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Far or Distant?


An interesting story on Czech semantics was posted at Radio Prague yesterday by Věra Schmiedtová. It discusses the distinction between two adjectives: daleký and dálný. They are related by a common root and express distance. In modern Czech there are other related words like dálka (distance), dálnice (freeway), dálkové vzdělávání (distance learning, or dalekohled (telescope, i.e., "long-distance viewer"). Basically, modern Czech speakers use daleký six times more often than dálný. Though infrequent, dálný carries more sentiment--it's found in ninteenth-century usage, and connotes feelings of nostalgia for far-off places. The less-used adjective usually modifies places, including vlast (homeland), but usually carries a hint of the Orient and the exotic, being linked with India, foreign lands (ciziny), and the Far East.

The conclusion is based on a search of the Corpus of Ancient Czech, known as diakorp for short. The Corpus is available (and searchable) in an online database maintained by the Ústav Českého národního korpusu (Institute of the Czech National Corpus) at Charles Unversity.

The earliest usage of daleký was in the 15th century in a text entitled "Journey from Bohemia to Jerusalem and Egypt": a oznámili sme jemu, kterak sme z dalekých zemí přišli ohledávat zahrady, or in English (roughly), "and we told them that we came from distant lands to inspect their gardens."

The classic usage of dálný is Karel Hynek Mácha's: Však hoch jen mlčky hlavou zavrtěl, luna mu postříbřila bledé líce; na dálném spadla hvězda obzoru, však k vrbám nechodil hoch nikdy více, (roughly), "the boy silently shook his head, the moon shone silvery on his pale cheek; in the distance a star fell past the horizon, and the boy never more went to the willows."

Typical usage of daleký also comes from Mácha: dalekáť cesta má, marné volání, or (roughly), "my long journey, vainly calling." It's all a bit existential and soul-searching. However, this verse does show the adjective in one of its most common connections: with cesta (road or journey). Other commonly linked words are budoucnost (future), vesnice (village), and kraj (district).

Now, I wonder, which of these adjectives will be appropriate for Brno? When I leave, will it be daleké Brno or dálné Brno? Will those be memories of a far away place with well-tended garden plots? Or, will they be of a small city nestled in a far-off valley of Moravia enwreathed in the scents and pollens of lime-tree blossoms, bouquets of balanced wines, and the slightest hint of fried cheese wafting on the air amid bustling market-day crowds and Vietnamese shops?

The whole story: Daleký, dálný - 16-07-2006 - Radio Praha

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