The Polish language (polszczyzna or polski) is a West Slavic language group, a subdivision of the Slavic language group. It is the second most widely spoken Slavic language (after Russian) and one of the official languages of the European Union. Polish is the official language of Poland and is also spoken by Polish minorities in other countries, with sizeable populations in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine as a result of the annexation of previously Polish-ruled territories by the Soviet Union following World War II. There are approximately 45 million native speakers of Polish and roughly 5 million who speak it as a second language.
In the United States, Polish Americans represent the largest Slavic immigrant group, totaling more than 11 million people who self-identify as Polish Americans. Of these, nearly 670,000 individuals speak the Polish language. The largest Polish community in the United States can be found in Chicago, totaling roughly 650,000. This has made Chicago one of the major centers of the Polish culture and language outside of Poland. Other sizeable communities of Poles can be found in the New York City Metropolitan Area, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Texas.
As a result of the language policy implemented by the Communist government of Poland in the second half of the 20th century, the Polish language is largely homogenous, although there are approximately four main dialect groups (plus various subgroups) that roughly correspond to tribal divisions dating back more than a thousand years. The main dialect groups of Polish are Greater Polish, Lesser Polish, Masovian, and Silesian. Standard Polish and the various regional dialects are mutually intelligible with only slight variations.
Polish word order is highly flexible, although it generally follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) format. It is also a highly inflected language that utilizes conjugation and declension extensively. Nouns belong to one of three genders (male, female, and neuter), and adjectives must agree with nouns in number, gender, and case. Also, there are no articles in Polish and pronouns can frequently be dropped. Polish verbs are either perfective or imperfective and frequently occur in perfective and imperfective pairs. Perfective verbs have a past tense and simple future tense, while imperfective verbs have present, past, and future tenses. The present tense of imperfective verbs has six forms, and the past tense must agree in terms of number, person, and gender.
While the majority of Polish vocabulary is Slavic in origin, the language has borrowed a significant amount of vocabulary from foreign sources. Of these, Latin has had the most profound impact on Polish as a result of Latin being the only official language of Poland for many years due to the strong Catholic character of the country. Other influences have come from Czech, Italian, French, German, Hungarian, Turkish, and more recently, English, which now provides the most frequent source of loanwords to the Polish language.
The Polish alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet and include 23 consonants and 9 vowels, as well as making use a number of diacritic marks. The letters q, v, and x are not part of the Polish alphabet, but are used in some foreign words and commercial names. Generally speaking, Polish orthography is phonetic, with letters and letter combinations corresponding consistently to the phonemes of the spoken language.
FUN FACTS: The first Polish settlers arrived in the United States in 1585 with Sir Walter Raleigh’s failed Roanoke colony. The longest Polish word is dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego, roughly meaning “of nine-hundred and ninety-nine nationalities.” Also, Polish has largely lost the distinction between short and long vowel sounds, which is still prevalent in the other extant Slavic languages.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Polish. Whether you need to translate a rental agreement in Warsaw from Polish to English, need a Polish interpreter for an immigration hearing, or want to localize your website into Polish in order to market your products and services in Poland, PGLS is here to help with all of your Polish language needs.