Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Spoken Czech and the schwa (ə)

On my first trip to the Czech Republic (I suppose I'm supposed to call it Czechia, but that sounds so ridiculous I can't bring myself to even write it, much less say it), I realized that my beloved Czech genealogy is inextricably linked to the Czech language. Therefore, I must not only learn everything there is to know (!) about Czech genealogical research, but I must become a fluent speaker of Czech.

I'm so excited about this! I love learning languages, and I really especially love Czech! Learning to speak Czech is a totally achievable goal, through a lot of hard work, of course. I know this because I am an advanced-high speaker of French, advanced-mid in Arabic, and I'm guessing that I would get an intermediate-low for several other languages if I were to randomly take an OPI right now. Too bad the Foreign Language Achievement Testing at BYU (the only test of its kind in the nation!) came out a year after I graduated. Anyway, it doesn't have Czech. Yet.

The point: I love languages. I studied how to teach world languages. I'm quite excited about learning Czech.

Part of me feels that my whole life has prepared me for this goal. This is the first time that I have been in a position to learn Czech, really. In High School, the choices were Latin, French, or Spanish. In University, I would have taken Czech, were it available on a 100 level course. Sadly, it was only available to returned missionaries at a 300-level. So I took French, Arabic, ASL, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) instead.

I sometimes wish that I had taken German. After all, that would be so much more relevant to my study of Czech genealogy. However, I think that my skills in Arabic also prepared me to learn Czech.
  • Arabic a marked language. This helped me to understand cases.
  • Arabic is difficult. It helped me realize that I can do difficult things.
  • Arabic is a non-Indo-European language. While Czech is technically Indo-European, it is from a totally different branch from English: the Balto-Slavic branch. Experiencing a language that is farther from my native tongue was helpful
  • I learned how to navigate a language (and language pedagogy!) that has very few materials for English speakers. This is totally similar to Czech. If anything, there is more material for English speakers wanting to learn Czech than those who want to learn Arabic.
And as a side note, my fifth cousin's brother in law was from the exact part of Jordan (Irbid) where I spent a semester studying at Yarmouk University, and he knew the family with whom I stayed. So, that was a really funny coincidence.

But Czech...well, going to Ostrava was like a crash course in it. Did you know that Ostrava is one of the largest cities in the Czech Republic, and yet it is nowhere on the CR's tourist bureau information app? That's because it's basically the equivalent of Pittsburgh, which used to be the steel capital of the United States. Who would go on vacation to...Pittsburgh!? Ostrava was the steel and manufacturing capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its industrial production remains relevant today. For example, the Czech Republic exports more cars per year than its population, or so I was told. Well, many of those cars are made in Ostrava.

Me with Ostrava in the background

My husband and I were stupid tourists in a place where there is very little tourism, which meant we had to speak Czech. And we don't speak Czech. We are definitely novices. But I got a feel for the language. 

My first impression continues to be validated now that I've come home and started a concerted effort to learn Czech (thanks Amazon! The Pimsleur course is really perfect for my lifestyle, since I'm always driving or cooking or cleaning) : spoken Czech is full of the schwa (ə)!!!!

It's just full of it! When in doubt, schwa it out!

Seriously! Any ending, if you don't know how to pronounce it, just slur it into a schwa sound and it will be at least comprehensible. 

But let me tell you, it's really difficult (in a fun and challenging way) for me to differentiate between ulici and ulice, between kdy and kde, and 100 other words. It's just...there's so much schwa. SO MUCH SCHWA. 


Ted' jsem just being stupid...ale co jiného je zřejmý? Užívám moje "nerdiness." I recently described myself this way, and I really think it fits: a nerdy, bookish, extrovert. That kind of defies the stereotype, but so it is!

What is life for if not to find joy. I can't tell you how much happier I have been since discovering my love of Czech genealogy, and trying to find answers. I feel that the trip Danny and I took significantly expanded my vision. It feels frustrating, humiliating, and daunting: but it's also so exciting and fun. It's the kind of fulfilling challenge that I have been craving for the past decade.

Thanks, schwa. You're great.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Nitpicking and Translation

I've been working on transcribing and translating Czech land records with a friend. I've learned a lot in the last three weeks - so much I have yet to share on this blog! For now, some meta data: It's been extremely fun - surprisingly so, actually. It' turns out...I'm...very nerdy. Well, so what. That can't be a big surprise to most people reading this blog.

It's surprising because I remember with extreme clarity the discouragement I felt when I opened my first Czech land record. I groaned - both out loud, and also in my soul. I knew immediately that this would be an extremely difficult challenge, more difficult than anything I had ever faced. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to read the text in front of me. I knew even then that it would require many different kinds of skills: interpreting paleography, interpreting the old Czech spelling, and then interpreting the meaning of the words. (Eventually I hope to get to analyze the broader implications, the broader meaning of the record for the specific ancestor, and then an even broader application to the estate, perhaps even to the Czech lands themselves)

It turns out that the last part, interpreting the meaning (on all levels), is extremely interesting to me. I love it. I feel sometimes that I am nitpicking words to death, and I hope that this is not really annoying to those working with me. But this is because so often my very specific questions lead to a clearer, better understanding of what is going on, which allows me to write a better translation, letting others understand it better as well. 

I really enjoy translating into English. It is fascinating to me. It brings me great joy to use this part of my brain. I feel like my language in this blog post isn't doing justice to my thoughts and feelings about this process: basically, I'm an addict.

I feel a sense of urgency because I clearly understand the exact feeling of wanting to have more written direction somewhere explaining how to access these Czech land records. It's urgent that I gain these transcription and translation skills so that I can share this knowledge with others. At the same time, I don't see my learning as a linear process at all; I'm never going to have all the znalost. Ever. However, as soon as I gain a sizable enough chunk of knowledge, I will need to package it somehow and share with the world - especially with other English speakers - so that they can also have this great joy that I feel. 

If anybody out there reading this blog is interested in joining me in this project of transcribing Czech land records (especially if you are a native German speaker), please contact me. I am looking for more collaborators.