Department of English and American Studies




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2. Survey of Existing Literature


With one exception there are no accessible complete works concerning a linguistic approach towards the language of contemporary cooking instructions that I know of. However, there are a few older works with references to cookbooks or which use the language of cookbooks as an example to establish a new idea. In 1978 Michael Halliday stated in his Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning that a product of language could be classified by mode, tenor and field (1978: 33). The latter was referring to communicative situations and actions taking place. He used the example of the language of cooking instructions to explain how it would differ if it was employed outside the kitchen and separate from the action of cooking (Halliday 1978: 33).

The internet offers a number of websites explaining the meaning of cooking terms, including loan words, the language of origin of these sometimes being mentioned. There are also a few ethnological works such as Man, Food and Milieu: A Swedish Approach to Food Ethnology by Nils-Arvid Bringeus’ or Eva Juklová’s Některé názvy jídel ve staré češtině, původ a vývoj in which she studied the origins of old Czech food names. A similar approach has been chosen by Kateřina Rivolová in her Staročeské názvy jídel.

The first and only work on the topic of the language of contemporary cooking instructions that extensive research has detected is the very recent Master’s Diploma Thesis by Dominika Klenová called The Language of Cookbooks and Recipes. She examined excerpts of three cookbooks written by popular British cooks and TV presenters, namely Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Her “analysis of the language of recipes follows the guidelines given by [Douglas] Biber [and his work An Analytical Framework for Register Studies] on the general characteristics of register analyses.“ (Klenová 2010: 29) She thus analyzes the recipes in question on three levels: lexis, grammar and syntax as well as discourse. Some of her findings in English written recipes are “indications of lexical diversity,” (Klenová 2010: 75) “a high level of specialization of the vocabulary,” (Klenová 2010: 75) “indications of simplified language,” (Klenová 2010: 93) “condensed organization of the information” (Klenová 2010: 93) and a strong “cohesion and coherence of the text.” (Klenová 2010: 106)

Research has, however, not traced any contrastive interlingual work concerning the language of cooking instructions, which is the topic to be further discussed. Since the structure of analysis and the guidelines used in Klenová’s work have proven effective, though, they will be partly adopted, yet scaled down and altered for the purposes of the analysis as will follow throughout this thesis.

3. The Concepts of Cookbooks and Recipes


In order to analyze the language of recipes it is important to understand what a recipe is, where it occurs and which functions it has. Since this thesis is an interlingual comparison it is important to understand these concepts in both languages which are the subject of further analysis. These are the English and the Czech language.

3.1 Definitions


The Cambridge Dictionary defines a cookbook as “a book containing recipes which tell you how to prepare and cook particular dishes” (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). Oxford Dictionaries refer the readers to the term cookery book which is being defined as “a book containing recipes and other information about the preparation and cooking of food”. In order to find a definition of the Czech synonyms “kuchařská kniha,” respectively “kuchařka” two of the leading Czech encyclopedias, namely Ottův naučný slovník and Malá československá encyklopedie have been consulted. None of the terms has been found. Klenová’s research has found that a “recipe in the modern sense of the word is defined as ‘a set of instructions telling you how to prepare and cook food, including a list of what food is needed for this’ (Cambridge Dictionary Online). The […] Oxford English Dictionary defines the word in a modern way as ‘a statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something, (now) esp. a dish in cookery’” (2010: 9). A search for the Czech synonyms “recept,” respectively “kuchařský recept” in the above mentioned Czech encyclopedias was again unsuccessful.

This leads to the conclusion that the terms in question are so well-known among the general public, that a definition was not considered necessary by the authors of the encyclopedias. Judging from the visual aspect and layout of the modern Czech cookbooks at hand it is to be said that they correspond to the definitions given by the Oxford Dictionaries. Apart from the lists of ingredients and the procedure Czech recipes also contain titles which give the dishes their names. More often than not do the titles contain the name of one or more components stated in the list of ingredients. The latter contain the names of the ingredients as well as their quantities, measured mostly in the metric system, i.e. in grams or milliliters. Another piece of information provided is the estimated number of servings that the recipes are designed for. In some recipes the list of ingredients is preceded by a personal comment or advice of the author, for example in Zdeněk Pohlreich’s recipe called “Mellanzane Parmagiana” where he comments that it would be good if one could get Sicilian eggplants (2010: 76). Part of the majority of recipes is also a large-scale photography. The length of the recipes doesn’t exceed one page.

The recipes in the Czech cookbooks present are generally sorted by whether they are designed for starters, soups, main courses or desserts. Main courses are further arranged by vegetarian dishes and the remaining cases by the type of meat they require. The cookbooks also tend to contain autobiographical parts, where the authors talk about their experiences, as well as a table of contents at the beginning and an index at the end.

However, recipes written in the Czech language, and most likely in any language of the industrialized world, do not only occur in cookbooks but also in magazines and on websites and portals specializing in food and recipes. The latter are open-source. Open-source software is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary Online as “free to use and the original program can be changed by anyone” (Cambridge Online Dictionary). Although in the majority not written by professional cooks the layout of the recipes seems to follow the same or very similar patterns. Some of these recipes also contain further information about the estimated time of the preparation, the difficulty or the expertise required, nutritive values in kilocalories, historical facts concerning the dishes or tips for serving or, more rarely, short dining etiquette guidelines from the countries of the dishes’ origins.

These findings show significant similarities to the ones Klenová has made when trying to define the concept of recipes written in English. She states, for instance, that “modern recipes also very often include some additional facts about a recipe which are not directly related to the preparation of the dish itself. These additional facts mostly serve the purpose of providing some more details about the recipe and the dish in general. They may include the history of the dish or other culturally related information and details” (Klenová 2010: 11). In conclusion it is to be said that the layouts and general concepts of modern Czech and English recipes are consimilar. The structure of modern Czech and English cookbooks are, based on observations from the materials available, also comparable. Klenová implicates that the concepts of recipes is the same everywhere “within a Westernised culture [where most people] have a pretty fixed idea of what a recipe genre […] involves” (2010: 9).

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