Menace to the Polish Language

One of the side effects of liberating the Eastern European markets since the collapse of totalitarianism in 1989, is the corruption of the Polish language by the huge influx of mainly English lexicon and syntax. To some extent this is due to the impact of Western, American-led culture and technologies, which spread around the globe, influencing many languages. However, it is not only the terminology connected with the new technologies that makes inroads into Polish, but also common words that do have their Polish equivalents. Propagated by the media they quickly take root, with occasional distortions by Polish grammar. And so weekend, hot dogs, snack bar, sex shop, biznes (business), show, etc. came into use despite being often hard for the natives to enunciate. You get bombarded by neologisms every step of the way – while reading papers, watching TV, listening to the radio or just walking in town. Subjected to Polish grammar rules (declension, conjugation, etc.) those terms turn into hybrids (English stems with Polish suffixes) and combined with English syntax form “Polglish”, a language often unintelligible to the Polish speakers with no knowledge of English.

Frequently those neologisms just don’t fit into Polish smoothly. This is the case with the prefix “post” for instance, introduced from English and commonly used in the expression “post-communist” (post komunistyczny). Now, those two words combined mean – “a communist day of fasting” in Polish, the word “post” being a noun. Non-English speakers would be puzzled by this hybrid: “Have the communists converted to the catholic faith and have set up a day of penance for the sins they committed?” Another striking feature is the form of address, which in English can be direct, but in Polish has to be via the 3rd person singular or the 1st person plural. A good deal of translated material flouts this rule making the style clumsy and improper.

This clumsy, corrupted language is used amongst Polish communities in the English-speaking world, where they simply forget their native tongue. It is astonishing, however, that it is ever so quickly assimilated in its homeland. How can this phenomenon be explained? Is this due to snobbery, in a country valuing any western influence after the post-war communist period of isolation? Or is it due to laziness, incompetence or greed of translators who take the easy way out by translating literally – into Polglish? After all word for word is easier done than sense for sense translation and can even be handled by machines, not to mention the ease of back-translation, if need be. Translators apart, the blame for this widespread phenomenon should be mainly attributed to the media, for they are the influential propagators of the language. Their “Polglish” needs transcribing into Polish, so that it can be intelligible to the public at large, in particular to the non-English speakers.

For centuries Polish absorbed influences of various major languages, but for nearly half a century of post-war stagnation their impact remained negligible. This contrasts strikingly with the current impact of English, which started with the onset of market economy, now well into its second decade. Fuelled by the media, the unprecedented language corruption spreads like wildfire, entrenching the curious paradox: whereas in previous centuries there was a strong repression of Polish by the occupying forces, there was also a strong resistance to it, whereas nowadays nobody seems to care. This results in a clumsy language, lacking in style and unintelligible to the natives. I wonder if this should be any less objectionable considering this is a global phenomenon. After all English spreads around the globe permeating all languages and so various other hybrids, e.g.: Franglais, Spanglish or Denglisch are created. I wonder though, if they too, sound as clumsy as Polglish?

Halina
Freelance Translator En > < Pl; Fr > Pl

E-mail: polished-translations at talktalk.net

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4 responses to this post.

  1. As you can see, included in The GTC newsletter written yesterday http://thegreattranslationchain.wordpress.com/the-gtc-newsletter/ we wrote something regarding safeguarding languages and so, for this reason, we would like to use a condensed version of your text on Polglish in order to use this as an awareness raising cause against the destruction and debasing of the root of languages such as Polish.

    The points you raise in your text are extremely interesting and so we would also provide a link-back to this page thus enabling people to communicate directly with you.

    Congratulations for your thought provoking article and for providing insight into the destruction of linguistic diversity.

    Samantha & Bénédicte

    Reply

  2. Posted by Andrzej Pietrzak on June 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I agree with you entirely. The problem is that some Poles think that it is clever to mix languages. It is not. There is, as has been said, the danger that the Polish language may degenerate into meaningless nonsense. It is sufficient to read and hear contemporary English to perceive the approaching calamity. This deliberate vandalism has developed from is the erroneous belief that one must appear and speak as the the masses do. The result is the shambling horde of scruffy and unintelligible politicians, officials and business leaders, who collectively encourage the believe that anything will suffice. Sadly it takes extreme determination to resist pauperisation of language and ubiquitous slovenliness.

    Reply

  3. Halina, you may safely remove the question mark: “Gerlish” does unfortunately exist (even though I can’t remember having heard someone using the term before), and it is a nuisance. On the other hand, languages are “children of their times”. They pick up annoying habits and lay them off again. You are perfectly right about the somewhat confusing results such may cause, but I’m not so sure whether they are worth the attention we tend to pay them. Give them another twenty years and the vast share of them will have vanished – either forgotten or perfectly integrated in the host language.
    Let me relate two examples of “Gerlish” to make my point. Back in the 1950s, Americans used to be considered “cool” around here (post-war Germany, Austria, …; they had introduced us to chewing gum and Coca Cola, after all), hence English was happily employed to “enhance” everyday German. Young girls used to be called “Backfisch”, young people of both sexes “Teenagers” (“Tee-nager” to those who had no idea of the English language or pronunciation, as in a combination of the German words for “tea” and “rodents”). “Backfisch” was, of course, a corruption of “back fish” (girls too young to be legally dated). “Backfisch” is actually a German word (that’s fried coated fish), but it’s long since out of fashion – anywhere other than Restaurants on a Friday. “Teens” is still in good use though – mostly for unmarried people from the onset of puberty until their early twenties. Tell anyone that a person of 12 is a “child” and of 20+ is a “Twen”, and you’ll successfully identify yourself as “an old fart”. Even though Americans have long since quit being “cool”, some Americanisms and pseudo-Americanisms are here to stay (“cool” apparently not being one of them).

    Reply

  4. Actually, I realise now that more commonly used term for the hybrid of German and English is Denglish /Denglisch. Someone else has noticed this phenomenon. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denglisch. I have now corrected it.

    Reply

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