word of the month
and false friends between Polish and English
(Thanks to Ula Tansley for her help and Jonathan Marks for his useful comments.)
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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
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.
The following common false friends may cause considerable
problems when confused:
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.
John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (Arcade,
Next month we'll take a look at borrowings and false friends
between Greek and English.