Posted by: patenttranslator | February 18, 2018

Czech Is German Translated from German to Czech

“Kommt ein Tscheche zum Augenarzt. Beim Sehtest wird ihm eine Tafel, auf der V I N C Z W Q S I C Z steht vorgehalten und der Arzt fragt ihn: ,,Können Sie das lesen?” – ,,Lesen?” ruft der Tscheche erstaunt aus. ,,Ich kenne den Kerl sogar!”

Translation: A Czech comes to an ophthalmologist. During the eye test, he is asked to read the text on a blackboard that says V I N C Z WW Q S I” and the doctor asks him: “Can you read it?”

“Can I read it? I even know the guy!” exclaims the Czech in astonishment.

(A German joke about Czechs and their funny language. I am pretty sure I saw the same German joke about Polish, which would be more accurate because these letters would be much more at home in a Polish word than in a Czech word).

More than 20 years ago I used to occasionally work for an older German gentleman who at that point had been running his small translation agency in Northern California for more than 30 years. He died about 10 years ago.

Although he never worked for agencies, only for direct customers, his business was not really an agency.

He called his translation business “[His name] & Associates” because he did most of the translating work by himself and only hired other translators, such as myself, for translations in languages that he did not know (and he did know quite a few), or did not like, even though he knew them.

For example, although he was German, after living in California for several decades, he only translated into English and did not like to translate from German, let alone into German.

He mostly translated Romance languages to English and he told me once that he did not translate German because “it was too difficult” for him. He was a weird guy, as many translators are. He also told me that his brother, who lived in Germany, once told him on the phone “Du sprichst Deutsch wie ein Tscheche” (You speak German like a Czech).

I am not trying to imitate his business model, at least not consciously, but the funny thing is, I run my business basically in the same way. I don’t like to translate from Czech, let alone into Czech, and I mostly translate German and Japanese. I do most of the translating work myself and I hire other translators only for languages that I don’t know or don’t like to translate.

To translate Czech is difficult for me too at the point because I have not been translating it for almost four decades. So what is my native language now? Clearly, I don’t have one. I simply replaced it by a few non-native languages. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to keep one’s originally native language, although it is probably a good thing to have one and keep it, just like it’s not necessary to have and keep one’s original spouse, although that may be a good thing too in some cases.

The fact that Czech is structurally very similar to German in its grammar and idioms, although it is a Slavic language and not a Germanic language, comes as a big surprise to most Germans. At least I have never met a German yet who was not surprised by my statement in this regard. But it is not surprising if you know something about the history of Bohemia and Moravia, or the Czech and Moravian regions of what is now called the Czech Republic.

The Czechs had to live under a heavy influence of the German language for a very long time.

For example, higher education was mostly available only in the German language for several centuries, and German was used for official dealings with the authorities in Austria-Hungary, the geographical heart of which was actually in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic.

So the Czech speakers who knew some German had no choice but to translate everything from Czech to German and then to translate it back to Czech for those who did not know any German. If you do that to a language for a few hundred years, it’s going to change your language more than just a little.

In fact, because the Czech language was considered in Austria-Hungary only to be a language or a dialect of uneducated Bohemian peasants, the language at the beginning of the nineteenth century was at the point of becoming extinct, until children of Bohemian peasants who were educated in the German language rebelled against the notion that their children should not have the right to be educated in their own language either.

And since unlike modern empires, Austria-Hungary was a relatively tolerant empire, the Czechs were eventually given their own language back when it also became the language of higher education in the mid nineteenth century, after many centuries when instruction in higher education in Bohemia was available only in Latin, and later in German.

After World War II, there were some relatively minor attempts to replace the Czech language by the Russian language when Czechoslovakia became a part of the Soviet empire after the Communist putsch in 1948.

The German word “Putsch” is an interesting word. Although it is an eminently useful word in modern world, and it has an equivalent in French (coup d’état) and in other languages, it has no direct English equivalent, which is why either the German or the French term is used in English. I wonder why that is. Is it because it might be too dangerous to have an English word for such a well known phenomenon?

Because after World War II, German was considered to be the language of the enemy, it was not taught much in schools at that time, and the government tried to teach children Russian instead of German.

All Czech kids had to start learning Russian from the third grade, which meant that Russian was taught from the age of about 9 until graduation from high schools at the age of about 18, although a high school was still called a “gymnazium”, originally a Latin word, which was adopted from German and which means something completely different in modern English.

However, the attempts to replace words in the Czech language by Russian words or words directly translated from Russian into Czech were not successful. Although some words were adopted into the Czech language: for example the word “druzhba”, which means friendship in Russian, started being used in the Czech language from nineteen fifties, the word “druzhba” was used only for the fake kind of official, obligatory “friendship” that Czechs were supposed to feel towards their big Russian brother.

So everybody knew that the word “druzhba” had in fact nothing to do with actual friendship.

But the main reason why the Russian language had almost no influence on the Czech language, although it was taught to all Czech kids as well as to other kids in the Soviet Empire for many decades, was that unlike the German language in the past centuries, the Russian language was almost completely useless.

Ever since the third grade when I received my first Russian textbook, I was eager to learn the Russian language because although eventually I too started thinking of it as the language of the occupiers, I thought it was a beautiful, melodic and very interesting language, and I even went to Soviet Union three times in the nineteen seventies, partly to become more fluent in the language.

But people like me were generally an oddity in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia, where most kids felt that a good way to resist the “stupid bolsheviks” was to ignore the Russian language and forget all about it as soon as the exams were passed.

As times change, empires come and go and different languages become important, influential and useful, until they start losing their importance and usefulness and eventually lose their dominant position to another language. Nobody knows what language will be important a hundred or two hundred years from now, provided that human civilization survives the culture of greed that has been unleashed upon this world and us in the 21st century, which looks kind of iffy to me at this point

The most useful language in the world at this point is of course not German, and it is not Russian either; it is the English language, in particular one special form of it called: BAD ENGLISH.

As an Indian man put it to a friend of mine when he was traveling in India a few years ago: Bad English is the most useful language in the world – everybody speaks it!


  1. Thank you for adding exceptional dimensions to our days!I look forward to more.Sincerely,Epuj

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, what a beautiful post! Having been an immigrant for nearly 10 years and living in the country which is considered to be another melting pot after America, I realized that Russian is the language of oppressive and aggressive culture and mentality. And this can be easily explained – for many centuries Russian-speaking lands have been under different kinds of wars.

    Anyone who knows Russian history at all understands that life has never been easy or comfortable for the people who have been placed under enormous strains and pressures over decades/centuries. This has produced many aggressive, unpleasant lexical units :-). I do not know any other language as rich with rude words as Russian.

    In Israel everybody uses Russian to swear no matter where they come from – whether from Ethiopia or Morocco, or the USA. They use Russia as a tool to showcase aggressive emotions. In other areas of life, as you stated, it is useless.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “In Israel everybody uses Russian to swear no matter where they come from – whether from Ethiopia or Morocco, or the USA. They use Russia as a tool to showcase aggressive emotions. In other areas of life, as you stated, it is useless.”

    Thanks for your comment, I did not know that.

    But if everybody is using Russian for swearing, whether they came from Ethiopia or Morocco, I think that Russian plays a vitally important role in modern Israel, and therefore it can hardly be called useless.

    Incidentally, I have often wondered at the marvelous capabilities that exist for swearing in Russian, more so than in other languages.

    Especially Japanese has almost nothing to offer in this respect.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It can be explained. Let’s calculate how many times Russia has been involved in wars and how many times – Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It would be an interesting comparison, Hanna, although not very fair to Russia, as unlike Russia, Japan was an island kingdom hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world by the Japanese Shoguns until the start of the period of enlightenment, called Meiji, in 1868.

    So although the Russian empire was much more aggressive than Japan for a long time, it was developing under very different historical and geographical conditions until 1868.

    But soon after the Western militaristic culture reached Japan, the militarization of Japan started and by 1905, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese war, the first Asian power to defeat a European power (Russia).

    And of course, Japan did horrible things before and during World War II when Japan attacked and invaded China, Korea and other Asian countries, such as the so-called Rape of Nanking, also known as the Nanking Massacre, when it invaded China in 1937 and eventually, they attacked United States when they bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

    In fact, even after US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan on August 6 and 8, 1945, the US was so afraid of Japanese militarism that it made Japan adopt in its new Constitution Article 9 that does not allow Japan to have an army, only what is called “Jieitai”, of “Self-Defense Forces”, that are constitutionally prevented from operating outside of Japan.

    So, if you want to compare how many times Japan was involved in wars, as opposed to Russia, all of these historical facts would have to be mentioned and Japan would not necessarily come out smelling as a rose, or at least as a good example of a peaceful country from such a comparison.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Is “bad English” (literally: “mauvais anglais”) perceived as being worse than just “broken English” (officially: “anglais approximatif”)?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. globish \ɡlɔ.biʃ\ masculin

    Jargon utilisé par des locuteurs non anglophones quand ils veulent communiquer en anglais.

    L’anglais paie le prix fort de son hégémonie. Car le « globish » disgracieux que l’on ânonne d’un bout à l’autre de notre monde globalisé n’a rien à voir avec la langue abondante, élégante et infiniment plastique qui a fait les riches heures de la littérature d’expression anglaise, […]. — (Élie Barnavie, L’anglais, langue en péril, dans Marianne n° 689, 3 juillet 2010)

    globishiser \ɡlɔ.bi.ʃi.ze\ transitif ou pronominal 1er groupe (conjugaison)

    Donner un caractère globish à.

    Pour ceux qui comprennent la crapulerie je peux leur fournir les coordonnées d’un spécialiste: “GUY-HOTLINE” (anciennement Guillotine, mais il faut se “globishiser”)… — (site

    Celles-ci pâtissent effectivement d’un train de retard sur les premières, et se remarquent dès lors moins à cet égard, mais soyez assuré qu’elles mettent le paquet depuis plusieurs années pour se « globishiser » à la hauteur des B.S. (acronyme à l’équivoque cocasse). — (site, 29 octobre 2016)
    Globish is, to me, neither a “jargon”, “sabir”, “pidgin”, etc: it’s simplified international English and thus incorrect English, sometimes hard to understand –

    but that we, translators, are supposed to translate into other languages… at the same price of real English, although it takes MUCH MORE TIME to translate a text written by a NON-NATIVE SPEAKER… and non-proofread, as usual, of course…

    This is why I apply a surcharge for source texts not written by native speakers AND/OR not proofread by a native speaker, as TIME is what we charge, not words – as too many incompetent and thus dishonest middlemen try to make OURRRR customers believe!…

    Such source texts are EASY TO SPOT BEFORE ACCEPTING A JOB by quickly running the AUTOMATIC SPELLCHECKER!

    In fact, MIDDLEMEN SHOULD DO IT, because problematic texts WILL ALSO MAKE THEM LOSE TIME managing the translator’s questions and remarks.

    But nowadays’ middlemen tend to crawl at any customer’s demands, even unreasonable ones, because there are too many middlemen.

    So they, too, end up working at a loss – and go bankrupt… which is why there are more and more non-payers on the translation market…

    So, bottom line is: only trained and experienced translators, who know what they are doing, will and must survive.

    I hope and believe that amateurism on the translation market is just a temporary fashion that appeared and will only remain just after the availability of the Internet for just anyone on Earth.

    Customers get trapped once, but not twice, usually…

    And they should know that when they use intermediaries, they feed the intermediary, not the people who do the actual translation work, if the intermediary uses suppliers and not internal employees – unless the intermediary is himself a trained and experienced translator who resents to treat other translators like he wouldn’t like to be treated himself, on top of understanding that taking the time to check anything that one is not sure of takes time and dedication, that only trained translators have, contrary to the many amateurs who pollute the translation market, who work for very low rates and, logically, translate literally without checking ANYthing.

    That is called pseudo-translation or black characters on a white background – not even the value of recycling paper any more!

    Only trained translators can tell the difference between rubbish/detritus/garbage/junk and real translations.

    I would like to add that agencies run by translators who use (always brainless) secretaries in daily operations (because they’re cheaper, thus increase the middlemen’s profit margin…) are NOT to be considered as “professional translation agencies”: they are to be considered as crooks, like the rest.

    Indeed, why should university-trained linguists accept to be managed and ordered about by some brainless secretary? It does NOT make any sense at all and denotes the owner’s lack of understanding of the business…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Steve, I just watched a film of Milos Foreman telling his life’s story and want to tell you that I like the conversation between you and Isabelle very much.

    Got to go for rest after a night’s work and watching TV. Chat with you some ofher time. Bye!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yeah, Isabelle is something else.

    I try to stay on her good side.

    Sure wouldn’t want to get into a fight with her!

    Liked by 1 person

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