A lot across the media this week about the Polish language, triggered by the revelation Polish is England’s second most popular tongue – over half a million speakers here. Newsnight even made a feature of it, interviewing Poles and other speakers of minority languages. In the Newsnight debate a language expert made an interesting point: that Polish vocab might not enter the English lexicon until, for example, someone writes a TV comedy set in a Polish shop (now there’s an idea…). I think that’s right: something like what Goodness Gracious Me did for awareness of Indian culture. In the meantime, how odd – I always think – that the rather prosaic “Polski Sklep” (Polish shop) has become almost a byword for the dramatic growth in the UK’s Polish population since EU accession in 2004.
I don’t see there being any great opposition should Polish begin to encroach a little into English. For a start, I think it will only be a little because the maority of Poles over here speak such good English. It may be the odd, attractive or useful word gains currency, rather like with Yiddish. I still haven’t fathomed how people can go through life without making ample use of the Yiddish words “schlep” – an unpleasant trek, or “chutzpah” – a sort of combination of cheek and initiative. Polish sounds attractive, too, which should help. At least, I think so, though I notice a current discussion on the Polish Forums website begins with someone claiming the opposite (they’re soon subjected to the inevitable opprobrium).
It’d really only be fair if some Polish did enter our language. As I point out in my book Polska Dotty, Polish borrows liberally from English. So, “karta kredytowa” means credit card, “monopolizacja” means monopoly, and “gwarancja” means guarantee. Though as I also point out, don’t think that makes Polish an easy language to learn: quite the opposite! But I think what must be endearing to Poles is that a number of foreigners are now starting to learnt their language, no doubt with those settling down with a Polish partner in the vanguard.
But I leave with you with something that amused me in the survey results about languages spoken in UK. Apparently, there’s only one remaining speaker of Caribbean Creole in North London. Now, surely he, if anyone, may be forgiven for wandering the streets talking to himself? Alternatively, he could meet up with the only remaining speaker in South London. Gumbo in Bexley, anyone?