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Overview of the Languages Spoken in Poland

Posted by Chloe G. on March 27, 2024.

Poland, situated in Central Europe, boasts a population of over 38 million inhabitants. Bordered by seven countries as well as the Baltic Sea, its geographic position plays a significant role in the diversity of languages found within its borders.

The linguistic landscape of Poland is rich and varied, with a total of 15 languages spoken by more than 3,000 people each. Among these are regional languages, many of which are shared with Poland’s neighboring countries, reflecting historical and cultural connections. Additionally, immigration has brought languages such as English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Vietnamese to the forefront, further contributing to Poland’s linguistic mosaic.

Moreover, Poland is home to approximately 14 smaller minority languages, spoken by various ethnic groups as part of their heritage. These languages serve as a testament to Poland’s multicultural heritage and the coexistence of different linguistic traditions within its borders. They play a crucial role in preserving cultural identity and fostering a sense of belonging among minority communities. Let’s explore the overview of the languages spoken in Poland

The Polish Language In Poland

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Although Poland boasts a diverse linguistic landscape, the overwhelming majority of its population (98%) communicates in Polish as their primary language. Polish belongs to the West Slavic language group, specifically categorized as a “Lechitic” language.

Within the Lechitic group, Polish is accompanied by smaller languages like Silesian and Kashubian, alongside major languages found in other West Slavic branches, such as Czech and Slovak.

While Polish shares its Slavic roots with languages like Ukrainian and Russian, it distinguishes itself by employing a variant of the Latin alphabet rather than the Cyrillic script. This adaptation of the Latin alphabet accommodates Polish pronunciation, showcasing its unique linguistic characteristics.

 

The Most Spoken Languages In Poland

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In the following discussion, I will outline some of the most commonly spoken languages in Poland. The list comprises regional, immigrant, and foreign languages spoken within the country, based on data from 2011. It’s worth noting that these figures reflect the number of individuals who speak the language regularly, not necessarily as their first language.

Polish (37,815,606 – 99.5%)

Silesian (529,377 – 1.4%)

Kashubian (108,140 – 0.3%)

English (103,541 – 0.3%)

German (96,461 – 0.25%)

Belarusian (26,448 – 0.07%)

Ukrainian (24,539 – 0.06%)

Russian (19,805 – 0.05%)

Romany (14,468 – 0.04%)

French (10,677 – 0.03%)

Italian (10,295 – 0.03%)

Rusyn (6,279 – 0.02%)

Spanish (5,770 – 0.02%)

Lithuanian (5,303 – 0.01%)

Vietnamese (3,360 – 0.01%)

While some of these numbers may seem relatively high, individuals who regularly speak languages other than Polish are exceptionally rare in Poland, as indicated by their percentages of the total Polish population. However, it’s important to note that certain languages listed above are highly regional, and in specific towns and regions, they may be spoken by a significantly larger proportion of the local population.

Let’s delve deeper into each language:

Silesian:

Silesian is a West-Slavic and Lechitic language that shares close ties with Polish. It has been significantly influenced by German, leading to debates among linguists regarding its classification as either a dialect of Polish or a distinct language in its own right.

Primarily spoken in the historical region of “Upper Silesia” in Southern Poland, Silesian is used by over half a million Poles. Additionally, it is spoken to a lesser extent in some northern parts of the Czech Republic.

Kashubian:

Similar to Polish and Silesian, Kashubian belongs to the Lechitic language group within the West Slavic branch. Often considered a dialect of Polish, Kashubian has its own distinct characteristics and historical roots.

It is believed that Kashubian originated from Pomeranian, a Lechitic language spoken by the Pomeranians, a Slavic tribe possibly predating the arrival of the Poles in what is now the Kashubia region of northwestern Poland, near the German border.

The Kashubian language comprises northern and southern dialects, which interestingly exhibit minimal mutual intelligibility. Kashubian, like Polish and Silesian, has absorbed a significant number of German loanwords. However, unlike these languages, Kashubian has borrowed extensively from Low German dialects, with slightly fewer loanwords from High German.

With a speaker population of just over 100,000, primarily concentrated in the Kashubia region, Kashubian remains a vital aspect of the cultural heritage of its speakers.

English:

Interestingly, approximately 100,000 Poles use English regularly, despite the native English-speaking population in Poland numbering only around 7,000. While one might assume this is due to the presence of American or British expatriates, the majority of English speakers in Poland are likely to be Poles who have learned English as a second language. In fact, around 50% of Poles have some level of proficiency in English as a second language, a trend we will explore further later.

German:

A slightly smaller number, just under 100,000, of Poles speak German as their first language. However, the number of Poles of German descent could be as high as 500,000. German minorities in Poland have been present since the Middle Ages, with High German becoming the dominant dialect among Polish Germans since the mid-20th century. Previously, the “Silesian German” dialect was more prevalent among the German minority. Most of these individuals reside in the Silesia and Opole provinces in southern Poland.

Belarusian:

Approximately 26,000 individuals in Poland speak Belarusian as their first language, representing the Belarusian minority community of nearly 50,000 people. Concentrated primarily in the Podlaskie province in northeastern Poland, the Belarusian community has seen a decline due to active assimilation efforts. While the number of Poles with Belarusian ancestry may be as high as 250,000, discrimination and political neglect have posed challenges to the preservation of Belarusian culture and language in Poland.

Ukrainian:

Around 40,000 Polish citizens are part of the Ukrainian minority, with 25,000 of them speaking Ukrainian as their mother tongue. However, the total number of Ukrainian migrant workers in Poland is significantly higher, estimated at 1.3 million individuals holding temporary work permits. While the majority of Ukrainian minority residents are concentrated in major cities like Warsaw, where Ukrainian language can occasionally be heard, it is important to distinguish them from the larger population of Ukrainian migrant workers.

 

Polish Minority Languages

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In the past, Poland was known as a multi-ethnic and multilingual country, with significant numbers of people speaking various languages.

However, in contemporary times, Polish has emerged as the overwhelmingly dominant language spoken by the vast majority of the population.

Nevertheless, remnants of Poland’s multi-ethnic history are still evident in the composition of the country’s minority languages, even though the number of speakers of these languages is relatively low.

 

Foreign Languages And Second Languages In Poland

The three primary second languages spoken in Poland include English, Russian, and German.

Similar to many countries worldwide, Poland has seen a rise in the number of English speakers, with English being a commonly taught language in schools for the majority of students. Various statistics suggest that the percentage of proficient English speakers in Poland ranges between 33% and 50% of the population.

Russian, on the other hand, is not as commonly learned by Poles today. However, due to Poland’s historical ties with the Soviet Union, earlier generations often possess some level of proficiency in Russian. Additionally, many immigrants from former Soviet countries also speak Russian, contributing to approximately 26% of the Polish population having some knowledge of the language.

Lastly, German serves as a second language for around 19% of the Polish population. The proximity to Germany, coupled with a significant minority of Polish-Germans, underscores the importance of the German language in Poland.

 

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