo, N. Grund and A. Kern.


    In Paragraphs on Translation Peter Newmark says, "the English language, [is] less synthetic and more analytical (i.e. having a smaller grammar and a larger number of idioms)" and so makes use of idioms more than some other languages do. He thus defends such translations as a poco distanza - a stone's throw or il suo costo altissimo - its staggering cost.
    Hana also points out that if she translated every English idiom with an equivalent form, the resulting Czech text might appear unduly conversational and trivial, so she will sometimes render an idiom with a more neutral expression. Conversely then, I feel there is sometimes a good argument for touching up long deadpan passages with a mildly idiomatic turn of phrase or two just to allay that "seeping oddness" feeling in a text:

    pripravujeme dalsi projekty
    further projects are in the pipeline

    Cela oblast informacnich technologii ma vysokou akceleraci
    IT as a whole is rapidly gaining ground

    However, we should exercise great caution in typecasting an entire language as being prone to this or that, relative to another entire language. A relative tendency may well be detected in a given genre, register or situation towards abstractness, information overload, alliterative effects, punning etc but we should be very wary of the mistake that I hope I haven't made too often here of ascribing the sins of an individual author to the language as a whole. The whole question of whether you convey or convert is, of course, decided in individual strategies for individual texts.

    Except in the case of public material which has been included with the author�s consent, examples are not authentic texts and are only inspired by real cases.

    We would welcome comment from translators of Czech and other languages, from interpreters, teachers, students, proofreaders, copy-editors and anybody else involved in Czech-English translation, publication or editing.

    • Melvyn Clarke - British teacher and translator living in and around Prague since 1990. B.A. Czech and Slovak, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. Also studied Czech language, culture and history at the University of Lancaster.

    • Hana Jirkalova - Czech magazine editor and translator. Graduated from Charles University Philosophical Faculty in 1974. Editor-in-chief of Ctenar, a magazine on the world of books and librarianship. Has translated two full-length non-fiction works from English into Czech.

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