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Is It Still Polish? Posted by on May 20, 2008 in Geography

powiat_pucczi_polish_road_signCompared to other European languages, Polish is a rather homogenous language. For that, oddly enough, you can thank the Soviet Union. When the USSR annexed large chunks of formerly Polish territories during World War II, millions of Poles from those areas trekked west. They brought with them their own dialects and speech patterns, which after some time, either vanished, or assimilated into mainstream Polish.

These days, to a non-native speaker, big-city Polish sounds more or less uniform, regardless of where in Poland it’s spoken. To look for dialects, you need to venture off the English-speaking expat grid and head for the countryside.

Three examples that immediately come to mind that can be recognized even by foreign ears, are the funky Polish variants spoken in the West, South and North, respectively.

In the southwestern area known as Silesia, the local dialect – Silesian (śląski) is spoken by some 62 odd thousand people. Some linguists even go as far as classifying it as a separate language. True, Silesian can take some time getting used to and does sound a bit funky, but regardless of the locals may tell you, it’s still Polish. I understand it just fine, and I’m originally from Kashubia.

The Kashubian language (kaszubski) from Eastern Pomerania (and here there’s no argument, these days Kashubian is considered a separate language of its own) is a strange animal. When written, it looks somewhat like Polish, but when spoken, it’s almost incomprehensible to Polish speakers.

My grandma was a proud Kashubian from Kartuzy, and when her friends got together for tea, cake and gossip, they just as well might have been speaking Swahili. The rest of us didn’t understand a word.

I have similar understanding problems with “góralski” – the Podhale dialect used by Górale (Highlanders) in the south. A mixture of Polish and Slovak, with Balkan influences sprinkled in here and there, it sounds beautiful, but leaves me stumped every time I hear it.

For now, we will leave my native Poglish alone. We’ll discuss it in its very own entry soon!

Today’s word:

dialect = gwara (noun, feminine, plural: gwary)

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Comments:

  1. caitlin biswell:

    very informative.
    Fantastic idea. I fully intend to make a regular visits to the blog.

    Dziękuję

    Caitlin

  2. John Washbush:

    Greetings Anna …

    I am absolutely thrilled to death to discover your blog. At the tender age of 57, and with no knowledge of Polish whatever, I moved to Lodz to be an English teacher. I lived there for over five years. Because so much of my work life was conducted in English, and my spare time also, I learned very little Polish. Now back in the US for 5 years, I resent that loss. I have purchased every program offered by Transparent Language and I am now trying to make up for lost time … at the age of 67! It is very, very difficult to learn a language this way. Just maintaining entheusiasm is difficult enough. And, that is where you blog will come in.

    I am so pleased to see it. I like your writing style, I can feel your Polish humor and love of life. I already feel some excitement coming back. And, my message is mean only to thank you for taking on such a monumental task. I look forward to the next chapter and, please, keep up the excellent work.

    Djienkuja bardzo!

    John Washbush

  3. John Washbush:

    Oops …

    I do know how to spell Dziekuje. Really. I think the misspelling came as a result of a horribly low Zubrowka quotent, in fact it is down around Zero.

    John

  4. Anna:

    Hello John and Caitlin!
    Thanks for your nice words and welcome to the blog!
    If there is anything specific you want me to discuss, just let me know. We’ll have fun here.

  5. Waldemar Granwal:

    Dzien dobry,
    like John Washbush I too am in my mid 60’s. I am similarly delighted to find this blogsite. Pracowalem we Polsce bylo czternascie (40 years) lat temu. Bylo szesc miesance dla budynek na Warszawa dla Ministerstwa Zdrowia i Fondacja Sue Ryder. Jestem Nowe Zelandczychiem i mieszkam na Australie. I live in the wonderful suburb of Manly which is better for swimming than Bondi in Sydney and has maybe fifty coffee shops! Ja lubie bardzo Polskie Jenzyk and wish I could meet with a native speaker at least once a week to refresh and extend my modest grasp.

    I loved the subtle colours on buildings in Krakowskie Przedmieske where the King’s Palace was still a field of rubble! I was staying in Hotel Orbis. Then people who broke a pane of glass in their high rise apartment had to buy a thin fragile replacement and take it home in crowded buses! I had to queue two hours with official documents to buy one kilogram of skinny nails for repair work on a szpital! I was always impressed by infinite Polish goscinosc. I think the cupboards were often bare after my visit!

    I took my two children (then 6 and 7 years old) back to Warsaw in 1989 and visited some friends I had made. It is a beautiful country and I hope yet to return.

    Let me know of anyone in Manly who would like to meet occasionaly for conversation. I don’t mind two-way coaching in English. Dowidzenia, Waldemar.

  6. Anna:

    Waldemar,
    nice to hear from you! I can’t promise anything, but I will do my best to round up some native speakers for a little language exchange with you. If you use skype (you can do voice chat computer to computer for free), then it will be much easier to find a conversation partner, as they don’t have to be physically in Oz. But we’ll see what we can do for you! 🙂

  7. Andrew:

    czesc anna,

    I’ve only just open my email and found you’re site (what a pleasure it is).
    Do you write many articles about anglski-polska relationships? i would like to know.
    I’m a 35y/o Englishman, who marrying a beautiful polish lady next year, her name is Asia and she is the light of my life :-).

    anyway it’s been and pleasure reading you’re blog.

    Andrew
    Exeter

  8. Michele:

    I hope you can help with geography of Galicia in Poland. My grand parents listed Alsanicza, Galicia on their immigration records but I have looked at maps of Poland from various years(after reading about all the name changes based on changes in countries that held Galicia), and cannot find this town. When I’ve searched some Polish immigration records I’ve also seen Olsanicza. Is this the same town. Can you provide the name of a town near Alsanicza that may be larger and therefore on a map? Thank you very much.

  9. Arthur:

    I guess no one is going to read this 7 years later, but you forgot the Kresy dialects, the ones that were spoken by the Poles living in present Lithuania, Bielorussia and Ukraine! Actually, everyone constantly forgets about them, unfortunately:( The grandparents of my wife (east of Chelm, really on the border) speak such a dialect. It has traits from Ukrainian, I believe.