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