July 6, 2011 | Polish

Polish Grammar Strikes Again, and Again

I am combination laughing-crying.

In Polish, I have just learned that men get their own plural personal pronouns, but women and things, such as bananas, share one. (I hope I am getting that right; I am pretty much non-stop confused these days.)

At least that is true for some grammatical cases. I don’t know about all, and I have a long way to go.

Bananas May Be Masculine in Polish, But They Are Grammatically Unlike Men

Bananas May Be Masculine in Polish, But They Are Grammatically Unlike Men

But just for example, if you wanted to say, “I eat them,” with “them” referring to bananas (“banana” is a masculine noun in Polish), I gather that for “them,” you would use the accusative pronoun je, pronounced roughly yay.

If you wanted to say, “I visited them,” with “them” referring to women, you would also use je to mean “them.”

If you wanted to say, “Jack greets them,” with “them” referring to men, you would—if I am not confused, which I can’t guarantee—use the word ich.

I keep encountering this issue with different grammatical concepts in Polish—i.e., that there is a difference between how you treat men grammatically in comparison with (1) masculine nouns that are alive but not men (such as animals), (2) masculine nouns that are inanimate, and—naturally—(3) female and neuter nouns. There are special units and sections and subsections devoted to all the special forms I need to know based on how, um, manly something is. Or isn’t.

The amount of time I have spent reading about man-specific noun and pronoun and adjective forms makes me feel a little bit as though I am bringing a guy who is lounging in an easy chair a newspaper, a cognac, and a pair of pre-heated slippers. It seems like an awful lot of grammatical attention to give just to men!

It is funny because the number of forms is so dizzying, and mystifying because I have to categorize things in ways I am still not used to. I saw this type of thing in Russian (another Slavic language), but I honestly do not recall its being quite this complicated.

In terms of materials, I am almost done with the 30 Pimsleur lessons available to me, and I am now on the second level of the three levels Rosetta Stone offers. I am sad to be running out of Pimsleur, and glad Rosetta Stone has plenty of additional content for me. I need it!

When I try to search for Polish things on the web, I run into trouble because the word “Polish” keeps bringing up nail and beauty salons. Like the Polish Parlor, where you can get lash extensions.



Also Polish, in Internet Searches

Also Polish, in Internet Searches

In addition, whenever I see the word “polish” in printed materials now—say, in a phrase such as “polish your skills”—I mistakenly read it as “Polish” the first go-through. 

Brands in Polish are not written with initial capitals—only lower-case letters. So: ford, cheerios, kraft, etc.

I feel very powerful to have just written a (sort of) sentence with all of those in lower-case letters.

That brand-lower-casing custom would eliminate some of the arguments that have plagued English speakers over the years. Do you capitalize Kleenex, Jell-O, and Google? There is much debate and sometimes much legal activity over brand capitalization in English.

Eventually some brand names cross over at least part of the time into common nounhood, where the little letters reside. (Please pass me a kleenex.) The lucky versatile few even get to be verbs. You can google it.

I guess the arguments on this issue would be much shorter, and cheaper, in Polish?

In English there is potentially a big difference between asking for a pack of Camels and asking for a pack of camels.

Oops, a quick Google search just undermined that point, since I gather that a group of camels is not a pack, but rather a train, caravan, or flock. But seriously, how many people would actually know that?

In the grammar book I am using (Dana Bielec’s Basic Polish), as in all grammar books I have encountered, sometimes the sample sentences strike me as particularly esoteric. For example, I was just told how to say, “The piglet’s straw is wet”!

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