Polish Language Blog

Mr. Geremek’s Funeral Posted by on Jul 23, 2008 in Uncategorized

This past Monday I was listening to the funeral services for Bronisław Geremek. Only listening, because I’m not into state funerals with full honors, unless of course, it’s one of the world’s famous despots who’s dead – their funerals are always fun. But the service on Monday was very dignified, sad and solemn.

Bronisław Geremek was by all accounts an outstanding man and a distinguished politician. You might have heard of him as one of the figures behind the Solidarity (Solidarność) movement. To many people, and especially to people abroad, Solidarność has become synonymous with Lech Wałęsa, but of course as with any political movement, it wasn’t just a one-man show. In 1989 Mr. Geremek participated in the Round Table negotiations, which resulted in the first free and democratic Polish elections after WW2.

Later on, he was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2000).

In addition to being a famous political figure, he was also a respected medieval historian. Actually, that’s how I became familiar with his name. I’m a total political ignoramus, I freely admit it. When exposed to political news of any kind, my brain performs an immediate emergency shut-down. And when exposed to Polish political news, the results are even worse.

So because I’m not a fan of current politics, choosing instead to pursue goofier hobbies like medieval history, the first time the name “Geremek” registered in my consciousness was when perusing a paper about underworld groups in medieval Paris. The paper was an English translation from French, and referenced Mr. Geremek’s extensive research into the topic.

Dude! I didn’t even know they had gangs and organized crime back then! They even had human trafficking rings dealing in prostitution. See? Not that much has changed in Europe since the 14th century.

In academia, Mr. Geremek’s specialty was French medieval history and his research covered some very interesting subjects. Really. He was so famous as a scholar, he even lectured at the Sorbonne for some time. Like I said, a truly remarkable man. He died in a car crash on July 13. He was 76 years old.

But when I was listening to the audio of the funeral service I found myself grinding my teeth. The quality of the official live English language interpretation left a lot to be desired. OK, I’ll say it, it was bad. Really bad. I understand that simultaneous interpretation is not for everyone, but Mr. Geremek deserved better. And surely somewhere in Poland there must be qualified professionals, who know how to use “a” and “the”.

Oh yes, the articles! The reason why they inflict so much pain upon the Polish speakers of English is the simple fact that there’s no such thing in our native language.

So, both “a woman” and “the woman” would be translated simply as “kobieta” (woman) into Polish.

When translating the other way round complications abound, as the poor woman interpreting at Mr. Geremek’s funeral had not so nicely demonstrated to the whole wide world.

But for those who are learning Polish, the lack of indefinite and definite articles should be pleasant news – finally there’s something that is actually EASIER in Polish than it is in English.

photo: Wikipedia

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  1. thomas westcott:

    Thanks for the audio file. But, could you go back to saying the word twice. The difference in speed helps train the ‘ear’.

    I have experienced similar translation difficulties to my hurt. The translator that I am referring to teaches English in Poland. I had asked her to translate the meanings of house and home. She said she understood the difference but she would not and did not translate that difference.

    Is the lack of articles in Polish really easier? Maybe so… but since I am used to using articles in English and since they do add a certain amount of precision then doing without articles will feel awkward.
    But I will try to learn how to do without those articles as in the previous sentence I normally would have written “doing without THE articles will feel awkward.”

  2. Anna:

    Hi Thomas!

    Ok, I will go back to saying the word twice. No problem! Thank you for telling me!
    Also, do you want me to talk about “house” and “home” in Polish in my next entry? I think it would make for an interesting post.

    And when it comes to the lack of articles, it’s probably the ONLY thing that is easy in Polish. And that certain amount of precision you mentioned can be and indeed is achieved in Polish through other means. We’ll get to it I promise. No worries. 🙂

  3. Grazyna:

    Ania, thanks for posting the tribute to Mr Geremek – he indeed was one of the greatest and least corrupted Poles in the latest history of Poland! A very knowledgeable guy with a lot of courtesy and zero arrogance!

  4. Anna:

    Hi G!
    I was such a nincompoop that for a while (a long while actually), I didn’t realize that the historian and the politician were the same person! Duh! I was very familiar with the historian (read some research based on his research in college) but never put the two and two together. I can be such a dumbo!

  5. Grazyna:

    Nah, it’s not dumb! It proves that he wasn’t into celebrity kind of life and being in the spotlight:-)

  6. David Honley:

    Cześć Anna!
    Your blog on Mr Gemerek was very interesting, albeit with reference to a sad occasion. I have just finished reading an excellent book which described Mr Gemerek’s role in Solidarność and Polish politics in general: A Concise History of Poland 2nd Ed. ISBN = 978-0-521-61857-1 co-authored by Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki (Cambridge University Press). This book deals with Polish history from 966 (Mieszko I) through to 2005. So it is very up-to-date. I recommend it to anyone interested in Poland’s turbulent history.
    Although politics horrifies you Anna, a future blog on the present political make-up in Poland would be of great interst. I believe Kaczyński is President (but is it Lech or his brother?)and Donald Tusk is Prime Minister.
    Keep up the great work Anna. Your Polish Blogs are excellent.
    Pozdrawiam serdecznie
    David (UK)

  7. Anna:

    Cześć David!
    I may have to take a look at that book you recommend. Thanks for the tip!
    Now, when it comes to politics… There are a couple of subjects which I promised myself I would avoid like the plague – religion and politics. Though when it comes to Poland, they’re frequently interchangeable 😉
    But I will ponder your suggestion and see if I can come up with something sensible. And if not sensible, then maybe at the very least amusing.

  8. alice:

    Thanks for your nice posting. Your blog was very interesting. He was a very knowledgeable guy and it is one of the world’s famous despots who’s dead,their funerals are always fun.

  9. kuzeymavisi:

    i wanted to send you my warmest greting and very special thanks. because especially rhanks to you i am learning new words in english, you are choosing advanced words. i found your website tonight while i was surfing on internet. but i read your essays,articles,writings…they are sooo helpful,useful.
    keep your great work up.
    thank you!