‘ W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie’- Or an introduction into the Polish language, originally written for the Courier’s culture section, and now revised and edited for Stylion.
Coming from Poland to the UK at the tender age of five was a culture shock, and I have since become accustomed to the differences between my home language and the one of my adopted home. Coming from the socialist architecture of Warsaw to the cobbled streets of the winding English country roads, I fell in love with the country that brought the world ‘Jane Eyre’ in its haunting Victorianism, and ‘Frankenstein’ in its letter-writing monster-creating form. English is beautiful in it’s simplicity- it is extremely applicable in all forms, whether that is in literature, spoken language or in song. However, the Poland I know has also existed in more ways than with its recent enough socialist past, especially at the forefront of literature. Polish is a hard language to master, I’ll admit that. However, it is surprisingly yielding when learnt properly, and has an incredibly diverse history through literature. With Polish, there are difficulties- there are different versions of the same root word depending on the strength of expression, resulting in ‘słodki’, ‘słodziutki’, ‘słodziusienki’ (sweet, very sweet, adorably sweet), which usually have a similar structural pattern. This ends up with gradually stronger expressions that may otherwise have been lukewarm in their primary form in other languages, and are jarringly over-done to those who don’t have similar expressions in their own.
The alphabet includes accents like in French, although I am sure you have no idea how to pronounce ‘ł’ (like the ‘w’ in ‘ew’), three types of ‘z’ accents ( ‘ź’, pronounced ‘zi’ and ‘ż’ and ‘rz’ like the ‘j’, in the French ‘janvier’), and others. When learning the language, the alphabet is relatively easy- unlike Cyrillic or Japanese; it does not have a completely different set of symbols. Based around the habit of heavily borrowed words from Latin, Hebrew, Russian and occasionally English the language is melting pot of assimilated cultures. Polish looked and sounded very different in the past to what it is today and sometimes it is still impossible for people from one side of the country to understand the other. In modern Polish strong regional dialects exist widely in their unmarred form and are mostly defined through certain border regions- the Kaszub dialect and the Silesian among others. Pronounciation and word usage changes and the much like regional dialects of England, the language becomes less compréhensible used to the ‘school-taught’ language.
It is also important to count in the multiple wars, country divides and different rulers that Poland endured, and the Polish language is a resulted melting pot of borrowed words and old-time cultural habits, resulting a beautiful language that is on the list of top 10 hardest to learn. To understand the variety in association that would be unheard of in English, you have to look at particular Polish language groups. Idioms are an interesting topic in Polish- many idioms that appear in Polish would appear funny to English-speakers. ‘Wiercić komuś dziurę w brzuchu’ (to drill a hole in someone’s belly) means that you pester someone relentlessly. ‘Rzucać grochem o ściane’ (To throw beans at the wall) would translate as ‘falling on deaf ears’, or that a pursuit is pointless and won’t achieve anything. Another fun one is ‘wypchać się sianem’ (to stuff yourself with hay) which usually gets shortened to ‘get stuffed’, or in other words, get lost. Playful and full of imagery, Polish is the language for fast retorts and sarcastic comments. The Polish language does have some weird expressions and metaphors- ‘to grow like yeast (‘rosnać jak na drożdzach’) means to grow quickly and is usually applied to children, while ‘to run away to where the crabs spend their winter’ (‘uciekać gdzie raki zimuja’) means to run away very far. To ‘look like a jumping pig from the side’ (‘wyglada z boku jak świnia w skoku’) may not be the most polite way of talking about someone’s appearance but it is original and rhymes, giving it a lyrical quality.
Although Polish is hard, it is by no means impossible to learn. Adam Mickiewicz, a Romantic, was a wordsmith of Polish verse likened to Shakespeare in musicality and expression. His works are greatly celebrated in Poland, but little known outside the country. His two greatest works, ‘Dziady’ (Forefathers Eve) and ‘Pan Tadeusz’ (Sir Thaddeus) are incredible works of literature, describing the common people’s lives with folklore in one and a tumulous love story with the political situation in Poland at the time in the other. ‘Sir Thaddeus’ is now considered by many to be the last great epic poem of European literature. Writers like George Sand admired the authors skill in weaving in the poetic expressions with superior ease. Many great Polish writers are widely recognised around the world for their contributions to literature, so why not turn away from those more commonly available and turn to the unknown niche of Mickiewicz instead?