Polish language, member of the West Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). Polish is spoken as a first language by about 38 million people in Poland, where it is the official language; by more than 1 million in the other countries of E Europe; and by about 1 million in North America. The Polish language is written in the Roman alphabet augmented by the use of diacritical marks. It is extremely rich phonetically, having 10 vowels and 35 consonants. In pronunciation the stress is normally placed on the penultimate syllable of a word. A distinctive feature is the preservation in spoken Polish of the nasal vowels which are no longer found in the other modern Slavic tongues. As in Czech, the nouns, pronouns, and adjectives have seven cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, instrumental, and locative). The verb is inflected to indicate gender as well as person and number, and can do so without the use of the personal pronoun. There are three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and two numbers (singular and plural). A large number of diminutive and augmentative forms is also characteristic. The vocabulary of Polish is basically Slavic, but it has been enriched by borrowings from German in the Middle Ages, from Italian during the Renaissance, from French in the 17th and 18th cent., and also from English, White Russian, and Ukrainian. The earliest surviving manuscripts containing Polish words are some 12th-century Latin texts containing Polish proper names; there are no extant Polish writings of substantial length from before the 14th cent. Modern Polish came into use in the 16th cent., developing as the sophisticated and expressive language of a great literature (see Polish literature).
See A. M. Schenker, Beginning Polish (2 vol., 1966–67); S. S. Birkenmayer, Introduction to the Polish Language (2d ed. 1967).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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