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Why does Polish form of Nicholas (Mikołaj) begin with an M?


Atch 17 | 2,843
21 Apr 2016  #1
This has been driving me nuts for a while now. Does anybody have a theory as to why it should be Mikołaj and not Nikołaj? I wondered if perhaps somebody misheard the name and wrote it down with an M and then the usage spread. It just doesn't make sense at all. It also begins with an M in Czech, Lithuanian, Slovak and various other Slavic languages so it's not just a Polish thing.
Lyzko 22 | 6,544
21 Apr 2016  #2
Often languages will compensate for pronunciation with variant spellings, merely in order to provide for orthographic expediency!

In Polish, "N" is palatalized as often in similar combinations in other Slavic languages (in fact, considered a charactaristic of Slavic), e.g. "Nie" (nyeeh), "niosić" (nyawssich) etc. "Nikolai" (in Russian) would be NON-palatalized, Polish though, knows only a palatalized "N" in the above combinations, always preceding an "i", as in the above examples:-) "Mikołai" though, is non-palatalized in Polish, and therefore more comfortable for a Polish speaker to pronounce.

Sort of make sense? This is the linguistic explanation.

Whoops, "Mikołaj":-)
Sorry!
OP Atch 17 | 2,843
21 Apr 2016  #3
I think I get the basic idea. It would also explain why this form is found in certain other Slavic languages though not all. It's very interesting because it means as far as I understand it that the name was corrupted in the linguistic sense. The cheek of those Poles!

more comfortable for a Polish speaker to pronounce

Sort of make sense?

I thought it did but thinking about it, by that logic then how does one explain the name Nikodem? If they can pronounce Nikodem then why substitute the N for an M in another name of similar form?
smurf 39 | 1,982
21 Apr 2016  #4
It also begins with an M in Czech, Lithuanian, Slovak and various other Slavic languages so it's not just a Polish thing.

Shouldn't it then be the other way around?
If it's M in most slavic languages then the Russians have gotten it wrong?
Like the way the Yanks can't spell anything properly.
OP Atch 17 | 2,843
22 Apr 2016  #5
Ha ha! Yeah the old Rooskies are good at getting things wrong. But in this case I'd say their spelling is closer to the original. Nicholas usually begins with an N I believe!
mafketis 20 | 7,182
22 Apr 2016  #6
A similar but reversed question comes up with 'bear' the old Slavic name translates as honey-eater (or maybe honey-knower) and in Russian, Czech, etc it begins with an m (as in honey) with forms similar to medved (possible palatization at different places) Ukrainian reverses the order with vedmid

but Polish is the odd language out with niedźwiedź (possible pre assimilation to the palatized-aveolars).
smurf 39 | 1,982
22 Apr 2016  #7
But in this case I'd say their spelling is closer to the original

Yea, I guess that makes sense Atch, strange that the slavs changed it then eh.
But then again, Mikolaj sounds better than Nickolaj imo
OP Atch 17 | 2,843
22 Apr 2016  #8
strange that the slavs changed

You know what they're like Smurf, the liberties they take. Have you heard about Babbington? Badminton to you and me. And cottage cheese according to someone I know (who has third level education) is 'cut a cheese' and is so named for the action of cutting the cheese with a knife.
Ziemowit 12 | 3,495
22 Apr 2016  #9
Have you heard about Babbington? Badminton to you and me.

Ay,ay, ay, you are showing your Irish "brilliance" here, Atch. Badminton as a word and as a game came to Poland as late as in the 1960s. The word was (and perhaps still is) difficult for Poles, so they started to pronounce it their own way. Do the Germans reproach us that we say "gmina" rather than "gemeinde" (Dougpol1 would probably say they should as he admires everything what is German in Poland)? In my childhood I heard the pronounciation "babington" and to this very day I prefer it to the strangely sounding "badminton" despite knowing that only the latter is correct. Anyway, find me the former as an entry to a Polish dictionary and I will buy you a ticket to Dublin (a return ticket, bien sûr).

cottage cheese according to someone I know (who has third level education) is 'cut a cheese' and is so named for the action of cutting the cheese with a knife.

Now, here you are showing even more of your Anglo-Irish "brilliance", Atch. The world isn't a place rotating around the English language.True, English is the language of international communication, but that doesn't mean all nations should follow the Irish who abandoned their ancestors' tongue to the benefit of English. The concept of incountability is a very strange concept to the Polish, so they would always make mistakes regarding it. 'Cut a cheese' is a typical mistake for a Slavic learner, be it as funny as it must be to the British or the Anglo-Irish ear, but there is nothing to be surprised about on the linguistic level.

As to your original question, I couldn't find any answer for Mikołaj/Nikolai (or niedźwiedź/med'wed'). I think it goes beyond the palatization phenomenon.
OP Atch 17 | 2,843
22 Apr 2016  #10
Ziemusz stop being a silly sausage. It's not the misunderstanding or mispronunciation I object to. It's the inisistence of Poles that they are correct. Yes indeed people will insist that it is the native speaker who is wrong and not themselves. I make loads of mistakes in Polish and am delighted when someone bothers to correct me.

the Irish who abandoned their ancestors' tongue to the benefit of English

Yes, you learned that from me didn't you with my reference to Daniel O'Connell. One of the reasons for the decline of the language yes, but not the only one. See how you get on under eight hundred years of continuous occupation by the British in a country the size of Ireland and how much of your culture would remain. We did pretty well all things considered.
smurf 39 | 1,982
22 Apr 2016  #11
Babbington

Bear?
No, I've never heard that before, thanksfully I don associaye with people who play such 'sports' :D

cottage cheese

What exactly is cottage cheese anyway, I don't know if I've ever eaten it?
It's not that crap that's put into pierogi is it?
Pierogi are lovely but the cheese on its own tastes like cardboard

See how you get on under eight hundred years of continuous occupation by the British in a country the size of Ireland and how much of your culture would remain.

Game. Set. Match
Lyzko 22 | 6,544
22 Apr 2016  #12
Maf may be on the money with those palatalized alveolars!

On a slighly different, if related, topic, Russian palatals 'dver, brat', imet' etc. are far more "palatalized" than anything in Polish. Yet, unless they're faking it (which I doubt), all the Russians, educated Russians at that, whom I know, claim to find Polish a b***ch to pronounce, even though both are highly palatalized.

Ukrainian though may take the medal for "softness" of alveolors:-)


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