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Speaking to people in Poland: Formal or Informal

2 Jul 2007 /  #1
When one speaks to people in Poland, it is important to use either formal or informal methods of addressing people as appropriate. This is a peculiarity shared with certain other languages and cultures, in fact it existed in English but as it is now so rare some explanations are justified.

The first principle is that an adult who is not a close friend or family member should be addressed as Pan or Pani (that is Mr or Madame) so a man is formally addressed Pan Nowak (Mr Nowak) or Pan followed by the name of his position or rank i.e. Pan Dyrektor or Pan Doktor (Director or Doctor). A form of address that is frequently used is Pan Edward (Mr Edward), or whatever the first name is, this serves in situations where one knows the person really quite well but he is still not actually a close friend. It is a respectful familiarity.

All women are addressed as Pani followed by their surname or their position or rank. Formerly a distinction was made between married and unmarried women. When using Pani followed by the surname there is a grammatical difference between a married woman and a single woman this is achieved by changing the end of the name to indicate wife of or daughter of. This differentiation is now somewhat antiquated; however one always changes male surnames that end in the letter (i) to a surname ending in (a). Thus normally the wife of Pan Kowalski (Pana Kowalskiego) is Pani Kowalska and so is the adult daughter. Failure to make such distinctions is forgiven if done in innocence, but it is a mistake, which does grate on Polish ears.

In fact it is true to say that Poles are rather fond of titles, and it is not limited to academic or medical distinctions. In a professional situation it is quite normal to address somebody as a Pan or Pani Kierownik (Mr or Mrs manager). Use of the first name by itself is reserved for members of the family and very close friends or children.

After a certain amount of listening one becomes aware that it is not as simple as that. People's names and titles change, this is because they all decline. This means that the endings of all names change according to whether they are the subject or the object or have another role in the sentence. At first this is an alarming scenario, everything changes there is no consistency! But actually it is consistent; some familiarity with Latin makes the concept easier to understand. One of the effects is a different use of prepositions because many of the elementary actions are explained by the endings of the nouns.

The difficulty with learning Polish is that the work is at the beginning. The compensation is that once you have learnt the grammatical system, which is not so complicated, then all you have to do is accumulate vocabulary. This of course is opposite to the experience of people learning English as a second language, easy to begin communicating but much, much harder to actually sound English let alone sound sophisticated.

Achilles Węgorz
Marek 4 | 867  
3 Jul 2007 /  #2
W jezyku polskim jest jezykem niemieckim w Austrii bardzo podobne, n pr. "Grüss Gott, Herr Direktor Wenninger, Hob' i di Ehre!" (Pochywalony, Panie Direktorze Wenninger! "Hob i die Ehre"! nie umie tlumaczony)

The Austrians, much like the modern Poles, lay considerable emphasis on polite phrases in order to express rank and title.
rudzion - | 7  
1 Aug 2009 /  #3
I found something like this: "ne'er". what is that? a "never never" ? :o. I wrote to google searcher that and any links showed sentences with "never never". I know it could be funny :)

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