Maybe yes, maybe no

Photo: Arhoolie records
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Today's SoundCzech features a scratchy old recording is of "Možná, že jo, že ne", by the Joe Patek Orchestra, who played Czech dechovka music in Texas in the first half of the last century. The compilation the song comes from gives it the English title "Maybe Yes, Maybe No". "Možná" means "maybe", "jo" is an informal affirmative similar to "yeah" in English ("ano is yes) and "ne" means "no".

But perhaps what's most interesting here is the "že", which means "that". So "možná, že jo" literally translates as "maybe that yeah".

On the subject of the word "že", it can also serve as a kind of universal question tag in Czech, the form of emphasis seen in the English "isn't he?", "were you?" etc tagged on to the end of a sentence. Czech is simpler than English here, in that there are basically only two question tags - "že jo/ano", and "že ne".

And unlike English, where a positive sentence is followed by a negative tag, in Czech "že jo/ano" goes with a positive sentence: "Je dobrý, že jo?" In English that makes no sense if you are trying to emphasise a point - "He's good, is he?"

"Že ne", meawhile, goes with a negative sentence. "Tady nebyli, že ne?" We of course don't say "They weren't here, weren't they?" Czech question tags are in that sense the opposite of ours, and, again, are far easier to use.

It can be even simpler: often the tag is simply "že", without the "jo", "ano" or "ne" - "Je dobrý, že?" Which is good to know, že? Nashledanou.