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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 often being unpronounceable to the natives. 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 penitence 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 adopted ever so quickly 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 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 assigned to all influential propagators of the language, e.g. the media (publishers, writers, journalists, TV presenters, etc.) 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 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 a decade and a half ago. 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 Gerlish (?) are created. I wonder though, if they too, sound as clumsy as Polglish.


Published by, November 2003

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