Polish (język polski, polszczyzna) is the official language of Poland. It is the West Slavic language with the greatest number of speakers . Polish is spoken in a uniform manner through most of Poland, and has a regular orthography. The language developed indigenously and retains many ancient Slavic features of pronunciation and grammar. Although the Polish language was suppressed by occupying powers during some historical periods, a rich literature has nonetheless developed over the centuries, and many works by Polish authors are available in translations in English and other languages.
Polish has the second largest number of speakers among Slavic languages after Russian. It is the main representative of the Lechitic branch of the West Slavic languages. The Polish language is indigenous to Poland, having developed within its current territory from several local Western Slavic dialects, most notably those spoken in Greater Poland and Lesser Poland. It shares some vocabulary with the languages of the neighboring Slavic nations, most notably with Slovak, Czech, Ukrainian, and Belarusian.
Polish was a lingua franca from 1500 to 1700 in small parts of Central and large areas of Eastern Europe, because of the political, cultural, scientific and military influence of the powerful Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
There are also significant numbers of Polish speakers in Argentina, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Peru, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, UAE, the UK, Uruguay and the United States.
In the United States, Polish Americans number more than 11 million (see: Polish language in the United States) but most of them cannot 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, which is 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%) were found in three states: Illinois (185,749), New York (111,740) and New Jersey (74,663).
In Canada, there is a signifcant Polish Canadian population and there are 242,885 speakers of Polish according to the most recent census in 2006 with a particular concentration in the city of Toronto, Ontario (91,810 speakers).
"Standard" Polish is still spoken somewhat differently in different regions of the country, although the differences between these broad "dialects" are slight. There is never any difficulty in mutual understanding, and non-native speakers are generally unable to distinguish among them easily. The differences are slight compared to different dialects of English, for example. The regional differences correspond mainly to old tribal divisions from around a thousand years ago; the most significant of these in terms of numbers of speakers are Great Polish (spoken in the west), Lesser Polish (spoken in the south and southeast), Mazovian (Mazur) spoken throughout the central and eastern parts of the country, and Silesian spoken in the southwest. Mazovian shares some features with the Kashubian language (see below).
Some more characteristic but less widespread regional dialects include:
The Polish alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet but uses diacritics, such as kreska (graphically similar to acute accent), kropka (superior dot) and ogonek. Unlike other Latin-character Slavic languages (apart from Kashubian), Polish did not adopt a version of the Czech orthography, but developed one independently.
|Name of the letter||Usual|
|Ą||Ą||ą||ą||ą||[ɔɰ̃]||[ɔ], [ɔm], [ɔn], [ɔŋ], [ɔɲ], [ɔj̃]|
|E||e||e||[ɛ]||[e] after and between palatalized consonants|
|Ę||Ę||ę||ę||ę||[ɛɰ̃]||[ɛ], [ɛm], [ɛn], [ɛŋ], [ɛɲ], [ɛj̃]|
|H||h||ha||[x]||[ɣ], [ɦ] (Eastern Bordelands, Silesia)|
|I||i||i||[i]||[i̯], mute (softens preceding consonant)|
|Ł||Ł||ł||ł||eł||[w]||[ɫ] in older pronunciation and eastern dialects|
Note that Polish [ʂ], [ʐ], [t͡ʂ], [d͡ʐ] are laminal postalveolar and may perhaps be most accurately transcribed using the IPA retracted diacritic as [s̠], [z̠], [t͡ʂ̠], [d͡ʐ̠] respectively. Also note that Polish ń (transcribed here [ɲ]) is not palatal; it has the same articulation place as [ɕ] or [ʑ]. However, as the IPA does not have a symbol for a nasal alveolo-palatal consonant, it would perhaps be more accurately transcribed as [nʲ].
The letters Q (ku), V (fau) and X (iks) do not belong to the Polish alphabet but they are used in some commercial names and foreign words. In Polish pronunciation there is no need for them. They are replaced with K, W and KS/GZ respectively.
Polish orthography also includes seven digraphs:
|Dz||dz||[d͡z]||[t͡s], [d͡ʑ], [d-z]|
Note that although the Polish orthography is mostly phonetic-morphological, some sounds may be written in more than one way:
Two consonants rz are very rarely read as "r z", not [ʐ], as in words "zamarzać" (to get frozen), "marznąć" (to feel cold) or in the name "Tarzan".
The pronunciation of geminates (doubled consonants) in Polish is always distinct from single consonants. Note that they should not be pronounced in a prolonged manner, as in Finnish and Italian, but it happens often in informal conversations. In correct pronunciation, speakers should articulate and release each of the two consonants separately. The prolongation is therefore rather a repetition of the consonant. For example, the word panna (young lady/maiden) is not read the same way as pana (mr.'s/master's), but should be pronounced pan-na, with two n. This includes not only native Polish words (like panna or oddech), but also loan-words (lasso, attyka). In Polish, geminates may appear in the beginning of a word, as in czczenie (worshipping), dżdżownica (earth-worm), ssak (mammal), wwóz (importation), zstąpić (to descend; to step down), and zza (from behind; from beyond) but never appear at the end of a word of Slavic origin.
Polish is highly inflected and retains the Old Slavic case system with seven cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative and vocative. There are two number classes, singular and plural.
As in many Slavic languages, including Russian, there are no definite or indefinite articles in Polish.
The Polish gender system, like Russian and almost all the other Balto-Slavic languages, is 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.
|Gender||Nominative singular||Accusative singular||Nominative plural||Meaning|
|Personal masculine||nowy||student||nowego||studenta||nowi||studenci||"new student(s)"|
|Animate masculine||nowy||pies||nowego||psa||nowe||psy||"new dog(s)"|
|Inanimate masculine||nowy||stół||nowy||stół||nowe||stoły||"new table(s)"|
The gender classes are characterized by the following inflectional properties (with rare exceptions):
To determine correct adjective-noun agreement, only four genders need to be distinguished in the singular (classes 1 and 2 can be combined), and only two genders are needed in the plural (class 1 contrasting with 2-3-4-5 combined). For correct pronoun selection, the gender system can be further simplified to three classes in the singular, and two in the plural. The following table shows which 3rd person nominative pronoun corresponds to nouns of each gender class:
|Gender of antecedent||Singular||Plural|
Polish verbs are inflected according to gender as well as person and number, but the tense forms have been simplified through elimination of three old tenses (the aorist, imperfect, and past perfect). The so-called Slavic perfect is the only past tense form used in common speech. In Polish, one distinguishes between
Aspect is a grammatical category of the verb, and almost all Polish verbs have two aspects, in each tense. One imperfective (often translated as a progressive tense in English with -ing, for example 'was going', 'is going', "will be going") and one perfective (often translated as a simple tense in English, for example 'went', 'go' 'will go').
The tenses include:
|construction||(for perfective verbs)||(for imperfective verbs)||example imperfective||example perfective|
|verb+suffix||future simple tense||present tense||robicie||zrobicie|
|past participle+suffix||past perfective tense||past imperfective tense||robiliście||zrobiliście|
|(this suffix can be moved)||coście robili / co robiliście||coście zrobili / co zrobiliście|
Movable suffixes (those of the past tenses) are usually attached to the verb or to the most accented word of a sentence, like question preposition.
The fifth Polish tense, the future imperfective, is an analytic form, and consists of the simple future form of the auxiliary verb być ‘to be’ (będę, będziesz...), and either infinitive or past participle (imperfective). The choice between będziecie robić and będziecie robili is free, and both forms have the same meaning.
Sometimes the sentence may be emphasised with a particle -że- (-ż).
So what have you done? can be:
(It is also well worth noticing that the two latter forms - "coście zrobili?" and "co żeście zrobili?" often carry a negative emotional load, a possible translation of these examples being "what (the hell) have you done!?" The third form, using "żeście", would be even stronger - fitting for situations involving desperation, etc. (and indeed being a little archaic))
All the above examples show inflected forms of the verb "zrobić" for the subject "you" informal plural ("wy"). However, it is worthy of notice that none of the above examples includes the subject itself. The inclusion of the subject is not necessary here because Polish is a pro-drop language. This means that with an inflected verb the subject does not need to be mentioned. Instead, the reader or listener can tell, by the ending on the verb, which is different for each person, singular and plural, what is the implied subject. Because the subject can be dropped, using it with an inflected verb signals emphasis. Of the above three examples, a native speaker would not include the subject in the middle sentence and would be unlikely to include the subject in the last one. The examples below show how the subject could be included in such sentences, where possible:
The past participle depends on number and gender, so the third person, past perfect tense, can be:
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.
These sentences mean more or less the same ("Alice has a cat"), but different shades of meaning are emphasized by selecting different word orders. In increasing order of markedness:
However, only the first three examples sound natural in Polish, and others should be used for special emphasis only, if at all.
If a question mark is added to the end of those sentences they will all mean "does Alicia have a cat?"; an optional 'czy' could be added to the beginning (but native speakers do not always use it).
If apparent from context, the subject, object or even the verb, can be dropped:
Note the interrogative particle "czy", which is used to start a yes/no question, much like the French "est-ce que". The particle is not obligatory, and sometimes rising intonation is the only signal of the interrogative character of the sentence: "Alicja ma kota?".
There is a tendency in Polish to drop the subject rather than the object as it is uncommon to know the object but not the subject. If the question were "Kto ma kota?" (Who has a/the cat?), the answer should be "Alicja" alone, without a verb.
In particular, "ja" (I) and "ty" (you, singular), and their plural equivalents "my" (we) and "wy" (you, plural), are almost always dropped, much like the respective Spanish pronouns.
Conjugation of "być" (to be) in the present tense:
Conjugation of "być" (to be) in the past tense:
Past tense for verbs is usually made this way, by replacing the infinitive final "-ć" with "-ł(+V)".
Conjugation of "iść" ("to go, walk" in the present tense):
Conjugation of "iść" ("to go, walk" in the past imperfect tense):
In Polish, the use of personal pronouns to mark the subject is not necessary because flexed word contains such information. Therefore, one may omit the personal pronouns as follows, while retaining the same meaning:
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), produkcja (production), korupcja (corruption) etc. Slang sometimes borrows and alters common English words, e.g. luknąć (to look), but these borrowings are usually short lived, going out of fashion after several years. 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 '-tion' 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).
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 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, e.g. 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 form 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.
|ja - I||my - we|
|ty - you||wy - you (Plural)|
|on - he|
ona - she
ono - it
|oni - they (group of people, including at least one male)|
one - they (group of female persons or group not involving persons)
|jeden - one||dwa - two|
|trzy - three||cztery - four|
|pięć - five||sześć - six|
|siedem - seven||osiem - eight|
|dziewięć - nine||dziesięć - ten|
|jedenaście - eleven||dwanaście - twelve|
|trzynaście - thirteen||czternaście - fourteen|
|piętnaście - fifteen||szesnaście - sixteen|
|siedemnaście - seventeen||osiemnaście - eighteen|
|dziewiętnaście - nineteen||dwadzieścia - twenty|
|dwadzieścia jeden - twenty-one||dwadzieścia dziewięć - twenty-nine|
|trzydzieści - thirty||czterdzieści - forty|
|pięćdziesiąt - fifty||sześćdziesiąt - sixty|
|siedemdziesiąt - seventy||osiemdziesiąt - eighty|
|dziewięćdziesiąt - ninety||sto - one hundred|
|pięćset - five hundred||tysiąc - one thousand|
|milion - one million||miliard - one billion|
|dziesięciolecie or dekada||decade|
|wiek or stulecie||a century|
|bardzo zimno||very cold|
|żar leje się z nieba||it's boiling hot|
|Stany Zjednoczone Ameryki||United States of America|
|Wielka Brytania||Great Britain|
|Zjednoczone Królestwo||United Kingdom|
|Nowa Zelandia||New Zealand|
|Wyspy Owcze||Faroe Islands|
|Zjednoczone Emiraty Arabskie||United Arab Emirates|
|Republika Czeska/Czechy||Czech Republic/Czechia|
|Republika Południowej Afryki||Republic of South Africa|
|Wybrzeże Kości Słoniowej||Republic of Cote d'Ivoire|
|Polak (m)/ Polka (f)||Pole (Polish person)|
|język polski/ polski *||Polish (language) / Polish (adjective)|
|Miłego dnia||Have a nice day|
|Dzień dobry||Good Morning/Afternoon (literally good day)|
|Dobry wieczór||Good Evening|
|Do widzenia||Good bye (See you later)|
|Przepraszam||I'm sorry/Excuse me|
|Do zobaczenia/Na razie(informal)||See you later|
|Do jutra||See you tomorrow|
|Dobra robota!||Good job!|
|Nieźle!||Nice (not too bad)|
|Nie ma mowy!||No way! (literally "there is no talk of it")|
|Jak leci?||How's it going? (literally "how is it [time] passing by?", sounds like "how is it flying?")|
|Miło mi Cię poznać||Nice to meet you|
|Ile to kosztuje?||How much does this cost?|
|Poproszę jedno jabłko||One apple please|
* Note that adjectives based on proper nouns (polski, amerykański, etc) are not capitalized, unlike in English.
|dworzec kolejowy||train station|
|dworzec autobusowy||bus station|