German VS Polish - How Different Are The Two Languages?
- Mille Larsen •9 mins read
Polish and German are two Central European languages spoken by very big populations in Poland and Germany. (But German is also spoken in countries like Austria, Switzerland, and other countries).
German is - as the name suggests - a Germanic language.
Okay, you might have figured out as much, but what you might not know is that Polish, is not a Germanic language, but rather a Slavic one. The Polish language is much closer to languages such as Czech than to German.
Germanic and Slavic languages both belong to the Indo-European family of languages, which means that Polish and German are related. Sort of. But they're not very closely related and when comparing the two, you'll quickly notice that they're not very similar apart from Polish having some German loan-words. But even those loan-words appear quite different after having been Polished.. (Yes, I know, that's not the right word..)
The Quick Answer For The Lazy Busy Reader
German and Polish are two very different languages. They're remotely related because they're both Indo-European, but since German is Germanic and Polish, Slavic, they have significant differences in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Polish does have some German loan-words, but they're rare, strongly modified, and pronounced very differently. Polish and German are very far from being mutually intelligible.
They're actually difficult to compare.
Which is what I'm going to do now!
A Comparison Of German And Polish Pronunciation
While Polish and German both use their own variant of the Latin alphabet, each language is quite different in how letters are pronounced and they both have their own letters that don't necessarily exist in the other language.
The way words are built up in the two languages is also very different. While German is prone to combining consonants (like the "pf" in Pferd", "horse") Polish does this to a much higher degree and with a lot more different letters. Polish consonant-clusters, along with a few unique letters, is one of the specific traits of the language that makes Polish difficult to pronounce.
German does have its challenges, for sure, but it's really very different from Polish pronunciation wise.
To illustrate this, let's try and compare the alphabet in Polish and in German and see how each letter is pronounced. For each letter that doesn't exist in the other language, but has a sound that can be written with other letters, I've noted the equivalent letters. For letter-sounds that do not exist in the other language (after my best knowledge), I've marked the letter "N/A".
|Aa||"A" as in "after"||Aa||"A" as in "after"|
|Ää||Similar to "e" in "ten"||N/A|
|N/A||Ąą||Nasal "O" as "bon" in French (example)|
|Bb||"B" as in "book"||Bb||"B" as in "book"|
|Cc||"K" as in "Cat" or "S" as in "ceremony"||Equivalent to "K" or "S" in Polish|
|This sound is written "ts" in German, like in the word "stets"||Cc||"Ts" as in "lots"|
|This sound exists in German in the word "tschüss"||Ćć||"Ch" as in "Chat"|
|Dd||"D" as in "Do"||Dd||"D" as in "Do"|
|Ee||"E" as in "red"||Ee||"E" as in "red"|
|Ff||"F" as in "fine"||Ff||"F" as in "fine"|
|Gg||"G" as in "good"||Gg||"G" as in "good"|
|Hh||"H" as in "hello"||N/A|
|This sound exists in German in the name "Bach"||Hh||"H" as in Scottish "loch" but slightly weaker.|
|Ii||"Ee" as in "eat"||Ii||"Ee" as in "eat"|
|Jj||"Y" as in "yes"||Jj||"Y" as in "yes"|
|Kk||"K" as in "Cat"||Kk||"K" as in "Cat"|
|Ll||"L" as in "Lilly"||Ll||"L" as in "Lilly"|
|N/A||Łł||"W" as in "why"|
|Mm||"M" as in "mine"||Mm||"M" as in "mine"|
|Nn||"N" as in "no"||Nn||"N" as in "no"|
|N/A||Ńń||"Ny" as in "canyon"|
|Oo||"O" but pronounced from the front of the mouth. (example)||N/A|
|N/A||Oo||"O" as in "sock"|
|Öö||Similar to "i" in "skirt"||N/A|
|In German, this sound is represented by "U"||Óó||"Oo" as in "look" (same as "U")|
|Pp||"P" as in "pizza"||Pp||"P" as in "pizza"|
|"k", but always written "qu" and therefore pronounced "kw" like in "quizz"||N/A|
|Rr||A sound you make when you're gargling water. (example)||N/A|
|The thrilled "R" exists in some dialects of German||Rr||Thrilled "R" as in Scottish or Indian English|
|Ss||"S" as in "soap"||Ss||"S" as in "soap"|
|This sound is written "sh" in German, like in the word "shade"||Śś||"Sh" as in "shampoo"|
|Tt||"T" as in "tasty"||Tt||"T" as in "tasty"|
|Uu||"Oo" as in "look"||Uu||"Oo" as in "look" (same as "Ó")|
|Üü||Between a "i" and an "o" (example)||N/A|
|Vv||"F" as in "father"||This sound is written "F" in Polish|
|Ww||"V" as in "Very"||Ww||"V" as in "Very"|
|Xx||"Ks" as in "tax"||This sound is written "Ks" in Polish|
|Yy||"Y" as in "yes||This sound is written "J" in Polish|
|N/A||Yy||"Y" as in "syllable"|
|Zz||"Z" as in "zebra"||Zz||"Z" as in "zebra"|
|N/A||Źź||"Ch" as in "teach" (Exemple)|
|N/A||Żż||A "S" sound like in "measure" but stronger. (example)|
|ẞß||"Ss" as in "seal" - a sharper "S" sound than an ordinary "s"||N/A|
So, as you can see from the above, while some letters and sounds do exist in both German and Polish. A lot of them don't. Even letters that are similar in form tend to have different pronunciations between the two languages, which is interesting.
I do have to note, however, that there are many individual sounds, that can't be written with a single letter, which are not represented in the above table. It's also possible that equivalent sounds actually do exist where I've written "N/A". If you have any knowledge of this, please do let me know!
What can be concluded from the above? Well, mainly that German and Polish are quite different languages pronunciation-wise. When you look at the letters in the Polish and the German alphabet, it becomes clear that each has a large amount of unique letters and sounds that don't exist in the other or which are completely different.
How Similar Is The Grammar In Polish And German?
So what about grammar?
There are actually some aspects of Polish and German grammar that could lead you to (falsely) think that they were a little more closely related than they are.
Both languages have three genders for nouns, neuter, feminine and masculine and in both Polish and German, cases are used to denote the "role" of any given noun or name in a sentence. German has 4 cases and Polish has 7.
If you dig a little deeper, however, you'll find that the similarities in grammar are very superficial and that the differences are much more plentiful!
For instance, German has a very strict system of articles (the, a, an) but in Polish, these don't even exist! The Polish language only has 3 verb-tenses, past, present, and future, whereas German has six.
And then there are the different politeness-levels in each language, or "honorifics". In the past, English used to have a formal and informal way of addressing a person. "You" was formal, "thou" was informal. Each form had its own sets of verb conjugations. In Modern German, a similar system is very much alive with the formal "Sie" and the informal "Du".
In Polish, on the other hand, there are different words that need to be used for addressing people based on politeness-level, gender, and number.
Like it was the case with the pronunciation, German and Polish do have a couple of things in common, but they're mostly coincidental, and the two languages are very different grammatically.
Polish And German Vocabulary Comparison
OK, then. How about vocabulary?
Well, you've probably guessed it, but Polish and German are not really very much alike in terms of vocabulary.
While Polish does have some German loan-words, there aren't exactly many, and those that you'll come upon are very different in Polish than in German. Take, for instance, the word for mayor, "burmistrz" which comes from the German word "Bürgermeister".
The amount of Polish loan-words in German is even less significant, but the words from Polish which do exist in German are characterized by being surprisingly commonly used and don't share the characteristics of loan-words we see from Latin and Greek which tend to be more in the scientific, "high-brow" category.
To further illustrate how different German and Polish are in terms of vocabulary, let's have a look at a short text in both languages. Below you'll find the first article of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights in both German and Polish.
First in German:
Alle Menschen sind frei und gleich an Würde und Rechten geboren. Sie sind mit Vernunft und Gewissen begabt und sollen einander im Geist der Brüderlichkeit begegnen.
And now in Polish:
Wszyscy ludzie rodzą się wolni i równi pod względem swej godności i swych praw. Są oni obdarzeni rozumem i sumieniem i powinni postępować wobec innych w duchu braterstwa.
Ok, at a glance they don't look very much alike. In fact, almost everything seems different.
The only word that seems only a little bit similar between the two is "braterstwa" and "Brüderlichkeit" (both meaning brotherhood). It looks like "brat" and "Bruder" might both be related to "brother" - and indeed they are. But the relationship is actually not because of any of the words being a loan-word, but because they simply haven't changed that much from their Proto Indo-European ancestor!
So Polish and German don't really have a lot in common in terms of vocabulary either.
Polish VS German - Two Very Different Languages
Okay, we've talked about pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary and we've compared two texts in Polish and German. Now, what are the conclusions? Are Polish and German similar?
German and Polish are two very remotely-related languages. When comparing the two, they have almost nothing in common. Polish is much more similar to other Slavic languages such as Czech, Slovene, or even Bulgarian. German is very close to Dutch, but English and Danish too, and even Romance languages such as French or Italian are closer!
Polish and German, despite being spoken in neighboring countries, are simply not very similar at all!