An Introduction to Poland

Learning languages and more about various cultures can help to inform how you approach conversations with people from backgrounds that differ from your own. I am half-Polish and half-Turkish, heritage wise, so I often have had to come to terms with what my different identities mean to me. Poland and the United States share close ties and have grown much closer over the years. Recently, for example, it was announced that Polish citizens would not require a visa to enter the United States effective November 2019. This added Poland to the list of Visa Waiver countries.

Poland is located in Central Europe and is a member of the European Union with a population of around 38.5 million people. Poland has had a tumultuous history of war and conflict, and was bombed very heavily during World War II resulting in a near complete destruction of many historical landmarks. Thankfully, do to restoration efforts, Warsaw has been restored to what it would have looked like prior to the bombings. The country has 16 UNESCO heritage sites, 15 of which are cultural in nature. Poland has a highly developed market and is a regional power in Central Europe with the largest stock exchange in the East-Central European zone. Furthermore, the country enjoys high standards of living, free educational system and universal healthcare. In 2019, Poland passed a low that incomes of citizens under the age of 26 would not be taxed.

Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and hailed from Poland.
Nicolas Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, developed the heliocentric model of the Solar System which placed the sun and NOT the Earth at the center of the galaxy.

In terms of languages spoken, Polish is by far the most common. In terms of second language acquisition, over 50% of Polish people claim proficiency in English. Polish is used all around the world by Polish minorities in other countries and is an official language of the European Union. The Polish alphabet has 9 additions to letters of the Latin script ąćęłńóśźż and does not include q,v and x which are only seen in foreign or borrowed words. 16 other languages are minority languages spoken in Poland. They are: Armenian, Belarusian, Czech, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukranian, Tatar, Karaim, Rusyn, Polska Roma and Bergitka Roma, Kashubian.

Lipka Tatars
Are a group of Turkic-speaking Tatars who originally settled in what was at the time Lithuania in the 14th century. Tatars mostly practice Islam. This area would later become the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 which contains present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Poland. Tatar settlers were all granted szlachta or nobility status. Other Tatar groups also settled there such as the Nogay and Volga Tatars. Tatars also held representation in Polish parliament. Women in Lipka Tatar society have long held equal rights and status to men. Tatars helped greatly in Poland’s history of conflict and also during World War II during which they suffered great losses. Tatars in Poland sometimes have a Muslim surname with a Polish ending: Ryzwanowicz; another surname sometimes adopted by more assimilated Tatars is Tatara or Tataranowicz or Taterczyński, which literally mean “son of a Tatar”.
Fun Facts: Charles Bronson, a famous Hollywood actor, has Lipka Tatar heritage due to his Fathers origins. Henryk Sienkiewicz a prominent Polish writer and Nobel-Prize winning Novelist had Lipka Tatar ancestry.

Lipka Tatar Women in Traditional Clothing

Kashubian
People that speak Kashubian often classify it as its own language, but is sometimes viewed as a dialect of Polish. The Pomeranians were said to have arrived before the Poles, and certain tribes managed to maintain their language and traditions despite German and Polish settlements. Kashubians have also migrated from Poland. For instance, in Winona, Minnesota they have called it the “Kashubian Capital of America.” Unfortunately, the number of speakers of Kashubian has seen a decline as it has been regarded by priests as “poor Polish” as opposed to “good Polish.” A “standard” Kashubian language does not exist despite several attempts to create one; rather a diverse range of dialects takes its place. The vocabulary is heavily influenced by German and Polish and uses the Latin alphabet. To attempt to help with the maintenance of the language, Poland has classified it as an official regional language and has allowed people to put signs up in Kashubian-speaking towns.

Kashubian People in Traditional Apparel


Published by Magda Wojtara

Magda Wojtara is Junior at the LSA Honors College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor on a pre-med track with a major in Neuroscience. In her free time, she write articles, volunteers at a chronic pain outpatient facility with UM Medicine, does research, competes in HOSA, and, of course, enjoys photography and singing. In her spare time she manages her own travel and lifestyle blog: @journeythedestiantion on instagram and journeythedestination.weebly.com

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