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Reading: Discworld and Polish


Two places, one of them fictional. What's the connection?

(Click here for the Discworld source image and here for the Eastern European one)

At the place where I work there are lots of people from eastern Europe, particularly from those countries who became members of the European Union in 2004 like Poland, Lithuania and Hungary. In fact Brits like myself are by far the minority, giving the place an international feel that I rather like, enabling me to interact with people who have uprooted themselves across distances further than I’ve ever travelled.

Generally they speak English very well, especially in comparison to my ability to speak a second language – a school trip to France quickly robbed me of the notion that I was anywhere close to fluent in French – but I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I learned a few of the basics. It doesn’t really take much to convince me to embark on projects like this anyway as I like learning new things, and in terms of usefulness and the availability of learning materials Polish seemed the best choice.

I’ve now been learning to speak it for a few months and have a fair grasp of the basic phrases, though I still stumble on the grammar (at times there are big variations of words when discussing something/someone male, female or in a group and it’s proving difficult to self-teach). The thing I picked up the fastest was numbers, as part of my job involves a lot of counting, giving me lots of opportunity for repetition to aid the learning.

The tools I’m learning from didn’t go past sixty (sześćdziesiąt, which I can only spell thanks to installing a Polish-language dictionary into Firefox, which also takes care of the accented letters that I don’t even know the keyboard shortcuts for) but everything up to ninety-nine was easy to figure out as they follow the same structure as English. I had to go to Google Translate to find the word for hundred, and finding out the Polish for it prompted this blog post.

The Polish for ‘hundred’ is sto, and upon learning that I thought it would be easy to remember because the Discworld books (of which I’ve recently re-read many) has a city named Sto Lat. I then recalled that lat is also a Polish word, meaning ‘year’, meaning the city’s name translates to ‘hundred years’, which seemed too neat to be a coincidence. A trip to the Discworld wiki confirmed that it wasn’t accidental:

The name is derived from a Polish song equivalent to the English “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” in which the subject is wished a life one hundred years (“sto lat”) long.

It’s always surprising when two seemingly unrelated things converge like that, and it really is quite a coincidence that while I was learning a new language I happened to be reading a series of books that includes the tiniest bit of it. I’ll post the lyrics below in case you’ve ever really wanted to learn a traditional Polish song (with a Wikipedia translation available here), as well as a video to help with the pronunciation that was genuinely the first result on Youtube (and might be a little unsafe for work viewing):

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje, żyje nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje, żyje nam,
Niech żyje nam!


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