Voice Over Sydney: Polish is the most widely-spoken West Slavic language and the second most-spoken Slavic language after Russian. 97% of Polish citizens speak Polish as their mother tongue, making Poland the most linguistically homogeneous country in Europe. Polish is also spoken by large minority groups in Lithuania, Belarus, Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine and it is the second most spoken language in England (spoken by 8% of the population). Polish is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn a Slavic language, but is new to this family of languages. Read the guide below and then test your skills with a free Polish lesson.
Voice Over Sydney: History of the Language
It’s impossible to know which languages were actually spoken in what is now Poland before the 10th century AD. We do know that the tribes in the region spoke various Slavic dialects and worshipped a deity of war and fertility called Svetovid. This all changed in the 966 AD when Mieszko I, the first ruler of the new Polish state, was baptized a Catholic. In properly medieval fashion, all of his subjects followed suit over the next couple hundred years. Why is this significant to the language? Because the spread of Catholicism brought Latin. The impact of Latin can still be seen today in the Polish alphabet, which uses a modified Latin script, and in the adoption of many words from Latin (it was the official language of Poland for much of the middle ages). Besides Latin-speaking clergymen, Medieval Poland also attracted large numbers of German and Jewish migrants, and their languages trickled into vernacular Polish over hundreds of years.
Voice Over Sydney: Influence of other Languages
After a successful and long-lived commonwealth with Lithuania, the Polish state dissolved amid internal conflict and invading foreign armies. In 1795, Poland was divided among the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires and wouldn’t regain independence until the 20th century. During this period, the Polish people resisted all manner of subjugation to keep their language and culture alive. Even though it was split into three different countries, ruled by three different languages, the Polish language remained resilient and unified. Many German and Russian words did enter the Polish language during this time, but thanks in a large part to a rich literary tradition, Poles maintained their language and identity during occupation.
The Polish Republic was reconstituted in 1918, in the wake of World War I, but it would be short-lived. In 1938, the country was invaded (again) by Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. In 1945, Poland was reestablished (as a Soviet satellite state), but it was now 20% smaller than before WWII and it’s borders were shifted about 300 km westward (gaining territory from Germany in the west, but losing more to the Soviet Union in the east).