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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Resources for the Study of the Polish Language

Introduction to the Polish Language

History and classification: The Polish language belongs to the West-Slavic group of the Indo-European languages together with Czech and Slovak. It emerged from the Proto-Slavic language as used as the mother tongue of all Slavic tribes in the past. Polish has developed so much that the texts written in the Middle Ages are not 100-per-cent understandable to contemporary Poles and need to be read with a dictionary of archaisms. During the times of the Partitions of Poland (1795-1918) the Prussian and Russian conquerors tried to eradicate Polish identity, but their plans eventually failed and Poles retained their language almost intact.

Geographic distribution: Polish is the official language of Poland. It is also used as a second language in some parts of Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. This phenomenon is caused by migrations and resettlements as well as frontier changes brought by the Jalta agreement in 1945 after World War II. As a result, lots of Poles were left outside the territory of their fatherland. Polish is spoken, naturally, by Polish emigrants living all around the world, also by their children and grandchildren. The total number of speakers worldwide is about 50 million.

Dialects: There are only a few dialects that differ from the standard Polish language, however the differences among them are not significant and mostly based on regional pronunciation and vocabulary changes. The most distinguishable are the dialects of Silesia and Podhale (highlander's dialect). Worth mentioning is Kashubian - a separate language used by the inhabitants living west of Gdansk near the Baltic Sea. The number of its users is estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. Although it is gradually becoming extinct, a lot of effort is being put into saving it and it recently begun to be taught at local schools as a minority language.

General characteristics: Polish, like other Indo-European languages, shares some Latin grammar and vocabulary. There are 3 tenses (past, present, future), 2 numbers (singular and plural), and 3 genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). There are no articles but Polish, like Latin, and is an inflectional language that distinguishes 7 cases, defining the noun usage in a sentence. This feature makes our mother tongue difficult to master and presents a lot of trouble to foreigners. (Source)

Intensive Language Programs

The American Association for Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) website has a page that describes intensive programs in Slavic and East European languages as well as in the languages of the Republics of the former Soviet Union. The listings include those programs offered in U.S. (and some Canadian) colleges and universities as well as in programs abroad. This is a free service provided by AATSEEL to such programs.

Each language has its own page, and programs are divided into the following categories: Summer Programs in the U.S., Summer Programs Abroad, and Semester/Year Programs Abroad. Information is added to this page as it is received, so check frequently for updates.

The website has a table which allows you to click on the language you are interested in, and it directs you to links to the program/school websites teaching the language.