019 Nominalization and verbalization

Bureaucratic texts can go rather heavy on the abstract nouns, which often need to be loosened up and recast in other forms to sound less bombastic in English:
Uzavření dodatků je podminkou další platnosti najemní smlouvy.
This lease contract only continues to be valid on condition these annexes are signed.
Bezdrátové LAN, které vyžadují rychlou obnovu siťových systémů, jejichž nefunkčnost by mohla způsobit katastrofu…
Wireless LANs involving the rapid restoration of network systems that could cause a disaster if not working…
Pro zvyšeni atraktivnosti pro své klienty firma zavádi systém řízeni kvality ISO 9001.
The company is introducing the ISO 9001 quality control system to make it even more attractive to customers.

More examples and explanations in this Czechlist thread.

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 to assume 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 constructions with a more precise noun, where in Czech a single precise verb might be used, i.e.
koncicomes to a conclusion
rozhodujemakes a decision

In Firbas‘ opinion, this difference accounts for the much greater overall frequency of nominal constructions in English than in Czech.

There are plenty more examples in Libuše Dušková’s Vilém Mathesius and contrastive studies, and beyond, in A Centenary of English Studies at Charles University: from Mathesius to present-day linguistics.

Hlasitě se rozesmála.

She burst into loud laughter.

Odcházela často na záchod.

She made frequent trips to the toilet.

Několikrát telefonoval.

He made several telephone calls.

Tiše zasténal.

He gave a quiet groan (Amis).

Opatrně se přičichla.

She took a cautious sniff (Clarke)

Mladík se skromně zasmál.

The young man gave a small laugh (Ishiguro)


018 Aspectual verb forms

In Functional Sentence Perspective in Written and Spoken Communication , 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 létě chodíval na dlouhé procházky.
He usually went for long walks in summer.

017 Word order problems – theme and rheme

Members of the Prague Linguistic Circle 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.

Vilém 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 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“ (see Reformulation):

V soutěži družstev zvitězili Rusové, kteří měli ve všech šesti kategoriích po dvou závodníciíh.
The winners of the team event were the Russians, who had two competitors in each of the six categories.

Na činnost PT, a.s. má dopad rovněž rada faktorů, které lze jen těžko ovlivnit.
PT activity is under the combined 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 navštivil Petr
Jane was visited by Peter

(In Czech, by the way, the passive is sometimes used
1) where the active would confuse subject and object because of identical gender.
Cinovec doprovází wolfram
Cinovec je doprovázen wolframem
So in such cases, the English translation need hardly follow suit
2) Where one subject undergoes a number of actions:
Hoch, který po autu hodil kamenem, byl chycen majitelem auta, vláčen na policii, vyslýchán, odveden strážníkem do školy a pak břecící odevzdán rodičům
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 místnosti vstoupila dívka
A girl entered the room

Dívka 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 včera spravil Janin psací stroj v kanceláři
It was at the office that Tom repaired Jane’s typewriter yesterday

Tom včera spravil Janin psací stroj šroubovákem

It was with a screwdriver that Tom repaired Jane’s typewriter

Or by fronting it in a pseudo-cleft sentence
Pozoruhodné bylo, že to přiznala
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 concertsNa jeho koncerty vždycky chodí davy lidi
And the „perceptive passive“ using the verb „to find“:
„Upon examination of these, I found a certain boldness of temper growing in me.“


Mezi zákazníky firmy X je např. Y, většina energetických podniků i armáda.
X’s customers include Y, the majority of power utilities and the army. 

Vzniknout can be rendered with a similar shift in perspective.

Česká republika vznikla v roce 1993.

The Czech Republic was established in 1993.

Tento postup vychází z nasledujicí filosofie:
This approach is based on the philosphy that

Nájemce se zavazuje používat předmět nájmu tak, aby pronajimateli nevznikla žádná škoda
The lessee undertakes to use the subject of lease in such a way as not to cause any damage to the lessor

Introductory prepositional clauses can often be recast:

V dohodnuté částce je obsazeno…
The agreed amount comprises…

V kapitole 8 se hovoří o…
Chapter 8 discusses…

Na obr 4 je schematicky znázorněn…
Figure 4 shows…

V tabulce VII jsou uvedeny…

Table VII gives…

Autor ve své stati podrobuje analýze tři překladové soubory, jež vytvářejí jádro překladatelského díla Vítězslava Nezvala.                                                                                                     This article analyses three sets of translations that form the core of Vítězslav Nezval‚s translation work.

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.
emisním měřenením bylo zjištěno, že
measurements of emissions indicated that

„See“ and „witness“ can play a useful role to express došlo k and the like:

Na přelomu 40. a 50. let 20. století prošla hlubokou transformací i česká literární kultura.                                                                                                                    The turn of the 1950s saw a profound change in Czech literary culture.
V roce 2009 došlo ke sloučení těchto samostatných týmů do jednoho pracoviště,
2009 saw the merger of these separate teams in a single department.

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.

016 End-weight versus subject-before-predicate

Proofreaders take note!

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

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 of 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…“

015 Conjunctiveness

The reader can be helped along with inserted discourse markers such as „but“, „however“, „nevertheless“…  

Úspěsné obchodní společnosti se vyplatí poskytnout zaměstnancům nadstandardní platovou úroveň. Tento standard ovšem náleží jen těm, kdo peníze svému zaměstnavateli vydělavávají; to nejsou ani uklizečky, ani topiči, jenže i oni se obvykle dožadují vyššího standardu. Správní společnost obslužným profesím platí (a Vám učtuje) 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,however, will only pay its auxiliary staff the going rate (and charge you accordingly).

In a comparison of an English text and its German translation in In Other Words, (p. 199) Mona Baker points out: „There are noticeably fewer conjunctions in the English text (eight) than in the German (twelve). German seems to be generally more conjunctive than English. The use of explicit conjunction makes the structure of the text more transparent. For instance the reason relation […] is made more explicit in German by the addition of „denn“ (because).“

„Whether a translation conforms to the source-text patterns of cohesion or tries to approximate to target-language patterns will depend in the final analysis on the purpose of the translation and the amount of freedom the translator feels entitled to in rechunking information and/or altering signals of relations between chunks.



014 Present historic

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

Pro úplnost doplňme bronz Fučíka mezi muži a dva bronzy juniora Skop – ten si ještě o místo polepšil na ME 1995, kde ovšem zustal zcela ve stínu zlata a stribra Petra Jelínka. Mezi muži se po roční pauze znovu na scéně objevuje Pospíšil, a znovu uspěšně – je to druhé místo těsně před Vánkem, který si vše vynahrazuje triumfem ve druhém závodě. Další stříbro připojuje Pospíšil v roce následujicím, kde jsou však vedle dalšího stříbra Sukenika, ustředními postavami juniori – kromě bronzu Jelínka a Kotulana poprvé zlatě zazáří 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.

013 Or not to be

!!!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 být 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 úhradu dohodnuté ceny je daňovy doklad vystavený agenturou

The tax document made out by the agency acts as supporting documentation for payment of the agreed price.

Ten les bude dobrá skrýš.
This wood will make a good hiding place.

In definitions:

Provozuschopnosti dráhy je technický stav dráhy zaručující její bezpečné a plynulé. provozovani.
By track serviceability is meant that state of repair of a track which guarantees its safe and uninterrupted operation.

012 Componential analysis

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 within the given context.
  • Pare these down to two words (or at very most three if they 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:

dapperupravený a čilý
facetious obhrouble nebo nejapně vtipný
quaintpřitažlivý, starobylý, pitoreskní…

011 Repetition

Some notes on repetition:

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.

Knittlova notes: Opakování lexikalní jednotky v nezměněné podobě považuje česká stylistická norma za poněkud těžkopadné, pokud nejde o součást autorova záměru, a dává přednost dalším možnostem. Angličtina je v tomto ohledu méně citlivá.

But later she adds: V jedotlivých vědních oborech a jejich projevech vystačíme s poměrně skrovným výsekem lexikálního repertoaru, takže index opakování je dost vysoký, podle průzkumu při porovnání s ostatnými funkčními styly vůbec největší.

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.

On those rare occasions when a Czech sentence does have repeating words, we can sometimes make use of various English resources to streamline the text:
Kromě obvyklého tónu vytvořeného hlasivkami zní i alikvotní vysoký tón podobný tónu flétny.
Apart from the usual tone formed by the vocal chords, there is also a high aliquot tone similar to that of a flute.

Ještě větší vliv na „plochost“ textu má opakování jednoho slova:
Příklad: „The newly constructed strains were more resistant than null strains, however, the strains with increased resistance were, surprisingly, less viable than wild-type strains.“

Text lze podstatně zlepšit pouhým rozdělením do dvou vět a nahrazením slova strain
vhodným ekvivalentem:

„The new constructs were more resistant than null strains. Surprisingly, strains with increased resistance were less viable than their wild-type counterparts”. Psaní v angličtině