Monday, February 11, 2013

Language Profile: Polish

This week's language profile is on Polish, a member of the Slavic language family. It's the official language of Poland, with 40 million native speakers. Polish is also officially recognized as a regional language in Ukraine and as a minority language in the Czech Republic. It's the second most-spoken Slavic language after Russian.

Łazienki Palace in Warsaw.
Polish is written using the Polish alphabet, a Latin-based script. The Polish alphabet doesn't include q, v, and x, but does have some additional letters. These letters are created using four types of diacritics. The kreska is similar in appearance to an acute accent, and is used to write ć, ń, ó, ś, and ź. The kropka, or overdot, is used to write ż. The ogonek, or little tail, is found on the bottom of ą and ę, and the stroke is used to write the letter ł.

Poland is one of the least linguistically diverse European countries, as nearly 97% of Poles call Polish their native tongue. This is partly due to the flight and expulsion of both Germans and Ukrainians from Poland in the mid-1940s at the end of World War II.

There are three main dialects of the Polish language. Greater Polish is spoken in the area around the city of Poznań in west-central Poland. Lesser Polish is spoken in the southern part of the country, where the city of Kraków is located. The third dialect, Masovian, is spoken in east-central Poland, which is where Warsaw, the country's capital, is located.

Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.
There are also many regional dialects of Polish, as well as a couple languages that were formerly considered dialects of the Polish language. The Silesian language is the second most-spoken language in Poland with over 500,000 speakers. There has been discussion of it being recognized as a regional language, but the Polish government has not yet made this official. The Kashubian language comes in third place, with 106,000 native speakers in Poland. It is the only official regional language in Poland, and is taught in schools and used in some media.

The Polish language contains loanwords from many languages, though these foreign words are often adapted with new spellings. Source languages include English ("inauguration" - inauguracja), Czech, Italian (cavolfiore "cauliflower" - kalafior), French (meuble "furniture" - meble), German, Hungarian, and Turkish. Latin was also a great influence on the language due to its use as an official language of the Kingdom of Poland for many years. Polish has also influenced other languages including Dutch and Afrikaans, as well as German, mainly through culinary loanwords.