Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Anglicisms: Why Biedronka is a ‘Trusted Brand’ and not ‘Zaufana Marka’.

On my recent trip to Poland I witnessed a not-so-very-surprising linguistic phenomenon of the Polish language being under a strong influence of the English language. It’s nothing new – as far as I remember, English words have always been entering the Polish language, be it technical terms – mostly connected with computing - or slang phrases used by teenagers. What struck me, however, was the scale of the occurrence, and the areas where English words wormed their way into the Polish language. It seems that just as the Eastern-European migrants ‘invaded’ United Kingdom, English terms have done exactly the same with the Polish language.
As a linguist and a Polish native speaker, I was rather rebellious and strongly opposed to seeing English words replacing well-known and commonly used Polish terms. Why would a Polish chain of supermarkets, ‘Biedronka’ be a trusted brand and not zaufana marka[i]; and why a TV breakfast show can be called on air and not na żywo? As much as I love English language, I was annoyed when I encountered those examples of anglicism. Polish language has enough words that accurately describe all the objects and ideas we need to communicate, why then are there so many English words used instead? This issue was bothering me for a while, so I decided to do my own research which eventually threw some light on the problem. It turns out that most of the anglicisms are justified and - in some cases – even needed.  
Let us take, for example, trade language. People working in international companies need some kind of a code to communicate with other branches abroad, and one does not have to think twice to know what language is the best source of this code. This could be particularly seen in the technology field – most, if not all, of the latest technology comes from the English speaking countries, hence the vast majority of English terms refer to technology. Given the pace of launching new technological devices on the market, we wouldn’t be able to translate them all and even if we would, it might cause more harm than good in our globalized world. This is why in Poland przeprowadzamy research (we’re doing research) and not badania; we require an answer ASAP and not jak najszybciej and we ask for feedback and not ocenę. It needs to be pointed out that these terms are used internally, within companies, as part of the trade jargon, hence menadżerowie (managers) and not kierownicy talk about targetach (targets) and not celach, and they describe casy (cases) and not przypadki. People working in sales would rather say that products are na stocku (in stock) rather than na stanie. Moreover, a very common practice in the job market is using English names for job positions; you can’t imagine how many times I was looking for a Polish equivalent of let’s say Software Quality Assurance Engineer and I couldn’t find one, as the latest job posts are all in English! The same applies to Polish employees describing their positions on LinkedIn. The global market has it that you need to use a title that is widely recognised: how many of you would guess what the responsibilities of kierownik projektu are? Now, does project manager sound more familiar? Sure it does, and this is the reason why Polish project managers who are open to collaborate with foreign companies would use the latter name.
Believe it or not, but Poles are still hungry for western culture and consider foreign products cooler and more luxurious. Sales and marketing specialists are perfectly aware of that, and this is why e.g. body lotion Dove Summer Glow retained its original name, L’Oreal foundation True Match was not translated at all, and 7 Days croissant exists under its English name, and now that it has a filling of two flavours it is called double and not podwójny. To tell you the truth, English names of foreign products very often sound much better than its translations and, ironically, the less understandable they are, the more attractive the products appear. Having said that, there is an exception to this, perfectly executed by McDonalds which introduced WieśMac (could be translated into ‘VillageMac’) – an equivalent of the Big Tasty. Still, such examples occur very rarely, and usually it is the English names that prevail because they sound more attractive and ‘foreign’. This is also the reason why in January and June, shop windows of Polish clothes shops feature ‘sale’ instead of ‘wyprzedaż’posters , yet customers themselves would use the Polish term wyprzedaż rather than sale.
English words and phrases have always been considered ‘cool’ by the Poles, and even the term cool itself used to be abused by teenagers in the previous decade. Now, there are new anglicisms that have recently entered everyday language in Poland, the most amusing one for me is beforka, which denotes a party before a party. Not to mention afterparty, which is a well-established word in the idiolect of a Polish partygoer. Both examples are the result of the western culture flowing into Poland, yet there is a great number of anglicisms created by the Poles who live and work in the UK. Their exposure to the English language is such that they blend Polish and English words, modify English terms or even insert whole English words into Polish sentences. Accordingly, a Pole would say that he/she bukuje a ticket, rather than rezerwuje; the word bukuje is a modified verb to book with an added Polish suffix. Most of these expressions used by Polish migrants are related to employment, hence the Poles say that they take holiday’a instead of urlop (annual leave) and take overtimy instead of nadgodziny. One could probably create a dictionary consisting of these modified English words (or maybe there is one already?), in any case, it is a very common phenomenon.
I have to admit that there is much more to anglicisms than slotting in foreign words just for the sake of it. English terms inserted into Polish language are very often necessary, as observed in the field of technology or in the case of global corporations; in the marketing and sales area, they play a vital role in attracting (or should I say misleading) Polish customers to buy foreign products; they also diversify Polish language of the younger generation. Not sure whether the last one is a positive thing, as some of the anglicism are completely unnecessary, still, this is the way language works – it changes, fluctuates, migrates, adapts itself and this is what we love about language, don’t we?

[i] All the Polish words and phrases have exactly the same meaning as their English counterparts.


  1. Brilliant post, Ewa! The same is going on in Russia. I am not that much annoyed when I see trademarks/names of skin care products etc. not translated, but it really bugs me when I hear people using English words instead of well-known Russian equivalents. I wouldn't bother if a specific notion didn't have a direct equivalent, but when it does I prefer using Russian words. Otherwise, one day we may suddenly realize that we have lost our language and our culture that is so closely tied with it!

  2. Nicely done Ewa. There is indeed an online dictionary of English words that have been "Policised" (or Pole-ificated?)... http://www.ponglish.org

    Yes, television is guilty of unnecessarily using English words and phrases, take for example, the dreadful (and dreadfully addictive) talent show "Must be the Music - Tylko muzyka". Here the Polish version is a mere subtitle.

    As a youngster French was the compulsory second language. People would use French phrases and idioms in a vain attempt to give themselves an aire of sophistication, but instead just end up sounding pretentious. I wrote about it here http://www.badlydrawngirl.co.uk/blog/2011/02/pretentious-moi.html

    Interesting what you say about job titles and product names. Similarly film titles often don't translate well. "Die Hard" in Poland becomes "Glass Trap". Here is an interesting list... http://www.listal.com/list/lost-translation-strange-polish

  3. Thank you for your comments Will and Olenka. I have also received feedback from other poeple saying that Anglicisms are present in their languages as well. I found out that in Poland, English words play significant role in business, they give more prestige to the products which then sound more foreign and therefore more tempting.

  4. I find the reasons are generally bogus. Obviously, rolling in cash is more important than respect for one's culture. While linguistics is descriptive, I think it's silly for a linguist to hesitate to use their knowledge to critique the process, just as you've done here. Obviously, before we can make a value judgement, we must be informed. Unfortunately, some linguists make the backdoor value judgement that all changes in a language are "good" and "acceptable", which is not a judgement they can make as linguists as it goes beyond their competencies as linguists. Instead, they must make that judgement on moral/cultural grounds. The "unnatural" way in which terms are forced into the language ("ser lajtowy" = light cheese) is preposterous. Even in the cases where a direct calque is not meaningful, we can find alternative phrases or words that describe the same reality. Translation is not done verbum pro verbo, especially in poetry, so it's silly to expect that to apply in all business cases as well. We want to preserve the semantic, and dare I say pragmatic meaning of the phrase, as best as we can. In the few cases (namely technical) where translation is necessarily awkward or impossible, polonize away!

    I think killing off the unfounded fascination with certain things foreign should fix a good deal of these problems. It's already been waning ("the West", of which Poland is incidentally a part of, no longer carries with it the strong connotation of some sexy, especially since Poles have been permitted to travel and see for themselves, along with the influx of media). Increasing education of Polish history and culture should also help (think Wicenty Pol).