Takhle věta mi příjde dost hrozná i v češtině. Jsem uvažovala, jestli je ta kniha o ničem, nebo jestli je dobrá :-) Pochopila jsem, že ta kniha je vcelku dobrá... A jak by byl anglický překlad věty: "Jeho kniha je o ničem." His book is about nothing? Ale to by mi tam zas vycházelo, že by mohla být i negace ve slovesu a bylo by i: His book is not about anything. Teď v tom mám šílený zmatek...
But the proposed English translation is "not about anything". It seems to me that it is not equal to "about something". I think "not about anything" is equal to "about nothing". For example the similar construction: "I have nothing to eat" = "I do not have anything to eat".
I thaught about double negation (it is familiar to me from Russian). It does not work like math here (as in English). Becuase it would be positive then. And it is used because we cannot say positive sentences with words like "nikoho", "nikdy", "ničem" etc. And they need to be accompanied by additional negation. So instead of "tam je nikdo" it should be "tam není nikoho". Instead of "to bylo nikdy" should be "to nebylo nikdy". And instead of "je o ničem" should be "není o ničem".
I've heard from a native Czech speaker -- who may have been only partly joking -- that if there's one "negative" in a sentence, you just go on "negativing" as much as you can, to make the point!
As I understand it, the negatives don't cancel each other out as in English. Instead, they support one another. Very tricky to get used to, coming from English...
The issue when comparing to Russian is because we do no use verb "být" in such sentences. That is why double negation here looks somewhat confusing at the first sight. But this works here as well as with other verbs. If you substitute another verb here, it should probably be easier to understand: "Его книга не содержит ничего".
After reading all the comments it is still not crystal clear to me what the exact meaning of "Jeho kniha není o ničem" is. Please mark the correct version below or, if it is not here, give your own.
1) His book is not about nothing. -> It contains some value. 2) His book is about nothing. -> It is aimless and pointless.
In either case, the given English translation is confusing.
What can be confusing here, especially for native English speakers, is the behavior of the "multiple negative" in Czech.. It's just something we need to learn.
Your first example shows the behavior of the double negative in English. But the double negative in the Czech sentence does not mean "His book is not about nothing," appearances notwithstanding. It means what you use as your second example: "His book is about nothing." The meaning is the same as in the translation currently shown as the top of the page: "His book isn't about anything."
Thank you, but I am not yet clear. What about the remark of another moderator, kacenka9, above: "In this case his book is about something, the double negation work like math."? If he is talking about the same sentence, then we have a contradiction. Can a native Czech speaker clarify please?
This is quite a mess and I hesitate if I should even try to explain :D
There is a colloquial idiom that goes "být o ničem" - there's only one negative in this idiom - and it basically means to be worth little, to be completely uninteresting, to be crappy. "Včerejší koncert byl o ničem" (Yesterday's concert sucked.)
Thus, "Ta kniha je o ničem" means the book is bad, boring, crappy.
Now, "Ta kniha není o ničem" would usually be interpreted literally, i.e. that book is not about anything, it doesn't tell any stories or give you any facts.
But, it can also be interpreted as a negation of that previous idiom - but this probably has to come after somebody says "Ta kniha je o ničem" and you stress the "není" to disagree: "Ta kniha není o ničem" - this is where the double negation works like math, but as you can see it only works in a specific context.
In the end, it's a bit like "flammable" and "inflammable" in English. Two opposite ways of saying the same thing. "...je o ničem" and "...není o ničem" have similar (though not identical) meanings for different reasons.
- Tahle kniha je o ničem. - This book is about nothing, actually meaning: This book is boring, bad.
- Tahle kniha není o ničem. - This book isn't about anything, meaning: there is little interesting in this book.
They are very similar. But if someone says "Tahle kniha je o ničem", you can argue that '"Ne, tahle kniha není o ničem - je o něčem!" and paradoxically use the double negation to say it's actually good. But this is quite a special case.
Ooh, this special case is what Czech native kacenka9 meant by "In this case his book is about something, the double negation work like math." Nobody answered my question above, so the confusion was hanging in the air!
But I am still surprised that "Tahle kniha je o ničem." even exists in Czech, apparently flouting the double negation rule.