A Touch of Polish - Interesting facts about Polish
Polish - the facts
What you need to know about Polish
1. Where is Polish spoken?
Polish is the official language of Poland, which has a population of 39 million people. There are big Polish-speaking communities in Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Lithuania, the UK, the Ukraine, the US and Russia (among many other countries).
2. Anything odd about the alphabet?
There are plenty of letters non-Poles will find quite hard to pronounce. Try these: ą, ę, ć, ł, ń, ś, ż, ź.
And here are some groups of letters you'd never expect to see strung together: ch, cz, rz, sz, szcz.
If you find them difficult, you might try to avoid ordering barszcz czerwony, red borscht, in Polish restaurants. Just ask for bigos, hunter's stew, instead.
3. The most difficult tongue twister
W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.
In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed, for which Szczebrzeszyn is famous.
4. Know any good Polish jokes?
The Polish sense of humour isn't miles away from the British one, so there is plenty of malice about mother-in-laws, blondes, neighbouring countries and grannies visiting the doctor. Here's a fairly innocent one:
Dwóch przedszkolaków przechwala się nawzajem:
A wiesz, mój tata jest lepszy od twojego taty!
A mój brat jest lepszy od twojego brata!
Za to moja mama jest lepsza od twojej mamy!
A wiesz, tu to chyba masz rację, bo nawet mój tata tak mówi.
Two preschool children are showing off:
Do you know, my dad is better than your dad!
And my brother is better than your brother!
But my mum is better than your mother!
Do you know, you might be right there, even my dad says so.
5. If I learn Polish, will it help me with any other languages?
Learn Polish and you get other West-Slavonic languages almost for free: Czech, Slovak, Sorbian are closely-related languages. And you will have a real advantage learning any other Slavonic language: Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Russian, Slovene, Serbian and Ukrainian.
6. Is there anything easy about Polish?
Admittedly the Polish language is one of the more difficult languages to learn, what with its tongue-bending pronunciation, complex gender system, seven cases, "aspect" as a grammatical category of the verb and a tendency to avoid internationalisms for "real" Polish words. But the consonants sound pretty much like they do in English, three old tenses have been abandonded (the aorist, imperfect, and past perfect) and the stress of a word is always on the penultimate syllable. Now, isn't that a consolation?
7. Most likely causes of embarrassment
There is a tendency for non-Polish speakers to mix up the phrases dziękuję, thank you, and dzień dobry, hello, ending up wishing everyone a good day who is offering them food (and watch out - there is a lot of food on offer in social situations). Also try to avoid talking about "preservatives" as the Polish word prezerwatywa means condom. Use the expression bez konserwantów, without preservatives, instead, to praise that lovely, natural food you'll get offered in Poland. Take no offence at a Pole calling you a b*tch because the similar sounding Polish word być simply means "to be".
8. Famous speakers
Novelist Joseph Conrad's real name was Teodor Józef Konrad Nałęcz-Korzeniowski. Quite impressively, the famous English writer became fluent in English only in his 20s. He never lost his Polish accent. Bonnie Prince Charles had a Polish mother, princess Maria Klementyna Sobieska, and spoke English with a Polish accent. Maria Skłodowska-Curie, also known as Marie Curie, proved to be faithful to her homeland Poland by calling the first new chemical element she discovered "Polonium".
9. First publication ever
The first complete sentence in modern Polish spelling dates back to 1270 and was recorded in the Book of Henrykow, which described the everyday life at that time. A husband says to his working wife: Daj, ać ja pobruszę, a ty poczywaj. You rest, and I will grind.
10. How to be polite
Poland is one of the few countries in the world, where courteous hand-kissing is still a common practice. This high level of politeness is reflected in the already very formal language. Where many languages opt for a you-thou kind of distinction between younger and older people and formal and informal situations, Polish uses a title: Pan, Sir, and Pani, Lady. So to ask someone formally if he or she speaks English, say: Czy Pan/Pani mówi po angielsku? Lit. Does the Sir/the Lady speak English? Polish people are even polite when they argue. You might hear the odd Pan jest idiotą. Sir, you're an idiot.