Polish Language Blog

Why We Need Professor Miodek Posted by on Sep 25, 2008 in Grammar

Lately I’ve been writing in Polish more and more, and while I’ve always thought that my Polish spelling skills were decent, now I’m not so sure. In fact, I am sure – they suck.

It’s of very little consolation that I am not alone. Any random read of internet forums populated by Poles will prove that a great number of us can’t spell. And that to me proves that Polish spelling is not as easy and uncomplicated as our school teachers once upon a time tried to tell us. Liars!

iść“ is an easy word, you write “ść” at the end, just like you say it and just like it sounds.
Same with “pójść“.

But what about “znaleźć”? Or is it “znaleść”? Here Anna runs to look it up in a dictionary.

OK, I’m back. According to the on-line dictionary, it’s supposed to be “znaleźć”. Yet when you pronounce this word, you still hear “ść” at the end, not “źć”. Actually, to even say “źć” there would be hard, if not impossible. Then why do we write it like that, huh?

I seem to remember that if this “ść/źć” sound follows a consonant, then we write “ść”, and if it follows a vowel – then “źć”. But I’m not sure if this is something that my teacher just made up (which is highly possible, the woman made up many things, including our final grades), or if this is an actual rule.

And then there’s this “ó” and “u” confusion. I used to be so good as this stuff, and now I have to stop and think if it’s “skrócić” or “skrucić”. Then I remember that “krótki” is written with an “ó” so “skrócić” must be the same.

The “ż” and “rz” fiasco is something that I experience quite often, too. I know the general rules, oh yes, I do:

  • rz” after b, ch, d, g, j, k, p, t, w,
  • and when it morphs into “r” in other forms of the same word or in related words,
  • and in certain masculine nouns ending in –arz, –erz, –mistrz and –mierz,
  • and in words not covered by any other rule,
  • except during the second Thursday of every other month ending in a “y”, but not right after the full moon. Or something like that.

But knowing the rules, and following them are two different things.

Seriously, Polish spelling IS complicated and convoluted, and there’s no shame in admitting that it’s hard to write it correctly. We even have special experts, who write newspaper columns, or who have TV or radio programs devoted to the intricacies of the language. And those columns are widely read, and the programs widely watched.
One of those expert guys is professor Jan Miodek, who thanks to his TV program about Polish language became a popular media personality. Can you believe it? That we’d actually NEED a TV program to discuss the more convoluted points of our convoluted language? And even professor Miodek admitted to making mistakes. Spelling mistakes, no less. And he is THE authority on the Polish language, trained linguist, professor at Wrocław University and a member of the Polish Language Council (Rada Języka Polskiego).

Now I don’t feel so bad. And as I write more and more in Polish, I’m re-learning to spell properly. And all those goofy spelling rules are slowly coming back to me. Too slowly, if you ask me, though.

Words used today:

  • iść = to go (in a general sense)
  • pójść = to go (somewhere)
  • znaleźć = to find, to discover
  • skrócić = to shorten
  • krótki (adj., femkrótka, neuterkrótkie, pl. masckrótcy, pl. otherkrótkie) = short
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  1. Fran Turner:

    This recipe sounds amazing and easy. Thanks! I’m going to try it.
    Now all I need is a recipe for makowiec. Do you have an easy one?

  2. Fran Turner:

    Oops got the sernik comment on the grammar page. My comment regarding Polish spelling: it certainly is no worse than English spelling which really has no rhyme nor reason, but we do not have a Dr. Miodek equivalent which might help. I wonder how popular such a program would be here in the States. Probably not too as we are so casual about our grammar and spelling.


  3. michael farris:

    I’ve always thought that Polish spelling is absurdly easy. But then as a non-native speaker I learned the written form of most words first, which makes spelling easier. My biggest problem is occasionally confusing -enk and -ęk (I don’t know why).

    The US doesn’t normally put language experts on TV but they exist in the print medium and Miodek is lightyears ahead of them.
    Miodek actually understands basic principles of language use and language change while the US “experts” don’t know anything about either and repeat useless rules they learned in high school that have no use in the real world whatsoever (like not using ‘hopefully’ at the beginning of sentences).

  4. Anna:

    Hi Michael!
    You are probably right, if you learn the written form of most words, then I’m sure proper spelling comes more naturally. But also don’t forget that you are a trained linguist (am I right?) and as such you know more about the language, how it works and how it behaves (including all sorts of goofy rules) than little people off the street (like me, for example). That some things may seem absurdly easy to you probably comes from your analytical training and professional background. So in that respect, you and Mr. Miodek are similar 😉
    And when it comes to the American “experts”, I agree with you totally. Though I do have a lot of respect for Roy Clark and read his “Writing Tools” religiously.

    Hi Fran!
    So, how did the cake turn out? I hope you liked it! You are right about the casual attitude towards grammar and spelling in the US, but it seems to be a world-wide problem these days.
    Oh, and did you see Tom’s question a few days ago? He wanted to share your poem with his Polish class and was wondering if that was OK with you!

  5. Thomas Westcott:

    Yes, I would like an answer from both of you on being able to use and send copies of your article and of your poem.

    Anna, are you familiar with diagramming sentences in English?
    ( a method of showing the grammar of the sentence.)

    As a ninth grader our class was asked to diagram the following: “The Worgly slemmed the Gorfu.” I raised my hand to answer the teacher’s question and was very surprised to find that I was the only one in the class who thought he could. Even tough the words are basically ‘ none sense ‘ this was really a simple exercise. Worgly is the subject. It is a noun and it is a name. Slemmed is the verb. I did not know what kind of action to slem was but the ed ending told me that it was an action verb. Gorfu is the predicate nominative, that is it was the receiver of the verbs action. The word ‘ the ‘ was used twice and that was another clue. Since English does have articles, the thes used in front of the nouns made perfect sense to me. And speaking of spelling – How do you spell the plural of the?

    A small chuckle for you – Americans do not speak or spell English like the English (people) do and the English have not spoken English for several centuries. Suggest you read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – now that is English.

  6. Andre:

    Sigh… you are quite right. In fact, I know they have entire dictionaries devoted to “ortografia”… that really is the Polish equivalent to “spelling”.

    How did you learn to write in Polish? Did you do any classes or did it evolve out of necessity?

  7. Michael Farris:

    I’m still not sure what the big deal is with Polish spelling.
    When I was in elementary school we had “Spelling” as a separate subject from “English” for four or five years – that’s 45 or so minutes everyday just devoted to learning rules and exceptions and particular words that were exceptions to the exceptions with spelling tests and spelling bees a pretty regular part of the school day (I was always in the upper quartile in spelling but I was no star).

    Afterwards when it wasn’t a separate subject a significant chunk of “English” was spent on spelling rules including studying for the national spelling bee for 8th graders (I was eliminated at an absurdly early stage in our school).

    The very minor peculiarities of Polish don’t need anything like that level of sustained to master though maybe they need more (or smarter) effort than is currently put into them.

    I note that the Polish equivalent of spelling bees, dyktando seems to concentrate on archaic or otherwise very rarely encountered words and intricate rules of capitalization and punctuation rather than figuring out the internal structure of words needed in daily life. (The finals of the national spelling bee also concentrate on esoteric words few people naturally encounter but the early stages are all about practical, if educated, vocabulary.

    The only really random feature of Polish spelling is the distribution of h and ch, which aren’t related to each other or anything else (well actually ch is related to sz sometimes but in the opposite direction).

  8. Grazyna:

    The good (though for the language purists rather heartbreaking) news is that some notorious misspellings do often get legalised, so to say, and accepted as one of a few possible spellings… As for Mr Miodek, he is not just a great linguist and author of many dictionaries, but a fantastic lecturer too. I had a pleasure of having classes with him and not one minute of his lectures was ever boring! 🙂 Sadly, I don’t think I will ever achieve his proficiency in the Polish orthography! :-/

  9. Anna:

    I find it very inspiring that a foreigner thinks that Polish spelling is not all that hard. That means there is hope for all of us yet! 😉
    Do you have any tips and/or suggestion for the rest of us, who still struggle with orthography and who would like to improve our Polish spelling skills?

    You actually met the guy? Whoa! I’m jealous!

    heehee! Your comment reminded me of a kid I knew from NJ who was going on a student exchange to the UK and she asked quite perplexed “Do they speak American over there?”

  10. Grazyna:

    …. and I feel embarrassed that a foreigner is not at all intimidated by our super complicated spelling system while I certainly do not like all the hassle with ‘rz’ and ‘ż’, ‘u’ and ‘ó’, etc!
    Yes, I had lectures with professor Miodek for a year and loved them to bits! :-)I was inspired by his passion for the Polish language, cheered up by his openess for the changes the Polish language constantly undergoes and amused at all the anecdotes he treated us with (never repeating any, mind you!). 🙂

  11. Ronald Small:

    I would like to the terms for a soccer game so I could listen to it on Polish Television.
    Thank You,

  12. Anna:

    Hi Ronald,
    Soccer you say? I know nothing about soccer in whatever language, except for “ooohhh, look, that cute Portuguese guy scored again!” So, I’m afraid we will have to ask other readers for help. Guys, help me out here! Give me the words in English, and I’ll look them up in Polish, ok? 😉

  13. Karen:

    This article describes exactly why I can read easily enough but struggle to write! 😉

  14. michael:

    I saw the TV program!!

    Słownik polsko@polski


    This link should help you find his program.

  15. Strony www Skarżysko:

    Świetny wpis, wspaniale się go czyta. Wiele wartościowych informacji. Cieszę się, ze odwiedziłem dzisiaj Twoją stronę. Już się nie mogę doczekać nowych wpisów 🙂