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About Polish Language

Polish (język polski, polszczyzna) is a West Slavic language and the official language of Poland. Its written standard is the Polish alphabet which corresponds basically to the Latin alphabet with a few additions. Polish-speakers use the language in a uniform manner throughout most of Poland.

Despite the pressure of non-Polish administrations in Poland which often have attempted to suppress the Polish language, a rich literature has developed over the centuries and the language is currently the largest in terms of speakers of the West Slavic group. It is also the second most spoken Slavic language, after Russian.

Geographic distribution

Nearly 97% of Poland's citizens declare Polish as their mother language. Ethnic Poles constitute significant minorities in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Polish is the most widely used minority language in Lithuania's Vilnius County (26% of the population, according to the 2001 census results), and it is also present in other counties. In Ukraine, Polish can often be heard in the cities of Lviv and Lutsk. Western Belarus has a significant Polish minority, particularly in the Brest and Grodno regions.

Polish speakers also live in: Argentina, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, China (Harbin), Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Peru, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, UAE, the UK, Uruguay, United States and Vietnam (including during the school breaks where Vietnamese children from Poland spend they time in Vietnam speaking in Polish to their siblings and friends, there are around 50 000 Vietnamese-Polish people).

In the United States, it is estimated that citizens of Polish ethnic extraction number more than 11 million, but many no longer speak Polish fluently. According to the United States 2000 Census, 667,414 Americans of age 5 years and over reported Polish as the language spoken at home: about 1.4% of people who speak languages other than English, or 0.25% of the U.S. population. The largest concentrations of Polish speakers reported in the census (over 50%) occur in three states: Illinois (185,749), New York (111,740) and New Jersey (74,663).

Canada has a large Polish Canadian population. The 2006 census recorded 242,885 speakers of Polish, with a significant concentration in the city of Toronto, Ontario (91,810 speakers).

Historical geographic distribution

Polish population as of 1918As a result of World War II Poland's borders changed significantly and now accurately reflect the autochthonous ethnic territories of the Polish people. The change in borders was accompanied by a series of migrations (World War II evacuation and expulsion, German expulsions, Operation Wisła). Ethnic cleansing of the Poles as a result of the Massacres of Poles in Volhynia also resulted in significant demographic changes. Polish territories annexed by the Soviet Union after the Second World War retained a significant Polish population unwilling or unable to migrate to post-1945 Poland.


The Polish language became far more homogeneous in the second half of the 20th century, in part due to the mass-migration of several million Polish citizens from the eastern to the western part of the country after the Soviet annexation of the Kresy in 1939.

The inhabitants of different regions of Poland still[update] speak "Standard" Polish somewhat differently, although the differences between these broad "dialects" appear slight. First-language speakers of Polish never experience any difficulty in mutual understanding, however non-native speakers have difficulty distinguishing regional variations. The differences are slight compared to the variety of dialects in English.

The regional differences correspond to old tribal divisions[citation needed] from around a thousand years ago; the most significant of these in terms of numbers of speakers relate to:

  • Greater Polish, spoken in the west
  • Lesser Polish, spoken in the south and southeast
  • Masovian, spoken throughout the central and eastern parts of the country
  • Silesian, spoken in the southwest (controversial)


Polish has six oral and two nasal vowels. The Polish consonant system shows more complexity: its characteristic features include the series of affricates and palatal consonants that resulted from four Proto-Slavic palatalizations and two further palatalizations which took place in Polish and Belarusian. The stress falls generally on the penultimate (second to last) syllable.


The Polish alphabet derives from the Latin alphabet but uses diacritics, such as kreska (graphically similar to the acute accent), kropka (superior dot) and ogonek ("little tail"). The Polish alphabet was one of two major forms of Latin-based orthography developed for Slavic languages, the other being Czech orthography. Slovak uses the Czech-based system, as do Slovene and Croatian; Kashubian uses a Polish-based system, while Sorbian blends the two.

Nouns and adjectives

A highly inflected language, Polish retains the Old Slavic case-system with seven cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives:

  • nominative (mianownik)
  • genitive (dopełniacz)
  • dative (celownik)
  • accusative (biernik)
  • instrumental (narzędnik)
  • locative (miejscownik)
  • vocative (wołacz)
Modern Polish has only two number classes: singular and plural. In the past there was also a dual number, which applied only to pairs. This form, however, vanished around the 15th century and now is present only in few traces. For instance, the proverb "Mądrej głowie dość dwie słowie" (Two words are enough for a clever head) may seem to be not grammatically correct ("Mądrej głowie dość dwa słowa"), but it is a relict of dual number.

Like many other Slavic languages, including Russian, Polish uses no definite or indefinite articles.

The Polish gender system, like that of Russian and of almost all the other Balto-Slavic languages, appears complex, due to its combination of three categories: gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), personhood (personal versus non-personal) and animacy (animate versus inanimate). Personhood and animacy are relevant within the masculine gender but do not affect the feminine or neuter genders. The resulting system can be presented as comprising five gender classes: personal masculine, animate (non-personal) masculine, inanimate masculine, feminine, and neuter. These classes can be identified based on declension patterns, adjective-noun agreement, and pronoun-antecedent agreement.

Word order

Basic word order in Polish is SVO, however, as it is a synthetic language, it is possible to move words around in the sentence, and to drop the subject, object or even sometimes verb, if they are obvious from context.

Borrowed words

Polish has, over the centuries, borrowed a number of words from other languages. Usually, borrowed words have been adapted rapidly in the following ways:

  • Spelling was altered to approximate the pronunciation, but written according to Polish phonetics.
  • Word endings are liberally applied to almost any word to produce verbs, nouns, adjectives, as well as adding the appropriate endings for cases of nouns, diminutives, augmentatives, etc.
Depending on the historical period, borrowing has proceeded from various languages. Recent borrowing is primarily of "international" words from the English language, mainly those that have Latin or Greek roots, for example komputer (computer), korupcja (corruption) etc. Slang sometimes borrows and alters common English words, e.g. luknąć (to look). Concatenation of parts of words (e.g. auto-moto), which is not native to Polish but common in e.g. English, is also sometimes used. When borrowing international words, Polish often changes their spelling. For example, Latin suffix '-tio' 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; kworum = quorum).

Other notable influences in the past have been Latin (9th-18th century), Czech (10th and 14th-15th century), Italian (15th-16th century), French (18th-19th century), German (13-15th and 18th-20th century), Hungarian (14th-16th century), Turkish (17th century), Old Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Russian.

The Latin language, for a very long time the only official language of the Polish state, has had a great influence on Polish. Many Polish words (rzeczpospolita from res publica, zdanie for both "opinion" and "sentence", from sententia) were direct calques from Latin.

Many words have been borrowed from the German language, as a result of being neighbours for a millennium, and also due to a sizable German population in Polish cities since medieval times.

The regional dialects of Upper Silesia and Masuria (Modern Polish East Prussia) have noticeably more German loanwords than other dialects. Latin was known to a larger or smaller degree by most of the numerous szlachta in the 16th to 18th centuries (and it continued to be extensively taught at secondary schools until World War II). Apart from dozens of loanwords, its influence can also be seen in somewhat greater number of verbatim Latin phrases in Polish literature (especially from the 19th century and earlier), than, say, in English.

In the 18th century, with rising prominence of France in Europe, French supplanted Latin in this respect. Some French borrowings also date from the Napoleonic era, when the Poles were enthusiastic supporters of Napoleon. Examples include ekran (from French écran, screen), abażur (abat-jour, lamp shade), rekin (requin, shark), meble (meuble, furniture), bagaż (bagage, luggage), walizka (valise, suitcase), fotel (fauteuil, armchair), plaża (plage, beach) and koszmar (cauchemar, nightmare). Some place names have also been adapted from French, such as the two Warsaw boroughs of Żoliborz (joli bord=beautiful riverside) and Mokotów (mon coteau=my hill), as well as the town of Żyrardów (from the name Girard, with the Polish suffix -ów attached to point at owner/founder of a town).

Other words are borrowed from other Slavic languages, for example, sejm, hańba and brama from Czech.

Some words like bachor (an unruly boy or child) and ciuchy (slang for clothing) were borrowed from Yiddish, spoken by the large Polish Jewish population before their numbers were severely depleted during the Holocaust.

Typical loanwords from Italian include pomidor from pomodoro (tomato), kalafior from cavolfiore (cauliflower), pomarańcza from pomo (pome) and (l')arancio (orange), etc. Those were introduced in the times of queen Bona Sforza (the wife of Polish king Sigismund the Old) who was famous for introducing Poland to Italian cuisine, especially vegetables. Another interesting word of Italian origin is autostrada (from Italian "autostrada", highway).

The contacts with Ottoman Turkey in the 17th century brought many new words, some of them still in use, such as: jar (deep valley), szaszłyk (shish kebab), filiżanka (cup), arbuz (water melon), dywan (carpet), kiełbasa (sausage), etc.

The mountain dialects of the Górale in southern Poland, have quite a number of words borrowed from Hungarian (e.g. baca, gazda, juhas, hejnał) and Romanian from historical contacts with Hungarian-dominated Slovakia and Wallachian herders who travelled north along the Carpathians.

Thieves' slang includes such words as kimać (to sleep) or majcher (knife) of Greek origin, considered then unknown to the outside world.

Direct borrowings from Russian are extremely rare, in spite of long periods of dependence on tzarist Russia and the Soviet Union, and are limited to few internationalisms as sputnik or pieriestrojka.

There are also few words borrowed from Mongolian language, those are dzida (spear) or szereg (a line, column). Those words were brought to Polish language during wars with Genghis Khan's armies.

Borrowings from Polish

The Polish language has influenced others. Particular influences show in German and in other Slavic languages — due to their proximity and shared borders. Examples of loanwords include German Grenze (border) from Polish granica, Peitzker from piskorz (weatherfish). Quite a few culinary loanwords exist in German and in other languages, some of which describe distinctive features of Polish cuisine. These include German Quark from twaróg (a kind of cheese; see quark (cheese)) and Gurke from ogórek (cucumber). The word pierogi (Polish dumplings) has spread internationally, as have pączki (Polish donuts) and ogonek ("little tail") — the word describing a diacritic hook-sign added below some letters in various alphabets.


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