"Ponglish", or the influence of English on Polish (post-conference thoughts)

English-Polish Translation of pumpkin - KeyCheck Translation

Pumpkin (English) = dynia (Polish)

I hope you had a great Halloween, if you celebrate it. I made a smiling Jack pumpkin (if that’s what it’s called) – see it for yourselves!

This is the third article from my post-conference thoughts series. In this series you will also find an article on attending professional events and on time and task management.

Today I focus on the influence of English on the Polish language. Many Poles will have noticed that day by day Polish is becoming less… Polish. It’s becoming more and more “Ponglish”.

“Ponglish” or “Polglish”?

“Ponglish” is the term I have heard and used here in the UK; some may claim that it should be “Polglish” or even “Poglish”. Since it’s a neologism, we’re quite free to choose to call it whatever we like; the meaning remains the same: either Polish that borrows something from English, or English that borrows something from Polish – the latter being quite common amongst the local Polish diaspora here in the UK. Not that I don’t speak it on rare occasions, of course…

My focus in this post is on “Ponglish” as a trend present in today’s Poland: a trend of Anglicisation of the Polish language. Many articles have been written about this phenomenon and each expresses a different opinion. The reason I chose to write this post is purely because one presentation at the conference I recently attended asked the following question:

Is it possible to speak Polish in today’s Poland?

Well, is it?

Weekend camping marketing = marketing weekendowego campingu?

I know for a fact that words such as weekend or camping (alternative Polonised spelling: kemping) have penetrated other European languages. But many more words were mentioned at the presentation delivered by Marek Średniawa, the vice-chairperson for the IT Terminology Commission of the Council for the Polish Language.

English words that have been incorporated into Polish are sometimes simply left in their original English form and flexed according to Polish grammatical rules, e.g. pendrive, marketing or cloud (computing). Other words have been partially Polonised, e.g. klikać (to click), banować (to ban), wygooglać (to google – if it’s a word, of course!), skaner (scanner) or lajk (like – a Facebook-related term). Another two great examples are czatować, which came to mean to chat (e.g. on instant messaging platforms) but originally used to only mean to ambush, and kontent, the Polonised form of content (noun), as opposed to the old-fashioned adjective of Latin origins, which means happy or contented in its masculin form.

The clash! – keep Polish pure (-ish)

As Marek Średniawa summed it up, there is a clash between the urge to keep the language pure and the strive to preserve its “spirit” with making room for its everyday use and a degree of flexibility.

The purpose of the Commission that he is a member of is to offer some already existing Polish terms for newly emerging English words. So, why use klikać if you can say pstrykać? Or cloud instead of chmura? Or weekend instead of koniec tygodnia? And why do Poles so often say: jestem happy (I’m happy) rather than jestem szczęśliwy or zadowolony, or radosny, or – indeed! kontent?

Why English?

The next question that we need to answer is: why is it English that has such a huge effect on the Polish language?

My gut feeling is that English is just considered cool (Ponglish for cool). This might be due to past U.S. influences. The U.S. is awesome – the rich country of rich saviours (after WW2), the Promised Land; also, before they shut their doors to “foreigners” in 1920s, many Polish families fled their home country, hence the vast size of the American Polish diaspora.

It might also be due to British and Irish influences of the past decade: since Poland’s joined the EU in 2004, many Poles moved to the UK and to Ireland in their search of a better life. Of those who have stayed, they still maintain their links with their families back in Poland. Quite a few of them, however, came to the conclusion that their life in these countries isn’t better, so they returned to Poland and apart from their pounds or euros, they brought a bit of practical English language skills and some Britishness/Irishness back with them.

Furthermore – and, who knows, possibly the most importantly, English is the language of modern commerce and trading, and since Poland is still cheaper than some other European countries, many companies from English-speaking countries open their branches in Poland – but they often require all their employees to communicate mainly or solely in English. So, some Poles speak only English – or, indeed, Ponglish – throughout their working week.

So what?

English penetrated Polish and Poland in more than just commercial ways. I don’t have a particular problem with English phrases used in Polish speech. But if there is a good Polish word for something, please, please use it rather than the English one! Although there is, of course, the issue of Polish having been influenced by other languages in the past… But let’s leave it out for now. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel – we’re just trying to keep the correct shape and materials.

So: say blokować instead of banować. Say zgodny rather than kompatybilny. And certyfikowany sprzedawca, not autoryzowany dealer. In my family we’ve been saying gwizdek, not pendrive. And perhaps lubiejka isn’t such a bad word for a Facebook like? Personally I quite like it.

But don’t overdo it

On the other hand, it is true that it can be difficult to find a good alternative to English words. For example, the Commission’s suggestion to use dwumlask instead of double-click is not pure Polish… it’s just silly. Dwupstryk sounds a bit weird, too.

I conclude that borrowing words from other languages is a balance that might be difficult to strike. Language is not fixed; it’s fluid and it changes with time. In 500 years the language I use here will seem funny and outdated. Yet, we need to retain some control over it in order to be able to communicate effectively. Some Poles have difficulty following English-sounding specialist jargon of some industries, e.g. HR, IT, marketing, not to mention the “beloved” by all management-speak (in Polish known also as korpomowa).

Can you think of words used in the official language of your native country that have been borrowed from other languages? What do you think of them? Would you rather there was a native alternative? Please share your views!

Comments 11

  1. My native tongue is German. All the words mentioned above entered into the German language as well. Actually the Ponglish words you mentioned were not recognizable for me as basically English. They haven’t changed the syntax and grammar of Polish. At least that’s how it looks to me. Besides we have a rather new verb in German “googlen”. It’s widely used everytime we are looking for something in the internet using Google’s search.
    Languages are living, they take up influences and change them. That’s why languages are so interesting.

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      Thank you, Karin, for your comment. I realise that German has been slightly anglicised, too – I visited a friend in Stuttgart a couple of years ago and I could see it right before my eyes! I am not sure why you didn’t identify certain words I gave as examples as coming from English – “marketing” or “wygooglać” being just two of them… Their actual Polish equivalents would be “reklama” and “wyszukać w wyszukiwarce Google”, so not really very close, are they? The grammar, of course, has not been changed but my article was more on an influx of English (or English-derived) words that for a native Polish speaker with no knowledge of English just make no sense.
      I cannot agree with you more that languages are so interesting precisely because they keep changing. But let’s keep some changes at bay and cultivate what we have already! Some words are beautiful and it would be a shame to lose them just because they are not very common.

  2. Hello, I’m Polish and have to say something. I bet you that all above word’s what you used, have some synonyms in other languasge’s. English, like you said before, is as international language. Most of company’s on all world have to employ ppl’s who knows English. Sometimes is easier call some things in “ponglish” than in Polish. This could be some kind a slang. Do you know what i mean.I can write some in polish and even if you have best of the best translator, you willn’t know what i wrote. And the otherwise i say exactly same like you your word — like, but i write it with polish letter’s — lajk. It’s like in US language. US’s ppl are using word’s like: i wanna, i gotta, i’m gonna. Those aren’t an english word’s. Language’s are evolving all the time and maybe someday, you will be using some Polish’s words 😉
    Polish language was kinda different few age’s ago and i wouldn’t be able to conversation with those people’s

    I’m sorry for my english, but i didn’t learn English never before 😉
    and i’m guessing that i’m using US language, not English 😉

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      Hi Cee,
      Thanks for your comment – and of course you’re right that international companies worldwide often have to employ locals, for whom English is their second language. So it’s only natural that they make mistakes and make English more like their native language (in our case, that’s polonisation, like “lajk” or “men” meaning a “man”, e.g. in “Niezły z niego men”.)
      Regarding “wanna” or “gotta”, I think you’re confusing slang with being lazy / writing as if it were speech. Slang is more about using words that have an obscure meaning to those who don’t speak it, e.g. “to go down” = “to go to jail”, “bird” = “prisoner”, also in the UK the so-called Cockney rhyming slang, where “trouble” = “trouble and strife” = “wife”, so if you mention trouble (with reference to someone), in fact you are talking about your wife (if you’re a man, that is).
      Yet another matter is that language changes over time and that if you and I met people from 500 years ago, the likelihood is that we would understand hardly anything (if anything at all) – agreed!

      No problem about erratic English. We all have to begin somewhere. I still make the odd mistake – but then I’m married to a native English speaker, who is also my proofreader.

      Take care,

  3. well I often go to Poland, I’m English and don’t speak Polish and my contribution to Ponglish is “sklepping”, as in “do we really have to go sklepping today…”

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  4. Hi. I just read your post on the subject at the HuffPost as well. The only thing is, I get the impression that readers overe there believe that this is due to the extensive migration of Poles to the UK, whereas, in fact, this has been around a long time.

    I worked in the aviation industry a long time and that is particularly prone to English words. Noone bothers to translate anything from the aviation procedures, and often, there are also no Polish words. Furthermore, all the quality procedures of big corporations, which are originally written in English, are translated into Polish with a complete lack for proper Polish wordings.

    As a result you get stuff like: transparentny (as if przezroczysty is somehow wrong), wałczerowanie (for working time vouchering), podaj mi badża (instead of give me your badge) and so forth.

    On the other hand, many English words really have to make into the Polish language. I remember one professor at my IT University who insisted we call the slash and backslash on the keyboard “skośnik” and “ukośnik”. Or was it the other way round? I’d never remember that. Also, it’s worth remembering that “kserować” comes from the company name Xerox, which invented the first photocopying machine. Somewhat similar to “let’s google something” or “wygugluj to” 🙂

    Again, nice post. And it’s fun to think about it.

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      Hi Michał,

      Firstly, thanks for your positive comments – they really make a difference to me 🙂

      It certainly wasn’t my intention to say that English has been swamping Polish only since Poland has become part of the EU (and Poles started flooding the UK). Perhaps it would be sufficient clarification to say that the top two cities with Polish inhabitants are 1. Warsaw, 2. Chicago in the US… this hasn’t happened overnight!

      It’s also important to remember that it is American English that is the most influential in Poland (at least in my experience of this phenomenon), the reason being the presence of American companies in Poland, which is what I was hinting at during the interview. So the presence of English in the Polish language and culture is due to a long term process over some decades, not just the past few years.

      The complete lack of Polish phraseology in translations that you talk about just proves one thing: they were done either cheaply, or by people who didn’t know what they were doing, or both. That’s the sad reality in the translation industry – too often you find that companies spend an arm and a leg on marketing, product development etc. but skimp on translation – what sort of strategy do they follow?!

      Regarding “kserować” and Xerox, a similar English example would be Hoover and “to hoover”, meaning “to vacuum (clean)”.

      Finally, I think that perhaps I ought to write another post on the subject, also so I can mention things that I forgot about when I received the (unexpected) call from the nice lady from Huffington Post, e.g. “dać feedback” (to give feedback), “sczardżować” (to charge), “fiszenczips” (fish & chips), “pub” (pub), “przyjmujemy ordery na X” (we’re taking X orders) or “kary na kornerze” (curry on the corner, meaning curry from the corner shop/takeaway). My good friend, also a translator, once told me that her husband was trying to get a job in a local shop, where he’d sell “paje”. I needed clarification before I grasped the fact that “paje” stood for “pies”, baked goods that are edible… 😉 The local Polonia come up with all sorts of sometimes bemusing, sometimes cringeworthy words and phrases!

      Once again thanks for your comment,

      PS I’ll never forget an article from JoeMonster.org with Polish Americanisms and “łokuj na sajdłoku” (walk on the sidewalk) – I was so stunned that it took me a good minute to understand what it was supposed to mean!

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  5. Pingback: Ponglish (Poglish? Polglish?) – examples | KeyCheck Translation

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