|Native to||Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, parts of Latvia, bordering Kresy regions of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus|
L2 speakers: 5 million+
|Latin (Polish alphabet)|
|System Językowo-Migowy (SJM)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Polish Language Council|
(of the Polish Academy of Sciences)
Majority of Polish speakers
Polish used together alongside other languages
Minority of Polish speakers
Polish (język polski, [ˈjɛ̃zɨk ˈpɔlskʲi] (listen), polszczyzna, [pɔlˈʂt͡ʂɨzna] (listen) or simply polski, [ˈpɔlskʲi] (listen)) is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group. 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 Polish speakers around the world – it is the sixth-most-spoken language of the European Union.
Polish is written with the traditional 32-letter Polish alphabet, which has nine additions to the letters of the basic Latin script (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż). The set is composed of 23 consonants and 9 written vowels, including two nasal vowels defined by a reversed diacritic hook called "ogonek" (ę, ą). The letters x, q and v are at times included in the extended 35-letter alphabet, however, these are not used in native words. Polish is a synthetic and fusional language which has seven grammatical cases, 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. 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).
Among the major languages, it is most closely related to Slovak and Czech, 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. 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.
Historically, Polish was a lingua franca, 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 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.