Declension of a foreign town name

Discussion in 'Čeština (Czech)' started by Psi-Lord, Jun 5, 2009.

  1. Psi-Lord

    Psi-Lord Member

    Cândido Mota, São Paulo, Brazil
    Portuguese - Brazil

    My first post in the Czech forum, so please, bear with me. :)

    I live in a town called Cândido Mota, and I was wondering how I’d decline its name, if declinable at all.

    I checked the grammar points regarding the declension of geographical names at (with the help of Google Translator, since my Czech is still as basic as possible), trying to find rules where it could fit, but I’m not sure. The options I could come up with were:

    • consider it indeclinable;
    • consider Cândido the ‘main part’, decline it as město and leave Mota undeclined;
    • consider Mota the ‘main part’, decline it as žena and leave Cândido undeclined;
    • decline both parts independently, as město and žena.

    To make things more complicated, the town was named after a man called Cândido Mota, and I don’t know if I should take that into consideration as well when tackling the problem.

    What could you people tell me?

    Thanks a lot in advance!
  2. NotNow Senior Member

    Do not decline it. Leave it as Candido Mota. Only Czech place names and the so-called "cities of the world," such as New York, London, and Rome, for example, are declined.
  3. winpoj Senior Member

    I don't know what NotNow bases his/her assertion on. In fact, a wide range of foreign geographical names are declined.

    If I correctly understand what "příručka" says, there are certain principles but no rules that would unequivocally tell us what to do with any particular geographical name. Tradition plays a role with many names.

    Personally, I'd be inclined to decline "Mota": Bydlím v Candido Motě. Jedu do Candido Moty... or add "město", decline it and keep "Candido Mota" intact: Bydlím ve městě Candido Mota...
  4. Psi-Lord

    Psi-Lord Member

    Cândido Mota, São Paulo, Brazil
    Portuguese - Brazil
    Děkuji! :)
  5. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    I'd also add a remark. If we are speaking about a town with a strange name for us(which Candido Mota without any doubt is), we never decline it. We say: Bydlím ve městě jménem(které se jmenuje) Candido Mota. And when repeating it, you use "v mém (rodném) městě" etc. It sounds strange when someone tries to decline this...
  6. winpoj Senior Member

    Again, what is the basis for this claim?

    According to ÚJČ (if you accept it as an authority), we for example decline the name "Mar del Plata", which, at least to me, has the same level of "strangeness" as Candido Mota.
  7. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    OK. Let's say that 99,5% of the Czech population are not bohemists and use more their language instinct than any kind of language authority... Agreed? So this is what helps you (well, the questioner), to be understood. If you want to be absolutely correct, you can, but otherwise declension of such foreign names sounds strange...
  8. winpoj Senior Member

    So, it sounds strange to you, and from that you extrapolate that it sounds strange to a majority of Czechs??

    Your original assertion "we never decline it" was outright false in any case.
  9. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    Not only to me. It's like the "affair" on ČT concerning adding -ová to foreign women's names. I know the "official" opinion but think it's a nonsense. Here it's the same, why should we make of those names something that they're not?? If you follow such events about the language, you certainly know this is by far not only my opinion. And if your only "weapon" is ÚJČ and otherwise don't know what affair I'm speaking about, there's nothing to discuss...
  10. winpoj Senior Member

    No, the ÚJČ is just ONE of my weapons:). However, I'd prefer to talk of arguments, rather than weapons, as I see this as a discussion, rather than battle.

    But let me try to challenge your assertion without resorting to any authority:
    I suppose the name "Nagano" was not much known in the ČR before the Olympics there. If your reasoning were true, we wouldn't have been allowed to decline it then. Only after it became known, we would be able to say things like "v Naganu, do Nagana..." That seems absurd to me.

    I don't think the "-ová" problem (which has a thread here by the way) is particularly relevant to this. The less so that it's not been resolved conclusively, to my knowledge.

    Of course, if you don't wish to pursue this, that's your right. I, on the other hand, would also like to see other members' opinion on the issue.
  11. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    I see your point. Yes, I'm sure that if in Cândido Mota Olympic games took part, everyone would decline it. Definitely and without any doubt and in all languages that use declension.

    No, the -ová wasn't solved yet and I guess for some time won't be. But every TV station has quietly returned to the state before the affair. Too bad...

    My point is: language is not a closed entity, which only can be administered by any institution. Language is a living and developing entity, almost like a superorganism. So for me it is more important what I hear in my surrounding, read in books, on internet, see on TV...than something what ÚJČ decides to codify, i.e. proclames to become part of a standard written language. BTW no authority can cover the full extent of a language, so what shall we do with it? There are many cases when something is correct, it's used by native speakers, but not codified. Can we use it? Of course we can.

    I don't doubt the role of such an authority, it's undoubtedly necessary. But let's face it - the standard written language is spoken by a slight minority of people, that's why it's called written.

    I'd like to present also the spoken part, by far the most used part of the language.

    I'm a pretty multicultural person, so I don't like to see names of a foregn origin "molested" by Czech speakers e.g. on TV who like to mispronounce them in order to be "better" for a Czech listener. But this is my personal view which I won't impose on anyone.
  12. K.u.r.t Senior Member

    London, UK
    Winpoj you definitely like to start flame wars, don't you. I have to agree with Fantomas. In any case a speaker shall always endeavour to make himself understood. That is the 1st and most important principle of speech. Declining awkward foreign names definitely does not help. The fact that such a dubious institution that ÚJČ is recommends something or not does not change any of this. So whilst your argumentation might be "technically correct" you do not really help the non-native speakers to understand how the "best practices" work.

    Well enough on this. Hope that the question was answered to full satisfaction. :)
  13. Lukiz New Member

    Not at all. When speaking first time we use "Bydlím ve městě Candido Mota" and then we can decline it in repeating, especially such easy declineable name ending with vowel -a . I doubt there is any non declined word ending with -a. Yes, I know there is acronyms NASA and so on, but in case of "real" words...
  14. texpert Senior Member

    In fact, most of the foreign names are declined in the news and other important sources. A major newspaper would probably decide to use a description ve městě (jménem) Cândido Mota (to avoid a reader's confusion) or indeed attempt at declining it: v Cândidu Motě (better than v Cândido Mota - although some media might opt for this version in the end.

    I'm not sure - depends on the purpose Psi-Lord wants to use it. We better ask for details.
  15. Psi-Lord

    Psi-Lord Member

    Cândido Mota, São Paulo, Brazil
    Portuguese - Brazil
    No particular purpose, to be honest. There was this exercise I was doing that was basically about answering to Kde?, Odkud?, and Kam? with a set of names (mostly events and country names, but also a few cities, such as Praha, Brno, Dover, New York, and Londýn) and I wondered what it’d be like to use names of places around here, including the town where I now live. A couple (e.g. Londrina and Assis) were pretty straightforward with the models and guidelines I found (the polemics of declining foreign names or not aside), but place names in Portuguese more often than not consist of two or more words, and I couldn’t help wondering how the Czech system would adapt to it.

    For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by languages that not only have decline nouns, but that also equally apply their declension patterns to foreign nouns, so, whenever I come across a language that does the former, I start wondering whether it also does the latter, and how it does it.
  16. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    So as you see, we definitely decline it. There are groups of words which are not declined (usually ending with "-i" - Assisi, Portici, Cincinnati etc., "-e" - Udine, Bangalore, "-u" - Edfu, many French names - Bordeaux, Rennes, Toulouse, Montpelier, La Mans...) and most of other are declined"
    - names ending with "-a" according to "žena" - Bogotá, Verona, Káhira (القاهرة)
    - "-o" according to "město" - Sao Paulo, México...

    In the case there are more words, it's not easy to describe the process. We usually decline the "main" name - Sao Paulo, v Sao Paulu, San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, v San Fernandu del Valle de Catamarca, but Rio de Janeiro, v Rio de Janeiru, or just v Riu, Mato Grosso do Sul, v Mato (or Matu) Grossu (or Grosso) do Sul. Even native speakers do it differently and it's hard to say, what's correct. Of course there's also a very often used possibility to leave the name undeclined.

    Such rules you can easily find in Czech grammar rules, but as you have seen, even the native speakers cannot agree how and when they should be used. There is a group of people, probably the majority, who think that everything should be taken and transformed into Czech, declined, some "strange" sounds adapted in order to make the word near to our language. And here we meet such abominations in the news like an English "th" pronounced like "s" or "d".

    And there's a second group of people who know foreign languages, use them not only in discussions like this, but also to communicate with people, travel or live abroad, read foreign newspapers... And if you have ever lived somewhere else, you suddenly feel strange when someone tries to adapt foreign words to Czech, when you know that millions of people pronounce the word differently and ask yourself, why should we "molest" the foreign names.
    Then funny situations arise, like when a TV reporter who was fired for being correct and refusing to "mutilate" foreign names by adding Czech endings. She knows the people she was speaking about and she knew Aino-Kaisa Saarinen and that her name is not Saarinenová and the finnish skier wouldn't probably recognize this like her name...

    Anyone would probably guess that I'm in the second group...But I don't wanna start a flame war, take it (the second half) just like an opinion. And really not just mine.
  17. Lukiz New Member

    That's everywhere . Millions of people pronounce name of Oslo (even English speaking Übermensch) as [oslo], Just minority use non-molest form [ušlu]. English speakers even cannot prounouce ch [IPA:x] in Czech, German, Russian names, they change it to "k" or "g". Japanese have troubles properly distinguish "r" an "l". So right question is not only "why should Czech speaker "molest" the foreign names. ", but also: Why should English speakers "molest" Norwerigian, Czech, German, Russian, Japanese names, why should Spanish speakers "molest" Czech, German, Russian, Arabic names and so on...
  18. texpert Senior Member

    To mess things up a bit, I know a lot of Czech expats that often travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco and usually report of their journey as

    [: jedu z los endžlís do sen frenciska :]

    instead of

    [: do sen frénsiskou :]

    Many of these people have been living in California for decades and some had never been in the Czech Republic. Still they prefer to decline the second name.

    They'd be suprised to find out that in the eyes of young and well-traveled Czech citizens they're "molesting" the name of their destination (or even worse, hometown). Instead, they might argue that declension (of whatever name) is an inherent quality of the Czech language, regardless of its user's origins.

    On the other hand, they don't even attempt at "molesting" the other name and "rightly" adopt the more common undeclined version of Los Angeles. What a mess!

    By the way - Los Angeles and San Francisco were founded by Spanish settlers, Spanish was the official language there for over a century and Spanish becomes a prevalent language of numerous L.A.'s suburbs again. Latinos call their home los ángeles. Molesters..

    Last edited: Jun 10, 2009
  19. nedvidek New Member

    Great thread...

    I see this process of bohemization or “počešťování“, (with issues of declensions and inflections), happening on three levels. I will be using names of cities and towns only for the sake of consistency here.

    • Replacement
    Foreign name has been replaced with a Czech equivalent. This happens when frequency or historical importance requires it. Paris becomes Paříž, which fits the flow of speech just like Dobříš or Kroměříž. Such new czech name will obtain its gender and number, is inserted into the vocabulary and follows all relevant grammatical rules, i.e. inflections.

    These new names can be masculine
    (London = Londýn, Roma = Řím, Zagreb = Záhřeb, Genoa = Janov, Graz = Štýrský Hradec)
    feminine (Napoli = Neapol, Cairo = Káhira, Wien = Vídeň, Thessaloniki = Soluň, Meissen = Míšeň).
    neutral (Regensburg = Řezno, Kaunas = Kovno)
    and sometimes plural without any particular gender (Helsinki = Helsinky, Venezia = Benátky, Aachen = Cáchy, Brugges = Brugy)

    • Inflected originals
    Foreign name keeps its original form but enters the czech language with its gender assigned to it as per its similarity with other czech words or based on its ending.
    Thus names ending with –o will be inflected as neutral nouns:
    (Oslo, Sarajevo, Porto, Oviedo, Montevideo, Chicago, Tokyo, Toronto)
    names ending with –a will be inflected as feminine nouns:
    (Moskva, Riga, Lima, Pisa, Siena, Havana, Atlanta, Calcutta, Rjeka - but also Marseille)
    names ending with a consonant or a sound of a consonant, will be inflected as masculine nouns:
    (Edmonton, Madrid, Istanbul, Saigon, Baghdad, Caracas, Dakar, Seattle, Haague)

    • Inflection-free names
    Foreign name with no familiar ending and whose declension would seem forced, will keep its original form, will be referred to in neutral gender and will never be inflected:
    (Miami, San Jose, Lomé, Tbilisi, Baku, Káthmandú, Nairobi, Buenos Aires, Port Moresby, Bordeaux, Bath, Dushanbe, Las Vegas)

    In combined names, Czech will inflect the word that seems most ready for it:
    “Jedu do Ria” or “do Rio de Janeira”, “Byli v Santiagu de Chile” but also “Odjeli do Monte Carla”.

    As per myself - Já bydlím ve Walnut Creeku.:D
  20. texpert Senior Member

    Nice splitting. You'll just need some more subdivisions, as some of the Group III names are not inflexion-free under all cirumstances (tbiliský, nairobský, miamský..) while some may be (San Jose.. but can we be really sure? :)
  21. Fantomas.CZ

    Fantomas.CZ Member

    Veselí nad Lužnicí, Czech Republic
    Czech - čeština (Čechy)
    Just a little remark - Cairo is already modified, I suspect French, because the "h" is missing, but it could well also have been Greek. Czech keeps the arabic form القاهرة - Al-Qáhira, just omiting the article and adapting the glottal "qof" to a more convenient "k".
    The same happened (not just in Czech) to Iraq or Saudi Arabia, which look like this: العراق and العربية السعودية‎ but there are guttural sounds we simply don't have. Or Abú Dhabí (أبو ظبي‎ ), which have this emphatic "dh" end many others.

    BTW someone just could not read (or accept another opinion). The only thing I said is that I'd rather avoid sometimes "forcible" declensions and leave it as is than try to find a way, however obscure, to decline it. But many foreign names are traditionally declined, it's natural. I'd also never said "Pojedu do London" or "Byli jsme v Al-Qáhira", although I can pronounce both of them properly, but definitely "Pojedu do Londýna", "Byli jsme v Káhiře".

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