Contemporary language – yet borrowed or already contaminated?

In the past, using the Polish language with French or Italian loanwords was a sign of sophistication. Nowadays, we more and more frequently wonder whether the so-called corporate lingo and Ponglish expressions are yet loanwords or maybe they are already a sign of degradation of our language?

There are several reasons for introducing loanwords (which does not apply to Polish only, but to each living dialect as well). The first and the foremost one is maintaining close cultural, political and economic relations and the exchange of experiences and traditions between various countries, which results in the spread of cultures and languages.

Insufficient resources of a given language which stem from the occurrence of certain phenomena in one particular region only are the next reason. For example “igloo” – this type of household is not present in our geographical region, hence we have borrowed this name from the Inuit language. Another reason for using loanwords is that people think this is trendy, as was the case with French, as mentioned above, which was extremely popular in the eighteen century, when most of French loanwords were introduced. Loanwords usually become part of the language arbitrarily, but sometimes, as it was with French, this is done on purpose. In one way or another, loanwords become permanent part of language folklore.

Our history and the current geopolitical situation have prevented the Polish language from being an influential dialect. It is rather us who borrow words from other languages and not the other way round. Although we do not always realize that, loanwords from all over the world started to appear in Polish as early as about one thousand years ago. When we use them on a daily basis, they quickly cease to sound strange to us.

Over the years, there have also been shifts in the directions from which loanwords came to the Polish language. When we consider the situation ten centuries ago, we can see that along with Christianity, we also took over from our southern neighbours, i.e. Czechs, the whole range of religious vocabulary. For instance, “kościół” (church) is one of the words originating from their language.

Over the time, our language was enriched with words originating from Latin (especially during the Middle Ages), German, Italian and French. The era of the Polish People’s Republic was the last period in which Polish would absorb words from a different dialect. Like it or not, from the 50s of the twentieth century on, a great deal of words of Russian origin would enter the Polish language to become its permanent element.

Although loanwords are often considered as a phenomenon which contaminates Polish, it should be remembered that many of them have a positive influence on our language. Loanwords make up for words that do not exist in Polish but need to be introduced due to the continuous emergence of new scientific, cultural and political concepts. New ideas and innovations are given names used in the country of their origin. Especially in times of such a dynamic development of technology, there is no need to give a Polish name to each invention. Sometimes, as in the case of the word “computer”, it is enough to give them Polish spelling, or simply use the original name (“tablet”, “bit”).

On the other hand, we can now observe an influx of vocabulary derived mainly from English, the use of which is not always justified. The first day in an international corporation can be a big shock for a linguistic purist. Why is it the corporate jargon that some people find so bothering?

While the use of loanwords to make up for words which do not exist in Polish seems justified, there is no reason for using “kejs” (case), “risercz” (research) and “kol” (phone call) on a daily basis. Those working in an international environment can, indeed, very quickly take over English expressions, but there is no logical reason for using them in all situations. Firstly, it is probable that a colleague from abroad will not understand polonized terms. Secondly, it is easy to debunk the argument that this is done out of convenience. Does it really take so much time to say “na szybko” (fast) or “natychmiast” (immediately) instead of “ASAP”? In this particular case, this abbreviation is very convenient in English (“as soon as possible” indeed takes much space on paper and valuable seconds), but the Polish words which happen to be replaced with “ASAP” are equally concise. What is upsetting in this case is that such newspeak is used not only in conversations between colleagues, but also in companies’ official communication.

It is obvious that our language keeps evolving, but is the direction of this process right? Everyone has their own opinion in this regard and it is hard to say whether the fear of contamination of the language with corporate jargon is justified or not. A great deal of linguists believe that the Polish language will eventually defend itself from the newspeak attack. Using corporate lingo and making more and more English expressions sound Polish will soon be considered ridiculous and the situation of the 90s – when we relished the western lifestyle so much that we often abused foreign names of jobs or products, which after a few years regained their original Polish names – will repeat.

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