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!
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?
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.
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!