Translating into Slovak

[ 0 ] October 14, 2011 |

Slovak (Slovenčina) is the official language of Slovakia. It is an Indo-European language that belongs to the West Slavic Languages. More than 5 million people speak Slovak in Slovakia. This language is also spoken in the United States (1, 200 000), the Czech Republic (320 000), Serbia (60 000), Ireland (30 000), Romania (22 000), Hungary (20 000), Poland (20 000), Canada (20 000), Croatia (5 000), Australia, Austria, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Bulgaria. There are around 29 dialects of Slovak, which are subdivided in three large groups (western, central and eastern dialects).

Slovak is related to other West Slavic languages, but mostly to Czech. Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, Slovakia has been an independent country and the Slovak and Czech languages have started to drift apart, though they are still more or less mutually comprehensible. Most Czechs and Slovaks are able to read in both languages or conduct a conversation, each speaking his/her own language, without any difficulty.

The elements of spoken Slovak language appeared before the 18th century. Slovak developed as a standardized national language in the late 18th and the early 19th century. In 1787 Anton Bernolák published his Dissertatio Philologico-critica de litteris Slavorum along with orthography rules, in which he codified a Slovak language standard. In the middle of the 19th century Ľudovít Štúr and his associates created a monumental work on the Slovak language. The codification version used by Štúr became a real language reform. The Bible was translated in the literary Slovak language in 1750. With the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the Slovak language was saved from probable extinction and became an official language for the first time in history along with the Czech language. Slovak literature flourished between 1918 and 1938 when the Slovak-speaking area became part of Czechoslovakia. When after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia Slovakia became a sovereign state, the influence of Czech language somewhat diminished. With the development of economy and tourism in Slovakia, translation from and to Slovak has gained momentum.

Compared to English, Slovak is easy to read correctly, because you write as you hear. On the other hand, the grammar is relatively irregular and differs from the English grammar, which has gone far beyond its Indo-European roots. In Slovak one can come across peculiarly Slavonic grammatical and lexical characteristics. Declension is less prominent in English. English nouns decline to distinguish singular from plural (eg., a pen vs. pens). There exist seven cases of nouns and adjectives in Slovak: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, instrumental and vocative. The latter has nearly disappeared. Like other Slavonic languages, Slovak has composite inflections for its nouns and adjectives. Slovak syntax can be far more flexible than English, which has largely abandoned the Indo-European inflectional case. This feature and the opportunity of using a huge number of inflections, suffixes and prefixes, can provide a skilled literary translator toiling over a novel with a vast field of action for translation into Slovak, so that he can choose from a broad spectrum of appropriate nuances he wishes to convey. On the other hand, it can be a headache as well, especially for the beginners. One has to consider a never-ending stream of prepositions peculiar to this or that case. In this connection, things are far more easy for the speakers of other Slavic languages, possessing a similar grammatical case system.
The major difficulties in translating from English to Slovak are: verbal aspects, verbs of motion, syntax, nominal and adjectival declension, vocabulary.
Although English and Slovak are not cognate languages, there can be observed a certain semantic shift in the words of similar origin and identical sound, i.e. they can turn into the so-called ,,false friends”, seemingly denoting the same meaning in two different languages (because of the common morphological forms).
There are parallels in the English and Slovak languages with regards to family members (Slov. Sistra vs Eng. Sister, etc.) However, there can be also observed an absolute absence of similarity in the names of relatives. For example, different words can be used to denote paternal or matrilineal kinship line. in Slovak there can be distinguished an uncle on one’s father side (Slov.) strýc, and an uncle on one’s mother side (Slov.) ujo.

There can exist established word combinations, shedding light on the frequency of lexical units in communication. For example, if we consider a Slovak saying: Aký otec, taký sy’, it fully coincides with the English expression: Like father, like Son. Such linguistic comparison can help in understanding the mentality of language bearers.

No culture and, therefore, no language can be developed in isolation. Nowadays adoption is one of the most widespread ways of enriching a language vocabulary. There are many verbs with –ova- suffix in Slovak. This group is the second largest. This form has entered in many spheres of life: sports, art, television. For example, an English verb to surf has developed into surfovat in Slovak, and the verb (Eng.) to skate has transformed into (Slov.) skejtovat. The same is the case with the Slovak verbs ,,koncertovat” (perform), režírovať (to direct), nominovať (to nominate).

There can be observed interesting phraseological parallels in the English and Slovak languages. braniť sa [niečomu] zubami- nechtami — to fight tooth and nail; precediť [slová] cez (pomedzi) zuby — to say through set teeth. It is also worth mentioning Slovac and English phrases: Láska je ako prsteň, konca kraja nemá. — (Engl.) Love is a ring, but a ring has no end, (Slov.). Láska nehnevaná nie je milovaná. — (Eng.). Lovers’ tiffs are harmless.

Languages might differ and there might be cases that cultural specifics sometimes seem ,,untranslatable”. However, translators should face these challenges. All languages are the carriers of cultural nuances and all of them have one thing in common- they are a means of communication. This means is increasingly important in the modern world of globalization and intercultural connections.

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Category: Foreign Language

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