21 February 2013 The Polish language is ą-ę

Let's use Polish diacritic signs because their disappearance would impoverish the language greatly, and hence - our life - pleads Professor Jerzy Bralczyk. The linguist supports the campaign Język polski jest ą-ę [Polish Language is ą-ę] defending Polish diacritic signs, which will start on February 21st.

Diacritic signs, such as "ą", "ę", "ż", "ś", "ź", are one of the most characteristic features of Polish language, but Poles are using them less and less often. Almost every second short text message has no Polish hooks and lines - reveals research conducted by ARC Rynek i Opinia in February . 

This research also shows that although 64 percent of Poles believe that diacritic signs is exactly what differentiates Polish language from other languages and is its most characteristic feature, one person in five does not use them, because they do not see a point in doing so. As many as 53 percent of Poles do not use Polish letters because - as they claim - it is way faster to write text messages without them.

February 21st is International Mother Language Day. On this day an information campaign entitled Język polski jest ą-ę will begin under the auspices of the Council for the Polish Language. The campaign's aim is to make Poles aware that refusing to use Polish diacritics leads to a situation in which Polish language becomes less distinctive and its contribution in passing Polish cultural heritage form generation to generation is diminished.

Polish Press Agency: What do we need diacritics for?

Professor Jerzy Bralczyk: What do we need these letters for? To record sounds and Polish sounds are best recorded with diacritic signs - letters which, in a way, enrich the Latin alphabet.

PPA: They can be perceived as an impediment. They are definitely difficult for children learning to write in Polish, but they also tend to be troublesome when it comes to electronic communication devices. If an account password contains "ę", "ą" or "ż", logging into the account abroad, where keyboards are not adjusted to Polish diacritics, is virtually impossible. We know from experience that diacritic signs are often omitted in text messages because it takes more time to type them using these letters.

Professor Bralczyk: Research shows that if we record only the first and the last letters in words, especially in longer ones, we could fill the space in between with random letters and we still will be able to recognise these words correctly. Hence, our perception of writing is such that we do not require particular differentiation while reading. To a certain degree, of course. We may assume, however, that for the purposes of the simplest communication, when we are focused on transmitting and receiving information, diacritic signs do not play any important role and thus, theoretically, could be omitted.

But fortunately, our speech and writing not only serves the sole purpose of simple communication, it also has many other important functions- it should describe reality in a precise way, it should express interpersonal relations, it should, in a way, please us. Bringing speech and writing down to the level of this ancillary function of transmitting information would impoverish our lives greatly. Within this rat race for values promoted on the market, such as speed and effectiveness, we have already sacrificed so many enriching traditions and rituals that we are getting less and less joy and satisfaction out of life. I would not like to find language subtleties among these beautiful things that we will give up.

PPA: You are, in fact, proposing a philosophy of "slow language", something similar to "slow food" which is the response of sensible people to McDonald's culture and consists in savouring the taste of food, promoting local specialties, giving up rush and processed foods. In relation to language, the lack of a Polish term to name this approach is significant. We could try to coin such an expression, e.g. "wolne jedzenie", which would not only be a translation, but also a play on the word "wolność" [freedom]. Following this direction, we could speak of "wolny język" [slow/free language], being an approach which would give the user maximum satisfaction and, at the same time, show respect to subtleties, traditions, regionalism and, of course, diacritic signs. What would you think about this?

Professor Jerzy Bralczyk: We could put it this way, I am not sure, though, whether the translation "wolny język" conveys what I have in mind. Perhaps, the expression "nieśpieszny język" [unhurried language] would be better? I would like this expression to have a more obvious link to "savouring"

PPA: The social campaign in defence of diacritic signs which stars in February is called "Język polski jest ą-ę". Are Polish nasal vowels extraordinary in any way?

Professor Jerzy Bralczyk: Nasal vowels exist in other languages as well, for example in French, although they are written down differently. The Polish language is indeed very original when it comes to marking nasals. Some linguists believe that nasal vowels are actually extinct in speech. We have the so called split nasals, that is "om", "em", "on", "em" and other - with a consonant in final positions as in the sentence "nie chcem, ale muszem" [I don't want to, but I have to].

These sounds may also lose their nasal quality entirely, as in the colloquial pronunciation of "wziął" [took]. It may seem that marking the nasal is not necessary in such cases and that it could be replaced by a simple "o". But marking this nasal quality in a word's final position is still needed, the difference between "piszę" and "pisze" changes the message and the subject of a given activity.

PPA: We know that language evolves over time - it becomes richer in some areas and poorer in others. What are we losing?

Professor Jerzy Bralczyk: We have resigned, for example, from many subtle meaning differences, some ways of addressing people which were once carefully developed. We are also giving up a decorative function of language which used to give satisfaction to language users and used to be an indication of good manners.

Nowadays, a tendency to refrain from using letters characteristic to the Polish language poses a serious danger. The more often we write our text messages without diacritic signs, the greater the chances are that "ą" and "ę" will disappear from our language soon. I would regret it a lot, it would really be a great impoverishment. I fear that we resign from all of this for the sake of practicality, although we lose a lot at the same time - language brings us less joy, less satisfaction. I would like our lives to be rich not only in terms of finances.

I believe that the Polish language is ą-ę and it should stay this way. Let's use Polish signs every time we text or e-mail.

Agata Szwedowicz (PPA)

Source: www.instytutksiazki.pl