Poland campaigns to preserve its complex spelling
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[February 21, 2013]
(AP) -- Polish language experts launched a campaign Thursday to preserve the challenging system of its diacritical marks, saying the tails, dots and strokes are becoming obsolete under the pressure of IT and speed.
The drive, initiated by the state-run Council of the Polish Language, is part of the UNESCO International Mother Language Day. The campaign's Polish name is complicated for a non-Polish keyboard: "Je,zyk polski jest a,-e."
That's a pun meaning that Polish language needs its tails and is top class. Part of the meaning is lost and the pronunciation sounds wrong if the marks aren't there.
Computer and phone keyboards require users to punch additional keys to obtain Polish letters. To save time, Poles skip the nuances, and sometimes need to guess the meaning of the message that they have received.
Linguist Jerzy Bralczyk said the diacritical marks are a visual, defining feature of the Polish language, and they carry meaning and enrich the speech.
"Today, the Polish language is threatened by the tendency to avoid its characteristic letters," Bralczyk said. "The less we use diacritical marks in text messages, the more likely they are to vanish altogether. That would mean an impoverishment of the language and of our life. I would be sorry."
The tails make "a" and "e" nasal, strokes over "s," "c" and "n" soften them and sometimes make them whistling sound, a stroke across "l" makes it sound like the English "w," and a dot over "z" makes it hard like a metal drill. And each change matters.
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"Los" means "fate," but when you put a slash across the "l" and add a stroke over the "s" it becomes a "rain deer." "Paczki" are "parcels," but "pa,czki" are doughnuts.
Foreigners who know Polish say the diacritical marks are a visual sign that it's a tough language and that they add to the complexity of the grammar and vocabulary, which does not derive from Latin or from Germanic languages.
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