language and mind

November 7, 2011

Tongue entanglement, part two

Filed under: citizenship, cognitive progression, language, language autonomy, language bias — Tags: — teresapelka @ 9:17 am

Language is often taken for granted, unduly blamed, and abused. In Ireland, writing up corpora of Irish English might enhance autonomy. Lexical work yet is not everything. In Poland, there are corpora for Polish, yet the Polish language needs to seek autonomy, still. The prospect looks discouragingly distant.

Prophetism is the most prominent drawback in the Polish literary culture. Julian Tuwim, Konstanty Ildefons Gałczynski, and Czesław Miłosz can be examples of authors mistreated by followers of mysticism as developed by Polish Romantics.


Mysticism: Poland’s ill-conceived self-preservation instinct

All the above poets wrote and published they did not want to be prophets. The visionary nimbus has always had disadvantages. One would need to use past tenses to speak about the future; own language skills, own language workshop, would become ascribed to some spiritual or angelic agency; finally, one would not be expected to write out own sober wit.

The nimbus was invented in the times when Poland was not on the map of the world and standards were hardly romantic. Juliusz Słowacki or Adam Mickiewicz wrote they wanted to draw attention to the country. It did not work. Napoleon’s army rolled through the Polish territory on its way to Moscow and back, doing nothing for Poland’s future. Słowacki, claiming guidance from angels, wrote dying of a lung disease, fever and narcotics having diminished his intellective capacities.

The country rose owing to traditions other than those of the Christ of Europe. After WWII, Communists yet picked the nimbus as a measure to control writers and pay peculiar non-compliments to Catholics who, for example, never acknowledged mesmerism ― justifiably, looking to linguistic and intellectual qualities of hypnotism. Alexander Kwaśniewski chose the mesmeric Słowacki for his poet-prophet and inspiration. I provide a sample of Słowacki’s style in Anhelli.


Słowacki Anhelli Chapter 9

The Polish divide embraces bards as different form prophets. Modern literary criticism has Słowacki, Mickiewicz, and Krasiński for the Three Bards of Polish literature. Some argue that Norwid was the one to deserve the term instead of Krasiński. Still many ― me included ― would say that bards were poets like Shakespeare or the Polish John Kohanovsky, and the “prophets” actually instrumentalized language. The John of the Black Forest, translation of John Kohanovsky’s poetry with biographical notes about the true bard of Poland, is another project of mine.

John thumb

On Doctor the Spaniard

Doctor our gentle slips away to slumber

Wishes he not to see us nor the supper

Leav’m alone, he’ll be in linens unwary

Here and us all, we get to make merry!

The meal’s over, the Spaniard we go find!

Bah, not without a pitcher, to my mind!

Let us in, doctor, esteemed our senor!

The doc ne’er let down, up has let the door.

One cup is no defeasance, God bless!

Would it be one only, the doctor says.

One into nine over time has turned,

And the doctor’s vision is giving in blurred.

Difficult with these gents, says he, principle mine.

Sober in the evening, I’ll be getting up drunk.

(Trifles, 1560s)

Kohanovsky happens to be quoted for a considerable change in style, owing to the personal misfortune the death of his little daughter was to him. The following dedication comes from the Lazarus print of the Threnodies in 1583, briefly before his death:



Threnody the First

Bewailing all and tears Heraclitean all,

And laments, and Simonidean moans,

All this world’s sorrows and all susurration,

And woes, and worries, and abnegation,

All ye, into home mine do now assort

My weep for my scion maiden fair do consort:

Impudent death has her from me becleft,

Impulsive, of all felicity he has me bereft.

As the beast to have descried a nesting hidden

Takes the nightingales faint, its gorge greedy

overbrimmed: the mother screams her chirp

Ill-fated, to hurtle at the slaughterer therewith,

In vain: the creature cruel is at her to tear

And she the feather hers may barely save.

It is vain to weep, I deem you people say,

What is not vain, in this world’s way?

All is vain: on the soft of the matter we seek to presage,

And it is burly: the error has been in the human age.

Knowen ye, which the better shall: anguishes to encastle

Or human mortality senselessly to wrestle.

Kochanowski over Orsula, a painting by John MateykoThrenody the Eighth

Ruthless the empties you did to my abode,

My dear Orsula, with this disappearing yours.

We are plenty, and there is as none:

So much taken with a baby soul one.

You said all and sang all

               Your tiptoe every corner in the home

                  You allowed your mother no trouble,

                 Nor your father waste his head in pother

With this or that one in a graceful embrace,

                   The smile witty on your very face.

                     Now, all is silence: the house is empties profound,

                    There is no littlun play or laughter to resound,

                 Every corner is breathing a piercing sad

                     The heart is heedless, from comfort forbad.


Instrumentally indeed, communists would simplify Polish, beginning right after WWII. A language item that could be translated as not forgotten, (nie_zapomniany), would be proposed for something unforgettable, niezapomniany. The Polish perfective oni byli pracowali, they had worked/had been working, would be reduced to oni pracowali, they worked.

The Polish allowed political tensions to decide on the everyday language standard. Some policies were conscious and targeted, like picking a single phonological feature, the [L] quality associated with eastern Polish territories, and overgeneralizing the notion of regionalism on the syntax (the Polish perfective). You could hear the perfective from more or less anyone, but it happened to be used by Home Army members, too.

The Humer trial could not be considered a linguistic treatise; it may yet show some of the ‘linguistic partition’. The trial shows the different kinds of Polish on opposing sides. I enclose a translation of part the material from the trial as publicly available. It is parental advisory: instrumental attitudes to language most often signal a utilitarian approach to the human; the materials document severe breaches of human rights and standards.


Adam Humer trial

I am not a supporter of the Home Army. I have always had the Warsaw Uprising for nonsense and I do not have reservations on the present borders of Poland. My matter is language as a battleground. In Poland, English would be blamed just as in Ireland; it would be American English, however.

We have paid a horrid price in blood, Marek Siwiec would say in a pre-election debate about Polish involvement with the USA. Mr. Siwiec biography has no record of military service. It could not have been brotherhood in arms to make him invoke blood to win votes. Well, he would not have you pay your bills cashing out of his pocket, but you should be happy with a guy to claim he owns your blood …

SIwiec debateSiwiec and Sikorski TVN debate

Not only Marek Siwiec would take others for granted. Mr. Sikorski said in the same debate that Poland would have to pay the economic cost of 9/11. Was it to be like: My good uncle pays my holiday; if my uncle needs to spend money, this means I pay … ?

Anyway, the Polish would promote split personality. The official language standard names the country Rzeczpospolita, a Commonwealth in English. The ‘commonwealth’ label has been preserved since the Polish monarchy. Deeming themselves a republic and a democracy, the Polish attached a symbol of a crown to their national emblem, in 1989, without a popular vote.


Finally, language would be only for rich people in Poland. If you want to buy a comprehensive Polish dictionary, bring in 385 zloty and 50 groszy, and you have it shipped in 48 hours. However, when you are on the minimum payroll — the mythical 1317 zloty — you might need to consider living in a tent to enlarge your library. The state takes 18% as the personal income tax, and about 8% as your health insurance. There are no effective housing plans in Poland. Renting a room is about 500 PLN a month, provided you are not demanding.

Well, books get wet easy. Online access to the Universal Polish Dictionary is about 199 PLN a year. Online access to a 40 million words corpus of Polish is 366 PLN a year. At the same time, unemployment grows. Language skills may help get a job. An Oxford English Dictionary is 367.20 PLN. Online access is 159 PLN.

More than 2 million Polish people have left Poland already. Many do not want and do not intend ever to be back, me included. Whether like others or not, I intend to leave Europe and change my citizenship, renouncing the present, Polish one.

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