Česko-anglický slovník spojení: podstatné jméno a sloveso
[Czech-English combinatory dictionary: noun and verb]
hardcover, 372 pp., 1. edition
published: november 2005
recommended price: 440 czk
Aleš Klégr, a leading Czech English scholar and lexicologist, in cooperation with Petra Key and Norah Hronková, composed a unique active dictionary intended for active work with language. The dictionary contains 1500 entries - Czech nouns, which correspond to 1800 English equivalents. The entries contain on the average of 60 Czech and English verbs per noun. In total, the dictionary contains over 90 000 combinations in Czech and English. The Combinatory Dictionary can be used in both directions - it contains an index of English equivalents, which allow it to be used for work in both Czech and English. The dictionary can thus aid an English speaker while composing Czech texts.
About 25years ago, totalitarian barriers surrounding the Czech Republic suddenly crumbled and all kinds of influences, particularly those from the West, began to flood in. One such stream was the English language-at first British and American, and, later, other linguistic variations of the language. Nowadays, English is a reasonably established second language in everyday use by the Czech people-in street conversations and foreign company communications, in the names of products and institutions, and in schools and markets.
Sometimes, the way English is used in the Czech Republic is somewhat questionable, as in naming a commuter train City Elefant, and somewhat jarring, as in naming a transit company Student Agency (officially pronounced aghentsy). Occasionally, when accompanying Czech visitors or reading texts or comments written by Czech employees of a foreign company, one runs into English sentences that can be properly understood only if tentatively translated back into Czech to regain the semantics.
So, is it possible to develop a tool that would help those proficient in the language use idiomatic English like native practitioners without requiring them to travel to and live in an English-speaking country? Yes, perhaps, and the Czech-English Combinatory Dictionary: Noun and Verb is meant to do just that. Although the dictionary was published in 2005, I still think it could be a good learning tool. I also decided to review it because I was interested in the authors' concept for the dictionary and the way it was implemented.
As the authors note in their introduction, the first specialized dictionary that was designed to help Czech advanced students and users of English learn the most common verbs and match them together properly with nouns was published in Prague in 1991. The Czech-English Combinatory Dictionary: Noun and Verb is a successor to that effort, helped greatly by the computer technology that has been developed in the meantime.
But learning correct idiomatic usage is not just a question of providing the proper combination of verbs and nouns or other colloquial word combinations. Speech and text often follow a prefabricated pattern of segments formed as predictable preferences. Noun and verb combinations are the most typical collocated words. The entries contained in this dictionary are the most typical and regular coherence collocations, those noun and verb combinations that come together most often among users to express well-established meanings.
The backbone of the Czech-English Combinatory Dictionary: Noun and Verb consists of 1,500 Czech nouns. These were taken from two sources: 1) the 1991 publication mentioned earlier, and 2) a frequency list for the Czech language that was compiled from a corpus of 100 million Czech words by a specialized institute of the School of Arts of Charles University (Prague) in the 1990s. These nouns were then combined with complementary collocated verbs and other relevant phraseological elements (objects, adverbs, prepositions, etc.) based on frequency analyses of Internet-sourced U.S. newspaper English corpus (from the San Jose Mercury by the University of Alberta) and British newspaper English corpus (from The Times). The authors also consulted more than a dozen collocation dictionaries that began to crop up in the U.S. and Europe in the 1990s, as well as combination and general dictionaries of English.
The dictionary is well organized visually and structurally. Entries of Czech nouns listed alphabetically are followed by English nouns, and are only occasionally complemented by a particularly fitting adjective or adverb. Alternative English synonyms of single Czech nouns are kept to a minimum, generally not exceeding two. The list of nouns is followed by Czech verbs, first in the combination of verb + noun (as object) (vo), then verb + noun (as adverb) (<>), and finally noun (as subject) + verb (sv). These are complemented as needed by designating the case (indicated by a number in parentheses, except for nominative and accusative) and indicating a pronoun, reflexive pronoun, preposition, attribute, and adverb. The corresponding British English is then provided, unless there is also an American equivalent (marked as such). For example, here is one of the shortest entries:
anténa (rozhlasová, televizní) (radio, TV) aerial, (US) antenna; (vo) instalovat install; nasměrovat direct, orient, fiddle (into a better position); nastavit, naladit adjust, tune; odstínit screen; otočit (4, 7) turn, twist (around); postavit erect, put up, set up, stand up; potřebovat (směrovou) need (directional); používat use; přidat add; připojit, zapojit connect; uzemnit earth, ground; vychýlit slant; vysunout pull out; zasunout push in; (<>) použít jako use as; připojit k (3) attach to; (sv) přijímá (signal, program) picks up,
receives (a signal, programme); vysílá transmits
The authors note that the content of the dictionary includes about 4,000 words in Czech and somewhat more in English. If this is so, it can cover only a limited range of meanings, thus limiting its usefulness to learning enough vocabulary to carry on a general conversation or write a general letter or report. Just by looking at the entries at random, however, it seems that the number of words included, even when assuming that many verbs are repeated in the entries, is greater. As suggested by the methodology for its compilation, which is described in detail in the introduction, at best the dictionary reflects the content of general newspapers or similar media.
Although the dictionary contains a sizable number of collocated combinations, it only includes a seven-page index of English equivalents and three and a half pages of Czech headwords. As such, it is not of much use for professional translators and interpreters. I was looking for several words that are notoriously difficult to translate, but could not find them. There are also not many entries from specialty fields such as law, medicine, or business. However, the dictionary may be quite useful to Czech students of English or employees of international companies who would like to achieve a better command of the language than what passes as simplified corporate English or Pidgin English.
Since the Czech entries are translated into English, the authors claim that the dictionary can also be used in reverse by English speakers who wish to improve their Czech. However, the Czech language is more difficult to learn than English, especially considering its complex syntax. Learning the language is a laborious process that would probably require more than this dictionary. I say more power to those who will try.
Ivo Reznicek, The ATA Chronicle, January 2015, vol. XLIV, Nr. 1, 34-35 p.