Polish 101

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Polish has been influenced by contact with foreign languages (foremost Latin, Czech, French, German, Italian, Old Belarusian, Russian and recently it has been virtually bombarded by English, especially American English language elements).

Many words have been borrowed from German as a result of heavy contact with Germans and the German language. This process has been going on since medieval times. Examples include szlachta (from German Adelsgeschlecht=nobility), rachunek (Rechnung=account), ratusz (Rathaus=town hall), burmistrz (Bürgermeister=mayor; word used only for mayors of smaller cities), handel (Handel=commerce), kac (Kater=hangover), kartofel (Kartoffel=potato; this word is dialectal: most Poles use the word 'ziemniak' for potato, but both words are understood anywhere), cukier (Zucker=sugar), kelner (Kellner=waiter) and malarz (Maler=painter; also the word 'malowac' has entered Polish as the verb "to paint"). This is especially true of the regional dialects of Upper Silesia. There are also several words of French origin in the language, most likely dating from the Napoleon era, such as ekran (écran=screen), rekin (requin=shark), meble (meuble=furniture), fotel (fauteuil=armchair), plaza (plage=beach) and koszmar (cauchemar=nightmare). Some place names have also been adapted from French, such as the two Warsaw boroughs of Zoliborz (joli bord=beautiful riverside) and Mokotów (mon coteau=my cottage), as well as the suburb of Zyrardów (from the name Girard, with the Polish suffix -ów attached to form the town's name). Other words are borrowed from other Slavic languages, for example "hanba" and "brama" from Czech.

When borrowing international words, Polish often changes their spelling. For example, the Latin suffix spelled '-tion' in English corresponds to '-cja'. To make the word plural, -cja becomes -cje. Examples of this include "inauguracja" (inauguration), dewastacja (devastation), konurbacja (conurbation) and konotacje (connotations). Also, the digraph 'qu' becomes 'kw' (kwadrant=quadrant; frekwencja=frequency).

Since 1945, as the result of mass education and mass migrations (which affected several countries after the Second World War, with Poland being an extreme case) standard Polish has become far more homogeneous, although regional dialects persist, particularly in the south and south-west in the hilly areas bordering the Czech and Slovak Republics. In the western and northern territories, resettled in large measure by Poles from the territories annexed by the Soviet Union, the older generation speaks a dialect of Polish characteristic of the former eastern provinces.

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