The times - are they a-changing?

Discussion in 'General Language' started by Jana, Aug 22, 2006.

  1. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

    Recently, I read again Jerome K. Jerome´s Three Men on a Bummel (published in 1900) and thought it might be interesting for myCzechRepublic members (namely those non-native Czechs who visited Prague) to compare their experience...

    Chapter VIII
    ..."At Dresden they advised us not to talk German in Prague. For years racial animosity between the German minority and the Czech majority has raged throughout Bohemia, and to be mistaken for a German in certain streets of Prague is inconvenient to a man whose staying powers in a race are not what once they were. However, we did talk German in certain streets in Prague; it was a case of talking German or nothing.
    The Czech dialect is said to be of great antiquity and of highly scientific cultivation. Its alphabet contains forty-two letters, suggestive to a stranger of Chinese. It is not a language to be picked up in a hurry. We decided that on the whole there would be less risk to our constitution in keeping to German, and as a matter of fact no harm came to us. The explanation I can only surmise. The Praguer is an exceedingly acute person; some subtle falsity of accent, some slight grammatical inaccuracy, may have crept into our German, revealing to him the fact that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, we were no true-born Deutscher. I do not assert this; I put it forward as a possibility.

    To avoid unnecessary danger, however, we did our sight-seeing with the aid of a guide. No guide I have ever come across is perfect. This one had two distinct failings. His English was decidedly weak. Indeed, it was not English at all. I do not know what you would call it. It was not altogether his fault; he had learnt English from a Scotch lady. I understand Scotch fairly well - to keep abreast of modern English literature this is necessary, - but to understand broad Scotch talked with a Slavonic accent, occasionally relieved by German modifications, taxes the intelligence. For the first hour it was difficult to rid one's self of the conviction that the man was choking. Every moment we expected him to die on our hands. In the course of the morning we grew accustomed to him, and rid ourselves of the instinct to throw him on his back every time he opened his mouth, and tear his clothes from him."...

    (The whole book is available here ... he_bummel/ )
  2. czechchris

    czechchris Well-Known Member

    This sentence struck a chord with me.

    I buy the transport ticket when I arrive at Florenc:
    "Chtel bych jizdenku za patnact dny" - and invariably am informed "three hundred and twenty crowns, please" in English!

    This year:
    "Chtel bych jizdenku na patnact dny" - and was told "tri sta dvacet korun."

    One preposition gave it away.

    BTW- an excellent book. I bought a Czech/English book of Jerome's short stories when I was in Prague.
  3. Adela

    Adela Active Member

    That reminds me of my experience in Amsterdam.:) The title could be "How you are discouraged from trying to speak the language of the country you visit."
    I was at a restaurant in Amsterdam, ordering meals and speaking Dutch. But - the waitress was speaking to me in English all the time! Why - because she heard I was a foreigner, she heard my accent..and she couldn´t understand I wanted to practise Dutch and not English! :)
    I wouldn´t do that..every time I meet a foreigner who speaks Czech I love it so much:)
  4. wesley

    wesley Member

    Jana, excellent excerpt! I read Jerome's 3 Men in a Boat when I was younger and just hurt my stomache laughing so much.! I certainly will have to get this book. I assume a bummel is Brit speak for bumming around Europe.

    Boy, the German-Czech issue is immensely complex, lots of layers and hidden nooks and cranies, and it goes back into deep history. I kept discovering different aspects to it. Nothing like the Russian-Czech issue
    which is pretty clearly black and white.

    Hey, thanks for the welcome shot of Jerome!
  5. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

    Actually, Jerome borrowed "bummel" from German (der Bummel = a walk or a bum) and its meaning had to be explained in the book itself.

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