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Article (en anglais) de Halina Arendt sur la corruption de la langue polonaise

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Menace to the Polish Language

One of the side effects of liberating the Eastern European markets since the collapse of totalitarianism in 1989, is the corruption of the Polish language by the huge influx of mainly English lexicon and syntax. To some extent this is due to the impact of Western, American-led culture and technologies, which spread around the globe, influencing many languages. However, it is not only the terminology connected to the new technologies that makes inroads into Polish, but also common words that do have their Polish equivalents. Propagated by the media they quickly take root, with occasional distortions by Polish grammar. And so weekend, hot dogs, snack bar, sex shop, biznes (business), show, etc. came into use despite being hard to pronounce for the natives. You get bombarded by neologisms every step of the way - while reading papers, watching TV, listening to the radio or just walking in town. Subjected to Polish grammar rules (declension, conjugation, etc.) those terms turn into hybrids (English stems with Polish suffixes) and combined with English syntax form "Polglish", a language often unintelligible to the non-English speakers of Polish.

Some of the neologisms just don't fit into Polish smoothly. To quote an example - the prefix "post" was introduced into Polish and is most commonly used in a word post-communist (post komunistyczny). Now, those two words combined mean - "a communist day of fasting" in Polish. Non-English speakers would be puzzled by this hybrid: "Have the communists converted to the catholic faith and have set up a day of penitence for the sins they committed?" Another striking feature is the form of address, which in English can be direct, but in Polish has to be via 3rd person singular or 1st person plural. The majority of translated material flouts this rule making the style clumsy and improper. The spoken language also becomes corrupted by the media, which seem to make literal translations, paying no heed to correct Polish usage.

This clumsy, corrupted language is used amongst Polish communities in the English-speaking countries, where they forget their native tongue. It is astonishing, however, that it is assimilated ever so quickly in Poland. How can this phenomenon be explained? Is this due to snobbery, in a country valuing any western influence after the post-war communist period of isolation? Or is it due to laziness, incompetence or greed of official and unofficial translators and interpreters who take the easy way out by translating it literally - word for word - into Polglish? An accusing finger should be pointed mainly towards the propagators of the language, e.g. translators, writers, publicists, journalists, etc. Their "Polglish" needs transcribing into Polish, so that it can be intelligible to the public at large, in particular to the non-English speakers.

For centuries Polish absorbed influences of various languages, but the scale of the current impact of English remains unprecedented. Propagated by the media, it spreads like wildfire, entrenching the curious paradox: whereas in previous centuries there was a strong repression of Polish by the occupying forces, there was also a strong resistance to it, whereas nowadays nobody seems to care. Whilst for nearly half a century of post-war stagnation the impact of neologisms was negligible, nowadays the floodgates have opened up and the torrent of muck gets through them, resulting in a language lacking in style and unintelligible to the natives. I wonder if this should be any less objectionable considering that this is a global phenomenon. After all English spreads around the globe permeating all languages and so various other hybrids, e.g.: Franglais, Spanglish or Gerlish (?) are created. But do they all sound as clumsy as Polglish?

By Halina Arendt. Copyright © 2003.
Freelance translator (English <> Polish, French > Polish)
Published by lexicool.com, November 2003.

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