Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Polish, like many languages, has a formal and informal way of addressing people. For speakers like me, it's a real bitch. It's not just the added conjugations that you have to worry about, it's to whom you're talking. OK, so people your age and lower you can address informally (ty), and those older or of higher position you use the formal (pan.) But in my internship I noticed that the professors would address the students using the formal sense, which kind of confounded me. But what is more, is what if I wanted to talk to an elderly person whom I know quite well (let's say, for sake of an example, a mother-in-law)? Would I use the formal or informal? I know it seems silly to those who are used to it, and it's perfectly normal ("Just use the formal with strangers." they say) but I think it's just a bunch of bunk.


Anonymous said...

Hello, universal rule is address everybody the formal way until he/she tells you to call him informally.

Only kids speaking to kids and adults speaking to kids use informal when talking to stranger.

So in universities professors call students in formal way (Pan Kowalski dostał 5). This is like admitting that students are adults, not like in high school.

Still - young people often don't bother with speaking per "Pan" to each other, so it's rare nowadays to hear two young people talking to each other the formal way. But it happens.

So - formal way is secure option, but sometimes you will sound a little archaic.

For mother-in-law - I don't know, I have this problem right now, and I'm native speaker:).

I try to simple use "mamo", but after half a year it still sounds strange to me to call sbd other than my mother that.

PolishMeKnob said...

What would the reaction be if you referred to a superior as 'ty', even off handedly.

Anonymous said...

For you consequences will be probably rather small - you are foreign, so more will be forgiven.

Still - in formal situations (like talking with chief/client/etc) it's better to use "Pani/Pan".

BTW - what exactly means off handedly?

PolishMeKnob said...

I guess I spelt it wrong and it should either be off-handedly or offhandedly (how vexing language can be.)

Anyway, it means to be done without thinking or previous thought; almost spontaneously.

me on the Island said...

You would possibly receive THE LOOK.

If you are not comfortable with Panie Profesorze czy ma Pan..., then mix it.
A Professor is likely to know the old politeness:
Kochany Profesorze, czy masz...
If your intellect and work warrants it, it will be welcome.

PolishMeKnob said...

I think I'll stick to using salutations in e-mail and just using plain old 'Pan/Pani' is spoken speech—at least until I get a firmer grasp.