You won’t understand this post until you don’t read it.
So you think that’s a nonsense statement? I hope you will soon realise why I started this post like that …..
I have irrefutable evidence that when the Commission for Croatian Language (Povjerenstvo za Hrvatski Jezik, PHJ) get together to make decisions about the standard language, they sometimes engage in a little rakija, and decide to play tricks on the Croatian people.
This blog concerns the most extraordinary of all of these tricks ........
Learning Croatian has given me many challenges, surprises and puzzling situations, but none more than sentences that use the word dok (until).
For example: Plakala je dok nije zaspala.
Literally, this seems (to the English speaker) to say: “She cried until she didn’t go to sleep.”
But it actually means: “She cried until she fell asleep.”
That’s just the way that Croatians express the event that happens after the word dok. Yep, seems strange to us!
I first became aware of this quite some time ago during an encounter with a very old man in the main square in Zagreb, when I asked for directions to drive to the airport.
Fortunately, I managed to take a selfie video of this conversation …. See below.
I make this video public with huge reservations, and lots of embarrassment because (i) it is too ridiculous for words, and (ii) my level of Croatian was childish.
My teacher Mateja (SpeakCro online language center) tells me that I have advanced considerably since then. Thank heavens (and thank Mateja). At least, I think that the vocabulary and the grammar are correct.
I am publishing this video despite its ts ridiculousness – and in fact probably because of its ridiculousness. I have no pride!
Maybe it will help you to remember this grammatical idosyncracy of the Croatian language?
I probably shouldn’t have asked such a doddery old guy, but it seemed that everyone else on the square was a foreign tourist (stranac). Why didn’t the silly old bugger tell me sooner that he could speak English – at first, quite well, before slipping into a broad accent? And no, all Croatians do not wear a cravat like that. In fact, none do!
To get to the point …. The old man said, in his directions to me:
Jednostavno …. Idite naprijed otprilike dva kilometra dok ne stignete na kružni tok, i onda skrenite na lijevo.
[Translating literally ……..] “Go straight ahead about two kilometres until you don’t come to a roundabout, and then turn left (at the roundabout).”
But it actually means “Go straight ahead about two kilometres until you do come to a roundabout, and then turn left.”
From sheer frustration, I would have committed suicide that day, except that I remembered the words of that very wise old man:
Ma ima smisla nama. Ne možete doslovno prevesti. Što je, tu je. Suck it up, man!
[But it does make sense to us. You cannot translate literally. That’s the way it is. Suck it up, man!]
And I reminded myself, once again, that I cannot think through English-speaking “eyes” – I need to think like a Croatian. Easy!
Well if it wasn’t enough to have to come to grips with the Croatian use of double negatives (Nikad nisam vidio klokana. “I have never seen a kangaroo”, but literally “I have never not seen a kangaroo.”). Now I need to deal with the fact that a negative after dok (until) means positive!
I can only imagine that it happened one day at the Povjerenstvo za Hrvatski Jezik like this ….
There can be no other explanation! But instead of realizing that this was a joke, the Croatian people adopted the recommendation enthusiastically. Well, there are so many other oddities, what is one more?
Hodat ću sad dok ne dođem u auto, i onda ću voziti kući. I will now walk until I don’t come to my car, and then I will drive home. [Smiley face ...]
Here are a few other examples …..
Djevojka: Tata, želim kupiti auto.
Tata: Ma moraš čekati dok ne napuniš 18 godina. [But you must wait until you are 18 years old.]
Bit ću nervozan sve dok ne dođeš. [I will be nervous until you come.]
Imamo satove kao inače sve dok ti ne javim. [We have lessons as per usual until I let you know.]
And there is a book and a film entitled Dok ne budemo na sigurnom. [Until we are safe.]
This grammatical form is common in cooking recipes:
Pazite! Take care! This use of ne with dok when dok means "until" does not apply in sentences in which dok means "while". For example .....
Dva zrakoplava su išla u Perth dok sam te čekao. [Two planes went to Perth while I was waiting for you.]
Creating this post has reminded me of why I am producing this website.
Where would those of us learning Croatian find in the grammar books something about this quirk of the Croatian language (Until you don't do it)? And about many other little apparent oddities that I have written about .....
We don't see it in chapter headings, or sub-headings, and we won't find it in an index. Headings are given for big-pictures items like "Declension of nouns" or "Conjugation of verbs".
Even more importantly, we can only find things in an index, or list of contents, if we know what we are looking for. And if we don't know that such a quirky characteristic as "until you don't do it" exists, why would you look for it?
No, idosyncracies are just things that we stumble across - through experiences, during lessons, or by aimless browsing through the Aha! Croatian website!
Enjoy browsing .... Who knows what little treasures you might find.
And, of course, I am learning simply by thinking about these issues. That's enough motivation for me!
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