Polish (or język polski) is the official language of Poland. It is a West Slavic language, a subdivision of the Slavic family. Most speakers of this idiom live in Poland, a country having one of the most linguistically homogeneous populations in Europe. According to a recent census, about 97% of Poland’s inhabitants declare Polish as their primary tongue.
Because of Poland’s ever shifting geographical borders in the Early Modern and Modern periods and until the end of World War II, it is today possible to find large Polish minorities in Lithuania and Belarus, as well as Ukraine. For instance, 26% of Lithuania’s population speaks Polish—with most of ethnic Poles being concentrated in Vilnius County. Polish speakers are still found in sizable communities in many parts of Eurasia and the Western Hemisphere.
Although Poles speak Standard Polish, it is possible to detect slight differences in regional parlances. The differences reflect old tribal divisions. For instance, Great Polish is spoken in the west, Lesser Polish in the south and southeast, Mazovian in the centre and east, and Silesian in the southwest. It must be noted, however, that such dialects are minimally different from one another and their use does not, in any way, impede mutual understanding. The standards of the Polish language are monitored, regulated and upheld by the Polish Language Council.
The Polish alphabet derives from the Latin alphabet, with the addition of several diacritics, or signs added to a letter to alter pronunciation or distinguish between similar words.
Throughout the centuries, Polish has been enriched by borrowings from other notable languages, like Latin, German, French, Italian, Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian. It has even adopted a few Mongolian words, from the days of the wars with Genghis Khan’s armies. Inversely, Polish has also enhanced other languages, especially German and other Slavic languages. Culinary lexicon, like pierogi, has also international recognition.
Most of Polish classic literary works have been written in Polish, although works by Poles émigrés written in other languages, including German, Latin, Yiddish and Lithuanian, further enrich Poland’s remarkable literary traditions. Of particular note is the Polish underground literature, produced both during the period of the Partition, in the 19th century, and that of Soviet influence, lasting from the end of WWII to the late 1980’s. Czesław Miłosz in 1980 and Wisława Szymborska in 1996 were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
“Words must be weighed, not counted.”