Thursday, July 27, 2006

Well. Glad we got that cleared up, then.

This morning, to further my bid for world Czech-linguistic domination, Mrs. Jana took me on a tour of Prague. It was our “fun” class to celebrate commiserate the fact that she’ll be on holiday for the whole month of August, leaving Ms. Katka in charge.

At the moment, the weather and tourists being what they are (hot, crowded and sweaty), seven to eight-thirty is probably the best time to wander around downtown. So off we went: me with my special sheet of architecture vocabulary, and Mrs. Jana with a grim determination to demonstrate the use of as many types of verbs of motion as humanly possible.

I learned a new word without vowels (“trh” – it means market). This will come in very handy for Scrabble games or filling in the rest of crosswords as long as I remain relaxed about the more trivial rules on language use.

Ahh… I hear you say. But how many types of verbs of motion can there possibly be?

Well, apparently we run, we go-by-feet, we go-by-transport-including-dogsled and we fly but we also carry and drive (including the management of companies). Extra fantastic variety can be created by tacking on assorted prefixes that give more information about the direction of motion. You know, like English prepositional verbs but the other way ‘round.

So we went-by-feet-from a meeting-point in front of the main railway station, then went-by-feet-over the road, went-by-feet-through a passageway and went-by-feet-to the newest synagogue. Then we went-by-feet-on lots of squares while other people went-by-car-to work and carried-to work their lunch.

Czech being what it is, there are a few extra ones that don’t quite match up with English, so we also met by going-together-by-transport-but-this-time-the-more-mundane-metro-rather-than-say-a-camel-drawn-caravan, and we parted company at the end of the tour by going-apart-by-transport.

But it seems that in a further stunning plot twist, while verbs of motion are always perfective (see below), it has now been revealed that they can be either indeterminate or determinate. Shock! Horror! Gasp! Of course this is NOthing like perfective and imperfective aspects, and I should not even THINK about such ridiculous things while displacing myself in Czech. Deep sigh.

[Digression: I got very excited when looking this up online because one of the top search results was one for Hittite. Hooray! I thought. Once I have mastered this pesky bit of grammar, I shall learn to speak like an ancient Anatolian. But alas, this was a false search result created by the proximity of the expressions “verbs of motion” and “indeterminate” and “determinate” on the same page. I wish they’d organise their sites better. But at least there’s always Old Church Slavonic.]

This differentiation depends on whether the action is repeated regularly (indeterminate) or not (the other one). And of course, the distinction is made by using completely different words. As if I didn't have enough problems with all that architecture vocabulary. The former includes such thorny issues as “Do you like to run marathons?” whereas the latter is more like, “Last year I ran the Marathon des Sables in a furry duck costume.”

However (and here comes the annoying, not-like-imperfective-perfective bit) “I was running the Marathon des Sables disguised as a Giant South American Anteater when I tripped over my long and sticky velcro tongue," is determinate. Because certainly that’s the kind of action no one would wish to undertake in a half-hearted or indeterminate manner. Imagine the consequences: all those poor idiots running about in the desert in silly animal costumes with no sense of direction or purpose until they pass out from heat exhaustion.

Speaking of which, the latter is apparently why verbs of motion are perfective. Because it is understood they must all ultimately come to an end. Of course, the same could even be said of breathing, but Mrs. J. got a funny look in her eye when I brought this up, and my comment dwindled away into nervous silence. So I never had the chance to ask her if the failure to create a perpetual motion machine is due to more sinister reasons than I had previously suspected. Another mystery for the ages solved, methinks.

2 comments:

RPC said...

These days, whenever you mention Mrs Jana, a frisson of excitement comes over me. I have come to imagine her much in the manner of the photo you posted a while back, though perhaps in slightly more human form. Her little ways, her steely glints. I've grown accustomed to her face.

Thus I am desolate that she will be away for the next four weeks. Pray illuminate us further on Ms. Katka. Is she a similarly indominatable female, and will she adopt a more open-minded attitude to your unexpectedly philosophical detours into discussions of life and death?

EvilAuntiePeril said...

Your vicarious frisson of excitement is likely a muted version of my very real frisson of fear. I will miss her - mornings are not the same without a good dose of terror to get the adrenaline flowing.

I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Katka - that delight is reserved for Monday morning.