13-02-2005

In this week's edition: ABC of Czech, German names in the Czech Republic, Esperanto and the Ginz family. Listeners quoted: Laura L. Schall, Edward Koning, Alex Zhu, Brian Kaneen.

Yes, it's time again for Maibox, Radio Prague's weekly feedback programme. And we start with a very nice letter from Laura L. Schall from California:

"I just discovered your site and think its great. I was in the Czech Republic this summer with a college from California and we will be returning to Praha again next year. Being a classical cellist in America has become a very hard way to make a living and enjoyment of the arts be it music, black light theatre, ballet, opera or dance has never been better than the experiences I had in your lovely city. I know that Radio Prague will keep me informed and in touch with the pulse of your people's culture and help to foster an understanding of your economic and political climate as we all become globally connected through our commonalities and shared contributions to a more democratic and humane world."

Thank you very much, Laura. We're always very happy to know that we have a new listener somewhere in the world.

In a few minutes you'll hear a brand new edition of Radio Prague's very special Czech language programme, the ABC of Czech, written and presented by Heather Bowne. Mr Edward Koning from somewhere in cyberspace sent in a letter of praise of the little series.

"Terrific, keep up the good work. These little "odd and ends", with some additions, would make a great book! Especially nice for those who know a little Polish or another Slavic language, and want to know "how do they say that in Czech"!"

The author of this little series, Heather Bowne, is now back in Canada so I'll pass your compliments on to her.

Staying with language matters, our listener Alex Zhu from Guangzhou in China has sent us this question.

"Can you please tell me whether the current Czech President Vaclav Klaus is of German descent or of Czech descent? I'm asking because "Klaus" is a German name. I find many Czechs have German names, are they of German descent or not? Please tell me."

The latter is not an unusual question and in fact, we answered a similar one in Mailbox last July. As far as we know, there are no immediate German roots in Mr Klaus's family, or at least he never mentions any.

But German or German-sounding surnames with Czech spelling are very common in the Czech Republic, as well as in Slovakia, for example. According to a recent study carried out by students from the University of South Bohemia, the proportion of German surnames in individual regions in the Czech Republic varies from 17 to over 32 percent, depending on the distance from the German or Austrian border.

A German sounding surname in the Czech Republic does not necessarily mean a person has German or Austrian roots. A few centuries ago people used to translate their Czech surnames into German to show they had climbed up the social ladder a bit. Also, during the reign of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II., Jews in the Czech lands were required to adopt German surnames in exchange for some religious freedoms.

Equally, if you look at the names of shops or company names in neighbouring Austria, you will find a great number of Czech surnames, as you will if you open a Vienna phonebook. During the centuries of living together the populations mixed quite a bit.

And why not stay on the topic of languages. Coincidentally, as we were working on a report about the Czech Republic's largest Esperanto library, this e-mail came in from Mr Brian Kaneen from Canada, regarding our reports about Petr Ginz, a young boy who perished at Auschwitz and whose recently found diary has just been published in Prague.

"In looking into the background of young Petr GINZ [...] I have just come across [...] an article from Radio Prague. I am curious to know if you might shed some light on this matter - what appears to have been very significant in the life of the Ginz family is left out of most articles, namely their involvement with the Esperanto movement. His father, Ota GINZ, and mother, Marie GINZOVA, apparently met at an Esperanto conference. Ota GINZ authored a five-language (incl. Esperanto) dictionary on amateur radio, co-edited a Czech Anthology in Esperanto and did translations in both directions. Some articles state that in the recently found papers of Petr's, he was also working on a Czech-Esperanto dictionary. Given all this, it seems very likely that Petr was even a native-speaker of Esperanto, and that Esperanto was often used in the home life. Nor does publicity material about your new commemorative postage stamp issued recently mention Esperanto: Why then the great silence about this language?"

I'm afraid we do not know the answer to this question and we must admit we had not known about the connection of the Ginz family to the Esperanto movement before your letter arrived. We are currently working on other programmes about Petr Ginz and we have already spoken to his sister Chava who lives in Israel. And you'll be able to hear the interview on Tuesday.

And Mr Kaneen had more questions to ask:

"Similarly, I might ask why Radio Prague, which in the late 1940s had its own program in Esperanto, has not yet restored this (given the popularity of neighboring Radio Polonia's daily Esperanto programs. Surely the Stalinist era prohibition against Esperanto is no longer in effect in the Czech Republic? Or has the country jumped from the Russian language frying-pan into the English-language fire?"

Listeners from many parts of the world ask us frequently why we do not broadcast in their particular languages. At present, Radio Prague's budget allows the station to broadcast programmes only in the six current languages. That, hopefully, still enables us to reach a wide audience worldwide - as we can see from the letters and emails we get with your questions, comments and also answers to our monthly competition. And here is the question for February.

 

"What is today the 6th tallest building in the Czech Republic was before the Second World War the tallest building in Czechoslovakia, with its 17 floors and 77.5 metres. It was built in 1938, as an administrative building for a shoe making company that had outlets in many corners of the world and a total of 67,000 employees around the world. The son of the founder and now retired head of the family-run business turned 90 last September having lived mostly in Canada for much of his life. We'd like you to tell us his name." (It happens to be the same as the name of the founder of the shoe making company.)

Send your answers as usual to Radio Prague, 12099 Prague or English@radio.cz. Please try and make sure they reach us by the end of February. Till next time, good bye.

13-02-2005