Cześć, Polski! Jak się masz?
What’s so great about Polish? Well, it’s the second most spoken Slavic language after Russian with over 50 million speakers. It’s in the western Slavic branch and is closely related to Czech (which we’ve looked at before) and Slovak. Polish is number 35 in the language project:
REGIONAL HISTORY: Modern-day Poland formed in 966 in conjunction with the baptism of Mieszko I, Poland’s first ruler. (Catholicism subsequently became the state religion.). A couple of centuries later, the first written record of Polish appeared in the papal bull Bulla gnieźnieńska. After breaking into smaller states, Poland unified in the 14th century and formed a strong union with Lithuania in the 15th century, lasting until the 1600s 1700s.
After a series of attacks by the Swedes and Russia and successfully deflecting the Ottoman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began to break apart. Famine and epidemics caused a huge population drop by three million. In the late 1700s, the region was partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia. Despite the Poles constant struggle for independence, the country would be ruled by its neighbors until 1918. The Poles did hold strong with their language, as its captors tried to eradicate Polish identity throughout the partitions.
Poland’s independence would be short-lived. Nazi forces attacked Poland in 1939 and later the country was split between the USSR and Germany. Eventually, the entire country became part of Nazi rule. Throughout its occupation, Poland suffered immensely. Over six million people died, with half of them being Polish Jews, making Poland the country with the highest percentage of losses during WWII. Over 85 percent of Warsaw was destroyed, including hundreds of historical buildings. As stated from Poland’s Infopage, the Nazi regime sought to “eradicate Polish culture through mass executions and to exterminate the country’s large Jewish minority.”
However, the Polish bounced back with an indomitable spirit. Almost immediately following the war, they literally rebuilt Warsaw from the ashes. A people’s democracy formed and despite being under the Iron Curtain, some liberties persisted for a while. Later in the 1980s, the popular Solidarność (Solidarity) party drove out the ruling communist one and elected its leader, Lech Wałęsa, in 1990.
Since then, Poland’s been on a roll. It joined the European Union in 2004 and its economy is among the healthiest and fastest growing in the EU. It was also remarkably unaffected by the worldwide recessions of the late 2000s.
WRITING SYSTEM: Polish uses a Latin alphabet, although it’s slightly modified. Several letters have diacritics and there are a few extra consonants and vowels. The example below come from Sadowksa Languages, which I used as a reference. Only the major differences and vowels are highlighted in orange.
a – a as in father
ą – nasalized vowel; -on as in French bon
c – cz as in czar
ć – ch as in cheer
e – e as in met
ę – nasalized vowel; i as in French fin
h – ch as in Scottish loch
i – ee as in see
j – y as in yes
ł – sounds like the English “w”
ń – ni as in onion
o – o as in no
ó – oo as in cool
ś – sh as in sheet
w – an English v sound
y – i as in whim
ź – a soft “dj” sound; s as in Indonesia
ż – a hard dj” sound; s as in measure
Q, v and x only appear in foreign words.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Polish seems to have a few more hurdles, when compared to the other Slavic languages. Some of the words look similar (nie, “no”, dobry, “good”) and then others don’t (like dziękuję, “thank you”). The nasal vowels and the diacritics sort of throw me off. At first glance, this language seems difficult to pronounce.
Difficult to pronounce or not, this song in Polish by Ewa Farna was a hit last year in the country. And understandably so. I think you’ll get a kick out of it, this girl can sing!