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Lesson Transcript

Writing System
Beata: All About Polish Lesson 2 - Learn the Polish writing system
Nick: Hey, everyone. Welcome back. In this lesson, Beata and I are going to explain a little bit more about one of the most interesting aspects of the Polish languageโ€ฆthe writing system!
Beata: That's right! There are a lot of things that we're going to cover in this lesson.
Nick: Definitely. The Polish writing system is quite unique. It's based on the Latin alphabet, with a few additional letters that are used to represent sounds unique to the Polish language.
Beata: Yes, that's correct. Special diacritical marks were added, such as an acute mark and a dot that are written above certain letters, and a little hook that is attached just to the vowels "-a" and "-e" to make them sound nasal.
Nick: From what I know, the acute mark you were just talking about is not an accent; its function is mainly to soften some consonants, but it also appears above the vowel "-o."
Beata: That's absolutely correct. Also, throughout the ages, Polish has gained a lot of consonant clusters that represent one sound; however, they consist of two or even three letters. I know that a lot of foreigners are very often intimidated by the number of consonants in just one Polish word.
Nick: I guess your last name would be a perfect example of how confusing and scary Polish can be.
Beata: Probably at the very beginning, yes, it might be overwhelming looking at my last name and trying to pronounce it. My last name is Szczepaล„ska, and it's spelled "-S" "-Z" "-C" "-Z" "-E" "-P" "-A" "-ลƒ" "-S" "-K" "-A," where out of eleven letters, eight of them are consonants.
Nick: Oh, yes. I forgot about the fact that the Polish language has only nine vowels and, believe or not, twenty-three consonants. On top of that are the consonant clusters like the "-sz" or "-cz" that are present in Beata's last name.
Beata: However, please remember that the cluster "-sz," for example, is used to represent one sound, even though it it's written using two consonants.
Nick: And the same rules apply to the second consonant cluster that is in your last name, "-cz." It consists of the consonants "-c" and "-z"; however, you read them as one sound.
Beata: Exactly. You got it, Nick. It obviously takes time to get used to the idea of putting the consonants together instead of reading them separately, but it's definitely a doable task. In time, you will see that it's not as difficult as it may seem.
Nick: So was the Polish writing system always like that? How did it develop?
Beata: Of course, it went through a lot of changes and standardizations to look the way it looks today.
It took Poles a lot of time to unify the writing system simply because for a very long time Latin was the official language used in matters of government and liturgy, whereas Polish was used by the lower classes.
Nick: So since the better-educated part of the Polish society spoke Latin, they also probably wrote texts in Latin instead of Polish. I'm sure that Polish appeared here and there; however, it probably wasn't used on a day-to-day basis.
Beata: Exactly. Most of the documents that were preserved from this era, that is, from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, were entirely written in Latin. Single Polish words, and soon the first entire Polish sentence, were to be found in those documents.
Nick: What about the first Polish text?
Beata: The first written text entirely in Polish comes from either the end of the thirteenth century or from the beginning of the fourteenth century. It's a Polish religious song, and also incidentally the first Polish national anthem, called "Bogurodzica."
Nick: Poles are probably very proud of this song since it's considered to be the first Polish anthem.
Beata: Absolutely. But there is another reason why this song is so well known by Poles. It's believed by some that this song was sung by the Polish army before the battle of Grunwald, which took place in 1410; this was a victorious battle of the Polish nation over the invincible, at that time, Teutonic Knights.
Nick: Very interesting. So then, I would assume that after "Bogurodzica," you started to have more and more documents written solely in Polish, especially since the arrival of the printing era was soon to come.
Beata: Good point, Nick. After "Bogurodzica," an increasing number of texts and documents written entirely in Polish appeared; however, these were mainly translations performed by monks of devotional and religious texts.
Nick: From what I know, monks were able to perform such translations because they were very well educated and, most of all, fluent in Latin.
Beata: Yes, they were very good at Latin. However, we can't forget about one simple fact. Since in Polish there were some sounds that Latin did not have, what they would do is simply use the same Latin letter to represent many different sounds in Polish...
Nick: and this must have caused a lot of confusion. I can't even imagine what a huge amount of inconsistency there was as to what Polish letter substitutes for what Latin letter.
Beata: And like you mentioned before, with the arrival of the printing era, something had to be done to eliminate the confusion.
Nick: So what happened?
Beata: So when print finally found its way to Poland, which took place at the beginning of the sixteenth century, printers demanded a greater deal of standardization within the alphabet.
Nick: Wasn't this period called the Golden Age of Polish Culture?
Beata: Yes, this period is often referred to as the Golden Age. It brought new dictionaries, grammar, and treatises on spelling that helped unify the Polish writing system, a system still used today.
Nick: We're glad it got unified because otherwise it would be impossible to learn it. You can learn it with us here at PolishPod101.com.


Please to leave a comment.
๐Ÿ˜„ ๐Ÿ˜ž ๐Ÿ˜ณ ๐Ÿ˜ ๐Ÿ˜’ ๐Ÿ˜Ž ๐Ÿ˜  ๐Ÿ˜† ๐Ÿ˜… ๐Ÿ˜œ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜ญ ๐Ÿ˜‡ ๐Ÿ˜ด ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜ˆ โค๏ธ๏ธ ๐Ÿ‘

PolishPod101.com Verified
Monday at 06:30 PM
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Hello Listeners, what do you think most interesting about the Polish writing system?

Saturday at 08:39 PM
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Hi Maria,

Thank you for leaving the comment!

In case of any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.



Team PolishPod101.com

Friday at 08:29 AM
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From an English-speaking perspective, the use of various diacritical marks seems strange, but looking up accents and stuff on wikipedia, it says "English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words" so English is actually the odd one out for not using diacritics. We could have used them to make English pronunciation and spelling easier, but for some reason we just left them as they were.

PolishPod101.com Verified
Friday at 02:05 AM
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Hi Thomas

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we do not have at the moment video explaining Polish letter, but you can find a useful visualization here: http://www.bajkidoczytania.pl/img/alfabet-polski-pisany-do-druku.png . You can print it and keep it handy when practicing.

I hope that helps and please let me know if you need any assistance!



Team PolishPod101.com

Tuesday at 01:23 AM
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Hi there,

I have a question about writing with pen and paper: How do I have to write the special Polish characters, if I want to write them down with a pen? Especially I can't imagine, how I have to write ล‚/ล, also ฤ… and ฤ™ - others as ล„, ล›, รณ and so on may be no problem. Will you perhaps create a video with explanations about this? Are there any informations about it?

Kind regards,


PolishPod101.com Verified
Tuesday at 10:36 AM
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Hi Karri

Thank you for your message. Good luck in your studies. Let us know in case you have any questions about Polish.



Team PolishPod011.com

Saturday at 05:59 AM
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The Polish writing system did look intimidating, however, only after one week of studying, I have pretty much forgotten my fears about it, without even noticing it. Everything is doable with enough child-like curiosity to life and hence, also languages! Polish sound very beautiful to me, I would be insane not to follow through with my goal to master some basic speaking level of Polish after 6 months.



PolishPod101.com Verified
Wednesday at 09:37 AM
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Hi Shaun

Thank you for your message. Cyrillic alphabet was created on request of Byzantine Emperor and a ruler of Magna Moravia, who wanted to organize and codify Slavic languages. The main purpose of it was to spread Eastern Orthodox Christianity into Slavic speaking countries.

Cyril and Methodius (the fathers of the Cyrillic alphabet) were both from modern day Thessaloniki (Slavic name Solon or Soล‚uล„ ) and spoke Slavic dialects. Thus the base is a little bit similar to Greek characters. It then moved with this version of Christianity to Bulgaria, Serbia, Grand Moravia, Ukraine and eventually Russia. There are some accounts that parts of modern day Poland (areas around Krakow ) were under some influence of Grand Moravia and Ukraine in IX century AD. It is possible they did use (or try to use) Cyrillic alphabet. However since 966 AD Polish regions were united and adopted Catholic (western) version of Christianity and with it a Latin alphabet and we have been using it ever since. The modern day version of alphabet was developing throughout the centuries and it's final form was adopted in XVIII century. As a small curiosity I can also tell you that there were regions of Poland in the past which used... Arabic alphabet to write Polish sounds.

Let us know in case you have any other questions.



Team PolishPod101.com

Tuesday at 03:31 PM
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I'm just fascinated by the nasal vowels. I would not have guessed it. It's pretty neat how Polish was able to standardize its spelling over the years using the Latin alphabet. I'm used to seeing languages like Russian and Bulgarian written in Cyrillic, so it's nice to see an alphabet that is more familiar to me.

Did Polish ever use Cyrillic? If not, is there a reason it did not spread from the east?