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Polish language

Indo-European language of the West Slavic group, spoken in Poland

Top 10 Polish language related articles

Pronunciation[ˈpɔlskʲi] ( listen)
Native toPoland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, parts of Latvia, bordering Kresy regions of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus
Native speakers
45 million[1]
L2 speakers: 5 million+[2]
Early forms
Latin (Polish alphabet)
Polish Braille
System Językowo-Migowy (SJM)
Official status
Official language in
 European Union
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byPolish Language Council
(of the Polish Academy of Sciences)
Language codes
ISO 639-1pl
ISO 639-2pol
ISO 639-3pol – inclusive code
Individual code:
szl – Silesian
Linguasphere53-AAA-cc 53-AAA-b..-d
(varieties: 53-AAA-cca to 53-AAA-ccu)
  Majority of Polish speakers
  Polish used together alongside other languages
  Minority of Polish speakers
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Polish (język polski, [ˈjɛ̃zɨk ˈpɔlskʲi] ( listen), polszczyzna, [pɔlˈʂt͡ʂɨzna] ( listen) or simply polski, [ˈpɔlskʲi] ( listen)) is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group, written in Latin script.[8] It is spoken primarily in Poland and serves as the native language of the Poles. In addition to being the official language of Poland, it is also used by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 50 million[1][2] Polish speakers around the world – it is the sixth-most-spoken language of the European Union.[9] Polish is subdivided into regional dialects and maintains strict T-V distinction pronouns, honorifics and various forms of formalities when addressing individuals.[10]

Polish is composed of the traditional 32-letter Polish alphabet, which has nine additions to the letters of the basic 26-letter Latin alphabet (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż). The letters x, q and v are at times included in the extended 35-letter alphabet, however, these are not used in native words.[11] The set comprises 23 consonants and 9 written vowels, including two nasal vowels defined by a reversed diacritic hook called "ogonek" (ę, ą).[12] Polish is a synthetic and fusional language which has seven grammatical cases,[13] and is one of few languages in the world possessing continuous penultimate stress with only a few exceptions, and the only in its group having an abundance of palatal consonants.[14] The contemporary variety of Polish was developed in the 1700s as a successor to the medieval Old Polish (10th–16th centuries) and Middle Polish (16th–18th centuries).[15]

Among the major languages, it is most closely related to Slovak[16] and Czech,[17] but differs in terms of pronunciation and general grammar. In addition, Polish was profoundly influenced by Latin and other Romance languages like Italian and French as well as Germanic languages (most notably German), which contributed to a large number of loanwords and similar grammatical structures.[18][19][20] Extensive usage of nonstandard dialects has also shaped the standard language; considerable colloquialisms and expressions were directly borrowed from German or Yiddish, and subsequently adopted into the vernacular of Polish which is in everyday use.[21][22]

Historically, Polish was a lingua franca,[23][24] important both diplomatically and academically in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, Polish is spoken by approximately 38 million people as their first language in Poland. It is also spoken as a second language in eastern Germany, northern Czech Republic and Slovakia, western parts of Belarus and Ukraine as well as in southeast Lithuania and Latvia. Because of the emigration from Poland during different time periods, most notably after World War II, millions of Polish speakers can be found in countries such as Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Polish language Intro articles: 47


Polish began to emerge as a distinct language around the 10th century, the process largely triggered by the establishment and development of the Polish state. Mieszko I, ruler of the Polans tribe from the Greater Poland region, united a few culturally and linguistically related tribes from the basins of the Vistula and Oder before eventually accepting baptism in 966. With Christianity, Poland also adopted the Latin alphabet, which made it possible to write down Polish, which until then had existed only as a spoken language.[25]

The Book of Henryków is the earliest document to include a sentence written entirely in what can be interpreted as Old Polish - Day, ut ia pobrusę, a ty poziwai meaning "let me grind, and you have a rest" highlighted in red

The precursor to modern Polish is the Old Polish language. Ultimately, Polish is thought to descend from the unattested Proto-Slavic language. Polish was a lingua franca from 1500 to 1700 in Central and parts of Eastern Europe, because of the political, cultural, scientific and military influence of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.[26]

The Book of Henryków (Polish: Księga henrykowska, Latin: Liber fundationis claustri Sanctae Mariae Virginis in Heinrichau), contains the earliest known sentence written in the Polish language: Day, ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai (in modern orthography: Daj, uć ja pobrusza, a ti pocziwaj; the corresponding sentence in modern Polish: Daj, niech ja pomielę, a ty odpoczywaj or Pozwól, że ja będę mełł, a ty odpocznij; and in English: Come, let me grind, and you take a rest), written around 1270.

The medieval recorder of this phrase, the Cistercian monk Peter of the Henryków monastery, noted that "Hoc est in polonico" ("This is in Polish").[27][28][29]

Polish, along with Czech and Slovak, forms the West Slavic dialect continuum. The three languages constitute Ausbau languages, i.e. lects that are considered distinct not on purely linguistic grounds, but rather due to sociopolitical and cultural factors.[30] Since the idioms have separately standardized norms and longstanding literary traditions, being the official languages of independent states, they are generally treated as autonomous languages, with the distinction between Polish and Czech-Slovak dialects being drawn along national lines.[30]

Polish language History articles: 12

Geographic distribution

Poland is one of the most linguistically homogeneous European countries; nearly 97% of Poland's citizens declare Polish as their first language. Elsewhere, Poles constitute large minorities in areas which were once administered or occupied by Poland, notably in neighboring Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Polish is the most widely used minority language in Lithuania's Vilnius County (26% of the population, according to the 2001 census results, with Vilnius having been part of Poland from 1922 until 1939) and is found elsewhere in southeastern Lithuania. In Ukraine, it is most common in western Lviv and Volyn Oblasts, while in West Belarus it is used by the significant Polish minority, especially in the Brest and Grodno regions and in areas along the Lithuanian border. There are significant numbers of Polish speakers among Polish emigrants and their descendants in many other countries.

In the United States, Polish Americans number more than 11 million but most of them cannot speak Polish fluently. According to the 2000 United States Census, 667,414 Americans of age five years and over reported Polish as the language spoken at home, which is about 1.4% of people who speak languages other than English, 0.25% of the US population, and 6% of the Polish-American population. The largest concentrations of Polish speakers reported in the census (over 50%) were found in three states: Illinois (185,749), New York (111,740), and New Jersey (74,663).[31] Enough people in these areas speak Polish that PNC Financial Services (which has a large number of branches in all of these areas) offer services available in Polish at all of their cash machines in addition to English and Spanish.[32]

According to the 2011 census there are now over 500,000 people in England and Wales who consider Polish to be their "main" language. In Canada, there is a significant Polish Canadian population: There are 242,885 speakers of Polish according to the 2006 census, with a particular concentration in Toronto (91,810 speakers) and Montreal.[33]

The geographical distribution of the Polish language was greatly affected by the territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II and Polish population transfers (1944–46). Poles settled in the "Recovered Territories" in the west and north, which had previously been mostly German-speaking. Some Poles remained in the previously Polish-ruled territories in the east that were annexed by the USSR, resulting in the present-day Polish-speaking minorities in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, although many Poles were expelled or emigrated from those areas to areas within Poland's new borders. To the east of Poland, the most significant Polish minority lives in a long, narrow strip along either side of the Lithuania-Belarus border. Meanwhile, the flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50), as well as the expulsion of Ukrainians and Operation Vistula, the 1947 forced resettlement of Ukrainian minorities to the Recovered Territories in the west of the country, contributed to the country's linguistic homogeneity.

Geographic language distribution maps of Poland from pre-WWII to present
The "Recovered Territories" (in pink) were parts of Germany, including the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk), that became part of Poland after World War II. The territory shown in grey was lost to the Soviet Union, which expelled many Poles from the area.
Geographical distribution of the Polish language (green) and other Central and Eastern European languages and dialects. A large Polish-speaking diaspora remains in the countries located east of Poland that were once the Eastern Borderlands of the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939).
Knowledge of the Polish language within parts of Europe. Polish is not a majority language anywhere outside of Poland, though Polish minority groups are present in some neighboring countries.

Polish language Geographic distribution articles: 33


The oldest printed text in Polish – Statuta synodalia Episcoporum Wratislaviensis printed in 1475 in Wrocław by Kasper Elyan.
The Polish alphabet contains 32 letters. Q, V and X are not used in the Polish language.

The inhabitants of different regions of Poland still speak Polish somewhat differently, although the differences between modern-day vernacular varieties and standard Polish (język ogólnopolski) appear relatively slight. Most of the middle aged and young speak vernaculars close to standard Polish, while the traditional dialects are preserved among older people in rural areas.[34] First-language speakers of Polish have no trouble understanding each other, and non-native speakers may have difficulty recognizing the regional and social differences. The modern standard dialect, often termed as "correct Polish",[34] is spoken or at least understood throughout the entire country.[17]

Polish has traditionally been described as consisting of four or five main regional dialects:

  • Greater Polish, spoken in the west
  • Lesser Polish, spoken in the south and southeast
  • Masovian, spoken throughout the central and eastern parts of the country
  • Silesian, spoken in the southwest (also considered a separate language, see comment below)

Kashubian, spoken in Pomerania west of Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea, is thought of either as a fifth Polish dialect or a distinct language, depending on the criteria used.[35][36] It contains a number of features not found elsewhere in Poland, e.g. nine distinct oral vowels (vs. the five of standard Polish) and (in the northern dialects) phonemic word stress, an archaic feature preserved from Common Slavic times and not found anywhere else among the West Slavic languages. However, it "lacks most of the linguistic and social determinants of language-hood".[37]

Many linguistic sources categorize Silesian as a dialect of Polish.[38][39] However, many Silesians consider themselves a separate ethnicity and have been advocating for the recognition of a Silesian language. According to the last official census in Poland in 2011, over half a million people declared Silesian as their native language. Many sociolinguists (e.g. Tomasz Kamusella,[40] Agnieszka Pianka, Alfred F. Majewicz,[41] Tomasz Wicherkiewicz)[42] assume that extralinguistic criteria decide whether a lect is an independent language or a dialect: speakers of the speech variety or/and political decisions, and this is dynamic (i.e. it changes over time). Also, research organizations such as SIL International[43] and resources for the academic field of linguistics such as Ethnologue,[44] Linguist List[45] and others, for example the Ministry of Administration and Digitization[46] recognized the Silesian language. In July 2007, the Silesian language was recognized by ISO, and was attributed an ISO code of szl.

Some additional characteristic but less widespread regional dialects include:

  1. The distinctive dialect of the Gorals (Góralski) occurs in the mountainous area bordering the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Gorals ("Highlanders") take great pride in their culture and the dialect. It exhibits some cultural influences from the Vlach shepherds who migrated from Wallachia (southern Romania) in the 14th–17th centuries.[47]
  2. The Poznanski dialect, spoken in Poznań and to some extent in the whole region of the former Prussian Partition (excluding Upper Silesia), with noticeable German influences.
  3. In the northern and western (formerly German) regions where Poles from the territories annexed by the Soviet Union resettled after World War II, the older generation speaks a dialect of Polish characteristic of the Kresy that includes a longer pronunciation of vowels.
  4. Poles living in Lithuania (particularly in the Vilnius region), in Belarus (particularly the northwest), and in the northeast of Poland continue to speak the Eastern Borderlands dialect, which sounds "slushed" (in Polish described as zaciąganie z ruska, "speaking with a Ruthenian drawl") and is easily distinguishable.
  5. Some city dwellers, especially the less affluent population, had their own distinctive dialects - for example, the Warsaw dialect, still spoken by some of the population of Praga on the eastern bank of the Vistula. However, these city dialects are now mostly extinct due to assimilation with standard Polish.
  6. Many Poles living in emigrant communities (for example, in the United States), whose families left Poland just after World War II, retain a number of minor features of Polish vocabulary as spoken in the first half of the 20th century that now sound archaic to contemporary visitors from Poland.

Polish linguistics has been characterized by a strong strive towards promoting prescriptive ideas of language intervention and usage uniformity,[48] along with normatively-oriented notions of language "correctness"[34] (unusual by American standards).[48]

Polish language Dialects articles: 26


Spoken Polish in a neutral informative tone

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A Polish speaker, recorded in Poland


Polish has six oral vowels (seven oral vowels in written form) which are all monophthongs, and two nasal vowels. The oral vowels are /i/ (spelled i), /ɨ/ (spelled y), /ɛ/ (spelled e), /a/ (spelled a), /ɔ/ (spelled o) and /u/ (spelled u and ó as separate letters). The nasal vowels are /ɛ̃/ (spelled ę) and /ɔ̃/ (spelled ą). Unlike Czech or Slovak, Polish does not retain phonemic vowel length — the letter ó, which formerly represented lengthened /ɔ/ in older forms of the language, is now vestigial and instead corresponds to /u/.

Front Central Back
Close i ɘ u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


The Polish consonant system shows more complexity: its characteristic features include the series of affricate and palatal consonants that resulted from four Proto-Slavic palatalizations and two further palatalizations that took place in Polish. The full set of consonants, together with their most common spellings, can be presented as follows (although other phonological analyses exist):

Labial Dental/
Retroflex (Alveolo-)
plain palatalized
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ ɡʲ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʂ t͡ɕ
voiced d͡z d͡ʐ d͡ʑ
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ ɕ x
voiced v z ʐ ʑ
Tap/trill r
Approximant l j w
Polish oral vowels depicted on a vowel chart. Main allophones (in black) are in broad transcription, whereas positional allophones (in red and green) are in narrow transcription. Allophones with red dots appear in palatal contexts. The central vowel [ɐ] is an unstressed allophone of /ɛ, ɔ, a/ in certain contexts

Neutralization occurs between voicedvoiceless consonant pairs in certain environments: at the end of words (where devoicing occurs), and in certain consonant clusters (where assimilation occurs). For details, see Voicing and devoicing in the article on Polish phonology.

Most Polish words are paroxytones (that is, the stress falls on the second-to-last syllable of a polysyllabic word), although there are exceptions.

Consonant distribution

Polish permits complex consonant clusters, which historically often arose from the disappearance of yers. Polish can have word-initial and word-medial clusters of up to four consonants, whereas word-final clusters can have up to five consonants.[49] Examples of such clusters can be found in words such as bezwzględny [bɛzˈvzɡlɛndnɨ] ('absolute' or 'heartless', 'ruthless'), źdźbło [ˈʑd͡ʑbwɔ] ('blade of grass'), wstrząs [ˈfstʂɔw̃s] ('shock'), and krnąbrność [ˈkrnɔmbrnɔɕt͡ɕ] ('disobedience'). A popular Polish tongue-twister (from a verse by Jan Brzechwa) is W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie [fʂt͡ʂɛbʐɛˈʂɨɲɛ ˈxʂɔw̃ʂt͡ʂ ˈbʐmi fˈtʂt͡ɕiɲɛ] ('In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed').

Unlike languages such as Czech, Polish does not have syllabic consonants – the nucleus of a syllable is always a vowel.[50]

The consonant /j/ is restricted to positions adjacent to a vowel. It also cannot precede the letter y.


The predominant stress pattern in Polish is penultimate stress – in a word of more than one syllable, the next-to-last syllable is stressed. Alternating preceding syllables carry secondary stress, e.g. in a four-syllable word, where the primary stress is on the third syllable, there will be secondary stress on the first.[51]

Each vowel represents one syllable, although the letter i normally does not represent a vowel when it precedes another vowel (it represents /j/, palatalization of the preceding consonant, or both depending on analysis). Also the letters u and i sometimes represent only semivowels when they follow another vowel, as in autor /ˈawtɔr/ ('author'), mostly in loanwords (so not in native nauka /naˈu.ka/ 'science, the act of learning', for example, nor in nativized Mateusz /maˈte.uʂ/ 'Matthew').

A formal-tone informative sign in Polish, with a composition of vowels and consonants and a mixture of long, medium and short syllables

Some loanwords, particularly from the classical languages, have the stress on the antepenultimate (third-from-last) syllable. For example, fizyka (/ˈfizɨka/) ('physics') is stressed on the first syllable. This may lead to a rare phenomenon of minimal pairs differing only in stress placement, for example muzyka /ˈmuzɨka/ 'music' vs. muzyka /muˈzɨka/ - genitive singular of muzyk 'musician'. When additional syllables are added to such words through inflection or suffixation, the stress normally becomes regular. For example, uniwersytet (/uɲiˈvɛrsɨtɛt/, 'university') has irregular stress on the third (or antepenultimate) syllable, but the genitive uniwersytetu (/uɲivɛrsɨˈtɛtu/) and derived adjective uniwersytecki (/uɲivɛrsɨˈtɛt͡skʲi/) have regular stress on the penultimate syllables. Loanwords generally become nativized to have penultimate stress.[52]

Another class of exceptions is verbs with the conditional endings -by, -bym, -byśmy, etc. These endings are not counted in determining the position of the stress; for example, zrobiłbym ('I would do') is stressed on the first syllable, and zrobilibyśmy ('we would do') on the second. According to prescriptive authorities, the same applies to the first and second person plural past tense endings -śmy, -ście, although this rule is often ignored in colloquial speech (so zrobiliśmy 'we did' should be prescriptively stressed on the second syllable, although in practice it is commonly stressed on the third as zrobiliśmy).[53] These irregular stress patterns are explained by the fact that these endings are detachable clitics rather than true verbal inflections: for example, instead of kogo zobaczyliście? ('whom did you see?') it is possible to say kogoście zobaczyli? – here kogo retains its usual stress (first syllable) in spite of the attachment of the clitic. Reanalysis of the endings as inflections when attached to verbs causes the different colloquial stress patterns. These stress patterns are however nowadays sanctioned as part of the colloquial norm of standard Polish.[54]

Some common word combinations are stressed as if they were a single word. This applies in particular to many combinations of preposition plus a personal pronoun, such as do niej ('to her'), na nas ('on us'), przeze mnie ('because of me'), all stressed on the bolded syllable.

Polish language Phonology articles: 85


The Polish alphabet derives from the Latin script, but includes certain additional letters formed using diacritics. The Polish alphabet was one of three major forms of Latin-based orthography developed for Western and some South Slavic languages, the others being Czech orthography and Croatian orthography, the last of these being a 19th-century invention trying to make a compromise between the first two. Kashubian uses a Polish-based system, Slovak uses a Czech-based system, and Slovene follows the Croatian one; the Sorbian languages blend the Polish and the Czech ones.

Historically, Poland's once diverse and multi-ethnic population utilized many forms of scripture to write Polish. For instance, Lipka Tatars and Muslims inhabiting the eastern parts of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth wrote Polish in the Arabic alphabet.[55] The Cyrillic script is used to a certain extent by Polish speakers in Western Belarus, especially for religious texts.[56]

The diacritics used in the Polish alphabet are the kreska (graphically similar to the acute accent) in the letters ć, ń, ó, ś, ź and through the letter in ł; the kropka (superior dot) in the letter ż, and the ogonek ("little tail") in the letters ą, ę. The letters q, v, x are used only in foreign words and names.[11]

Polish orthography is largely phonemic—there is a consistent correspondence between letters (or digraphs and trigraphs) and phonemes (for exceptions see below). The letters of the alphabet and their normal phonemic values are listed in the following table.

The Jakub Wujek Bible in Polish, 1599 print. The letters á and é were subsequently abolished, but survive in Czech.
A a /a/ Ń ń /ɲ/
Ą ą /ɔ̃/, [ɔn], [ɔm] O o /ɔ/
B b /b/ (/p/) Ó ó /u/
C c /ts/ P p /p/
Ć ć // Q q Only loanwords
D d /d/ (/t/) R r /r/
E e /ɛ/ S s /s/
Ę ę /ɛ̃/, [ɛn], [ɛm], /ɛ/ Ś ś /ɕ/
F f /f/ T t /t/
G g /ɡ/ (/k/) U u /u/
H h /ɣ/ (/x/) V v Only loanwords
I i /i/, /j/ W w /v/ (/f/)
J j /j/ X x Only loanwords
K k /k/ Y y /ɨ/, /ɘ/
L l /l/ Z z /z/ (/s/)
Ł ł /w/, /ɫ/ Ź ź /ʑ/ (/ɕ/)
M m /m/ Ż ż /ʐ/ (/ʂ/)
N n /n/

The following digraphs and trigraphs are used:

Digraph Phonemic value(s) Digraph/trigraph
(before a vowel)
Phonemic value(s)
ch /x/ ci //
cz // dzi //
dz /dz/ (/ts/) gi /ɡʲ/
// (//) (c)hi //
// (//) ki //
rz /ʐ/ (/ʂ/) ni /ɲ/
sz /ʂ/ si /ɕ/
    zi /ʑ/

Voiced consonant letters frequently come to represent voiceless sounds (as shown in the tables); this occurs at the end of words and in certain clusters, due to the neutralization mentioned in the Phonology section above. Occasionally also voiceless consonant letters can represent voiced sounds in clusters.

The spelling rule for the palatal sounds /ɕ/, /ʑ/, //, // and /ɲ/ is as follows: before the vowel i the plain letters s, z, c, dz, n are used; before other vowels the combinations si, zi, ci, dzi, ni are used; when not followed by a vowel the diacritic forms ś, ź, ć, dź, ń are used. For example, the s in siwy ("grey-haired"), the si in siarka ("sulfur") and the ś in święty ("holy") all represent the sound /ɕ/. The exceptions to the above rule are certain loanwords from Latin, Italian, French, Russian or English—where s before i is pronounced as s, e.g. sinus, sinologia, do re mi fa sol la si do, Saint-Simon i saint-simoniści, Sierioża, Siergiej, Singapur, singiel. In other loanwords the vowel i is changed to y, e.g. Syria, Sybir, synchronizacja, Syrakuzy.

The following table shows the correspondence between the sounds and spelling:

Digraphs and trigraphs are used:

Phonemic value Single letter/Digraph
(in pausa or
before a consonant)
(before a vowel)
Single letter/Digraph
(before the vowel i)
// ć ci c
// dzi dz
/ɕ/ ś si s
/ʑ/ ź zi z
/ɲ/ ń ni n

Similar principles apply to //, /ɡʲ/, // and /lʲ/, except that these can only occur before vowels, so the spellings are k, g, (c)h, l before i, and ki, gi, (c)hi, li otherwise. Most Polish speakers, however, do not consider palatalization of k, g, (c)h or l as creating new sounds.

Except in the cases mentioned above, the letter i if followed by another vowel in the same word usually represents /j/, yet a palatalization of the previous consonant is always assumed.

The letters ą and ę, when followed by plosives and affricates, represent an oral vowel followed by a nasal consonant, rather than a nasal vowel. For example, ą in dąb ("oak") is pronounced [ɔn], and ę in tęcza ("rainbow") is pronounced [ɛn] (the nasal assimilates to the following consonant). When followed by l or ł (for example przyjęli, przyjęły), ę is pronounced as just e. When ę is at the end of the word it is often pronounced as just [ɛ].

Note that, depending on the word, the phoneme /x/ can be spelt h or ch, the phoneme /ʐ/ can be spelt ż or rz, and /u/ can be spelt u or ó. In several cases it determines the meaning, for example: może ("maybe") and morze ("sea").

In occasional words, letters that normally form a digraph are pronounced separately. For example, rz represents /rz/, not /ʐ/, in words like zamarzać ("freeze") and in the name Tarzan.

Doubled letters are usually pronounced as a single, lengthened consonant, however, some speakers might pronounce the combination as two separate sounds.

There are certain clusters where a written consonant would not be pronounced. For example, the ł in the word jabłko ("apple") might be omitted in ordinary speech, leading to the pronunciation japko.

Polish language Orthography articles: 51