049 Ovšemismus – hedging expressions

Czech academic writers tend to appear wary of commiting themselves fully,
without hesitation and reserve, to their statements, propositions and suggestions. In other
words, they formulate their pronouncements in a far less assertive, direct and
matter-of-fact tone than English writers usually do. This high degree of hedging also implies a
certain modesty or understatement (which might be, of course, sincere or merely a rhetorical
The list of Czech hedging predicates, particles and adverbs is similar to
that in other languages but their text frequency with Czech authors is conspicuously high.
Several examples: je možné, že; jak se zdá, zdá se nám zřejmé, že; asi; snad; možná,
A typical Czech hedging expression may be seen in the particle ovšem,
combining the adversative feature “but“ with the supposition “obviously“. This particle
enables the Czech writer to weaken or restrict the validity of his previous statement (a Czech
philosopher wittily called this phenomenon “Czech ovšemism“). A similar effect is achieved
by the use of the double expression na jedné stráně – na druhé stráně ovšem, witnessing
the Czech tendency to dialectical treatment of the phenomena in question.
Czech academic texts often have a tenor of reasoning and contemplation, of
evaluating different possibilities and finding one’s way through them. On the other
hand, the impersonal character of the majority of the predicates given is in accord with the
overall impersonal character of Czech writings. (To be sure, the personal character claimed for
English writings by many text-linguists does not preclude the use of impersonal
As a parallel to this kind of hedging, different types of article headings
may also be considered. The modern English heading, in the great majority of cases, has
a nominal form whereas Czech authors often use noun phrases with modifying prepositions “o“ or “k“ indicating a particular result the author is trying to achieve, or “a
contribution to“. This practice corresponds, in principle, with the German usage of the prepositions über and zu and the Russian usage of “o(b)“ and especially “k“. The hedging effect of these prepositional phrases is obvious.
In general, the lower degree of assertiveness, the less positive and less
persuasive formulations may be taken to correspond to the features of the German and
Russian intellectual style.
It is not typical for Czech authors to explicitly lead the reader through
the text and explain the path and organization of the paper at the outset. Consequently, Czech
academic texts are less explicit on this point. This holds also for definitions of central or
crucial terms and concepts, and for formulation of these, rules, and so forth. On the other
hand, this kind of implicitness does not necessarily result […] in brevity, conciseness,
economy, or condensed style. Often the reader is reminded again and again of the author’s idea, frequently in a slightly different way each time, modified, and as if viewed from a new
perspective. The author tries again and again to grasp the phenomenon described in a more
appropriate way, to come closer and closer to its nature […] the definition process is seen
as developing in the course of the whole text. This continuing definition process, or rather,
grasping effort, of Czech scholars causes many problems for English translators, who are never sure whether the author is referring to the same phenomenon by all these different
designations: English translators often suggest consistently using the same term and avoiding
parallel expressions.

From Jazyk a text II. – Výbor z lingvistického díla Františka Daneše – Universita
Karlova v Praze  Filozofická fakulta




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