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Borrowings and false friends between Polish and English
by Adrian Tennant

(Thanks to Ula Tansley for her help and Jonathan Marks for his useful comments.)

• Introduction
• Words borrowed from Polish
• Words borrowed from English
• Unreliable friends
• False friends
• Conclusion
• Further reading
• Next in the series

Introduction

When Poland became one of the member states of the European Union on 1st May 2004 it was the largest of the ten countries joining. With a population of 38.6 million the country, and its language, will surely have an influence on the rest of Europe. So, in this month's MED Magazine we have decided to take a closer look at Polish and its relationship with the English language. We will look at words that English has borrowed from Polish, and words that Polish has taken from English. Finally, we will list some of the most common false friends between the two languages.

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Words borrowed from Polish

There are only a small number of words that English has taken from Polish. One such word is thought to be horde (horda in Polish) although the exact origin of the word is difficult to establish. The word horde, from Turkish, was quite likely brought into English from a variety of languages, including Spanish and German as well as Polish.

It is interesting to note that there seems to be little, if any, anglicisation in terms of spelling or pronunciation of Polish words now used in English. For a list of Polish loan words in English, see the further reading section below.

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Words borrowed from English

Polish, like most other languages, has started to borrow at an accelerated rate over the last few decades. Again, as with many languages, most of the English loan words refer to modern technology, and in particular Information Technology. Some of the words have completely (or almost completely) kept their English spelling. Examples of such loan words include:

e-mail
komputer
modem
skaner
(scanner)

Other words have been changed to fit the Polish spelling (often by adding Polish grammatical features), but the pronunciation of these words remains mostly fairly close to that of the original English words. Examples of this type of borrowing are:

Polish word English word
antywirusowy anti-virus (adj)
internetowy Internet (adj)
klikn to click (as in using the mouse on a computer)
megabajt megabyte
multimedialny multi-media (adj)

The main reason for the 'borrowing' of these words is not simply the fact that there were no words for such things in Polish, but that there was no time to create new words because of the speed with which the technology developed. Rather than create new words it was simpler just to take on already existing terms.

However, words that have entered Polish from English are not limited exclusively to IT. Some common words include:

Polish word English word
dubbingowa to dub
edytowa to edit
chuligani hooligan (Interestingly, in addition to the noun ('chuligan'), a verb is also used in Polish.)
meneder manager
parkowa to park (your car)
wirtualny virtual

There are also some words that have been borrowed where there have been no changes made to the spelling (other than the technology ones we mentioned earlier). These include terms that would be very common in everyday life, with fifty-fifty and non stop being two examples.

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Unreliable friends

There are well over a hundred false friends between Polish and English. Some of these could be considered as 'unreliable friends' in that the difference in meaning is either slight, or additional meanings exist in one language but not the other. Some examples of these are listed below:

Polish word and meaning English word
arbiter - referee arbiter
but - boot, shoe boot
golf - polo-neck sweater, golf golf
humor - mood, humour humour
kalendarz - diary, calendar calendar
komunikacja - public transport, communication communication
marka - make (noun) mark
nowela - short story novel
obstrukcja - constipation, obstruction (especially in politics) obstruction
okazja - bargain, occasion, chance, opportunity occasion
parasol - umbrella, parasol, sunshade parasol
program - TV channel, programme, program program
rasa - breed, race race

Usually any potential for misunderstanding is clarified by the context in which the word is used or is so slight as to be relatively unimportant.

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False friends

The following common false friends may cause considerable problems when confused:

Polish word and meaning English word
aktualny - topical actual
dres - tracksuit dress
ekspedient - sales assistant expedient
ewentualny - possible eventual
genialny - brilliant genial
hazard - gambling hazard
lunatyk - sleepwalker lunatic
ordynarny - vulgar, foul-mouthed ordinary
parapet - window ledge, windowsill parapet
pupil - favourite, pet (as in teacher's pet) pupil
sympatyczny - nice sympathetic
szef - boss, chief chef

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Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how borrowing continues between the two languages, especially given the speed of modern communication and change. Will Polish begin to be inundated with more and more English words and will there be more Polish words that seep into English? Keeping track of these changes will be a challenge for linguists, lexicographers, language learners and language teachers alike.

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Further reading

John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (Arcade, 1990)

You can read an article about the semantics of English borrowings into Polish on this website: http://elex.amu.edu.pl/~krynicki/my_pres/my_pres_12.htm

There is a fascinating short article on the Polish language at: www.poland.gov.pl/?page=1010506001

A short list of words in English that are borrowed from Polish can be found at: www.wordiq.com/definition/List_of_English_words_of_Polish_origin

For an article on false friends and English loan words, see this earlier issue of MED Magazine.

You can read more about the words actual, eventual and interesting in the May 2003 issue.

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Next in the series

Next month we'll take a look at borrowings and false friends between Greek and English.

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