Okay, so I'm not sure whether this word actually appeared in the course or not, but as I find myself going into intermediate and advanced content on my own (advanced coursebooks or radio podcasts/blog posts/ newspaper articles...) I often encounter this word, and while I understand the other "spójniki", in part because I speak another Slavic language where there are straight equivalents that mirror the Polish ones, I just can't seem to grasp the meaning of this one.
In the dictionaries I went to it's often translated as "and" or "but", however when they give example sentences often what they do is just not translate this word at all and kind of just "leave it out".
So my question is simple: what does it mean ? Does it add a particular flavor/intonation to the sentence ? Does this word have a synonym ? How important is it in a sentence ?
It would really help me if some native Poles or advanced L2 speakers could answer my question. Thanks in advance :-)
It's kind of hard to explain, I'd say it's something in between the meanings of English "but" and "and". The most common use of it that I can think of is to emphasize a difference between some things or people in a sentence showing those differences. I think that in some of such sentences you can also translate it as "while" in English (however both "but" and "and" would also fit). Look at those examples: Koty są miłe, myszy zaś nie - Cats are nice, while mice aren't. Katarzyna lubi koty, Anna zaś nie - Katarzyna likes cats, while Anna doesn't, Zimy w Polsce są zazwyczaj chłodne, lata zaś ciepłe - Winters in Poland usually are cool, while summers are warm.
I found this passage in a book I'm using to study right now:
"Moja matka jest Polką, to jest jej język ojczysty, w domu zawsze mówiło się po polsku, z kolegami zaś po angielsku."
Would this sound unnatural or too bookish in spoken speech ? How would you rephrase it ? Thanks in advance !
It does feel a bit out of place.
W domu mówiło się po polsku, ale z kolegami po angielsku
W domu mówiło się po polsku, a z kolegami po angielsku
W domu mówiło się po polsku, z kolegami natomiast po angielsku.
Natomiast is almost a synonym, but I don't feel like it's more natural than zaś (even though dictionaries put only "zaś" in that cathegory)
there is also a colloquial/dialect second meaning of "zaś" , meaning (in some regional dialect"= again, second one, and colloquial "na zaś"= for later.
In my opinion it means something similar to English "while" in the meaning of "but". And yes, it's indeed rarely used, especially, in speech, but well-understood, especially in the context. I think it's also closely related to the phrase "za to", which means something similar but is much more common in everyday language (less in written Polish, though).
There's also a phrase where it doesn't have its standard meaning at all: "tak na zaś", "just in case", used, as far as I know, when you take something with you in case it might come in handy at some point. Be careful not to overuse it - it's heard really rarely and can easily become very irritable when someone says it too much (and in a wrong context). I don't know if it has any connections to the regional usage that was mentioned in another comment.