https://www.duolingo.com/machaelajean

How linguistically close are Polish and Ukrainian?

machaelajean
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I'm just curious to see if anyone might know how linguistically close/mutually intelligible Polish and Ukrainian are. Would a speaker of one be able to understand the other? Does anyone out there have an experience with this?

3 years ago

18 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Michal_90
Michal_90
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I can tell from my own experience. Generally as in all slavic languages you can understand some bits of the language and if you don't want to talk on some difficult topics, you don't need to know the other language. But generally Polish and Ukrainian aren't mutually intelligible which is for example the case of Czech and Slovak.

In Ukraine itself a lot of people especially the elites speak or understand Polish without any problems. For historical reasons Poland and Polish language were traditionally a "window to the west" for Ukrainians. This applies especially to western Ukraine. If you'd go to the city of Lviv which is the largest city of western Ukraine (and it's very beautiful by the way), used to be majority Polish before WWII and is only some 80km far from Polish border you won't have any problem to talk Polish there. Although the majority can't speak Polish, basically everyone there will understand you. In Poland it's more difficult and there applies what I've written in the beginning. The languages (as all slavic languages) are partially mutually intelligible, so you could use Ukrainian for some basic communication. But it would be hard to find someone in Poland who really speaks Ukrainian except for people like scholars who are interested in Ukraine. But on the other hand there is quite a lot of Ukrainians who work or study in Poland (the same in my native Czech republic).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/machaelajean
machaelajean
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Thank you for the detailed response! I am stopping through both Krakow and Lviv in November and, while I do plan on learning some basic Polish, I was wondering how much Ukrainian would be understood there. I know Ukrainian is a good middle ground between East and West Slavic languages, so I was just curious about its relationship with Polish. Your response really clears things up!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Michal_90
Michal_90
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If you're going to Lviv you don't have to worry. If you learn some basics in Ukrainian and sometimes use Polish words it shouldn't be any problem. Also there are a lot of tourists in both Kraków and Lviv which means that at least in the city centres you won't have big problems with English. If you want some tips for Lviv just write me, I've lived for five months there, so I know the city a bit :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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^ this is an excellent explanation.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/indigobloom

My grandparents understood each other perfectly, if that's worth anything! Mums side was from Poland, and they spoke zero English. Dad's side was Ukrainian. Family was always around to interpret any misunderstood or unknown words of course. I'm not sure if that's helpful but there you have it :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jgstcd
jgstcd
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Thanks. The map is interesting, but I would be curious to know what the percentages actually mean. They seem too high in general to be the percentage of text or speech from one language that a speaker of the other can understand.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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Caveat - I'm not a native speaker of a Slavic language.

Having studied Russian a long time ago, the Ukrainian tree had a lot that was similar, and even when the vocal was different, the way the language worked was familiar.

When I went to Poland after my final year of university, having just taken 4 years of Russian and a year of Croatian, I could have simple conversations with a sufficiently patient speaker of Polish, and I've done the same in the intervening years.

From the POV of someone who speaks Russian as my primary foreign language, Polish looks really hard in written form - all those consonant clusters! - but I could pick it up and speak some 'pidgin Polish' after a few days, and I understood a lot more than I could speak.

I don't have enough exposure to either language to know this from personal experience, but it's my understanding Ukrainian is closer to Polish than Russian is.

I don't know how helpful that is, but just my own experience of Russian/Polish/Ukrainian.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Michal_90
Michal_90
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Well with the consonant clusters have a look on Czech. Try to pronounce such things:

Strč prst skrz krk or words like zmrzlina (ice cream)

With Polish it's different because it uses different orthography and two consonants can actually form just one sound (like cz, sz or rz).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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I think because I studied Croatian and so I'm used to r being used kind of as a vowel it doesn't phase me! I know Polish isn't so hard to decipher as it looks like to an outsider, but Polish looks way more intimidating to me ;D

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Michal_90
Michal_90
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I would believe it. The tricky thing is that sometimes the words with the same root mean something else and also phonology or orthography makes a lot (compare for example Czech and Polish orthography. Also cyrillic script makes the language look like more different than they really are). A word which has actually the same root can sound or look like completely different. Have a look for example on Polish życie (life) and Ukrainian життя (zhyttya) or Czech kniha/knížka (book) and Polish książka.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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and жизнь книга in Russian, život knjiga in Croatian. I love Slavic languages <3

I actually think in many ways it's easier to learn a new alphabet than having to get one's head around a new way to use the one you're familiar with. I always try to encourage people not to be scared of Cyrillic; I think people see it as a huge hurdle, when it some ways it simplifies things, or at least, I think it does!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/machaelajean
machaelajean
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I would definitely have to agree with this! Cyrillic is by far the smallest (or at least one of the smallest) hurdles you have to jump over when learning a Slavic language! The Polish spin on the Latin alphabet intimidates me far more than Cyrillic does!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/flootzavut
flootzavutPlus
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I hear ya, and so agree about Polish, which makes my brain stop in its tracks and ask "say what, now?!?" Gimme Cyrillic any day!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jgstcd
jgstcd
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Common words are often similar, but if you want to talk about anything invented in the last thousand years, but not the last fifty, where both languages will probably have borrowed the same English word, then they are often quite different. When I look at the percentages starting from Czech I see

  • Slovak, 92%. Unlike all the others, this seems like an underestimate. A slight underestimate for spoken Slovak and a large one for written Slovak.

  • Polish, 87%. There's no way I understand 87% of either spoken or written Polish. Stories for small children, maybe, but radio or newspapers? I'm sure I could learn to if I lived in Poland for a while. Or if I lived in Ostrava and could watch Polish television. But without a lot of exposure I don't have a chance.

  • Upper Sorbian, also 87%. I tried listening to Bramborske Serbske Radijo a few times, which is Lower Sorbian. There's no number given for Lower Sorbian, but it's presumably farther from Czech than Upper Sorbian. In any case my understanding was nowhere close to 87%.

  • Slovene, 84%. Again, nowhere close. I can guess the meaning of easy, short words and long, but international, words. Everything in between is a problem. As with Sorbian, I can figure out what's being discussed, but have no idea what's being said about it.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Michal_90
Michal_90
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We probably understand the chart in a different way. I don't think it means that you should understand 87 % of Polish, but that 87 % of words have the same root. This doesn't say whether the word means the same or not (see "sklep" in Czech and Polish and on the other hand "piwnica" - there are definitely words with the same root in both languages, but they mean something else). And also as I've written earlier, phonology and orthography makes huge difference so even words with the same root look like to be different (above mentioned example of książka x knížka).

By the way it isn't such a tough thing. I am fluent in Polish and I've never taken any language course. I've been simply exposed to the language for some time. Actually when I get back from Poland and I'm tired it sometimes happens to me to use automatically Polish phrases instead of Czech ones :)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jgstcd
jgstcd
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But if that's the interpretation then surely 92% is too low for Slovak? I don't seem to be able to find a criterion which makes sense of all the numbers.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/machaelajean
machaelajean
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Thanks for the information! The second link was especially helpful!

3 years ago
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