The new Poland

Complex consonant clusters

An alphabet with 32 letters, tongue twisters and infinitely long words: a crash course on the pitfalls of the Polish language

1. The name Polska comes from the word pole, meaning “a field” and Polanie (Polans), a West Slavic tribe who inhabited the area over ten centuries ago.

2. The Polish alphabet has 32 letters. It doesn’t include Q, V or X but has nine unique characters: Ą, Ć, Ę, Ł, Ń, Ó, Ś, Ż, Ź. Each little dot and stroke, called a diacritical mark, is an integral part of the given letter. Together they create some impressive combinations like żółw (“turtle”). Polish’s distinctive sound comes from its famous consonant clusters: ch, cz, dz, dź, dż, rz, sz, dzi.

3. Nearly every word in the Polish language has at least one diminutive form. In fact, most have even more than three or five possible options to convey friendliness and affection. confusingly, Polish first names can be said in a variety of ways: Ola, is a short form of Aleksandra and Joanna can be shortened to Asia. Benek, meanwhile, is a diminutive of both Bernard and Benedykt.

4. Very long Polish words can be created as adjectives from numerals and nouns. For example, Dziewięćsetdziewięćdziesięciodziewięcionarodowościowego, 54 letters, is the genitive singular form of an adjective meaning roughly “of nine-hundred and ninety-nine nationalities”.

5. Surnames in Polish may vary depending on gender and plurality. So Aleksandra is Mizielińska, Daniel is Mizieliński, and as a couple we are Mizielińscy.

6. Some of the most unpronounceable words in Polish are: szczęście (‘happiness’), źdźbło (‘grass-stalk’) and chrząszcz (‘beetle’).

7. Polish, a West Slavic language, is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Poland and large Polish communities abroad. According to the 2011 UK census, Polish is the second most spoken language in England and Wales. It’s also the second most spoken language in Iceland, where 2,7 percent of the population speak Polish.