Friday, October 19, 2018

Dutch and Polish

The Old Arsenal, Gdansk (reconstructed after WWII)

There has long been contact between the Low Countries and the area now within the boundaries of the Republic of Poland (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Polska). Gdańsk, or Danzig, was a Hanseatic port and so there was much commercial traffic between it and the Netherlands in the Late Middle Ages. One possibility is that several loanwords related to commerce, such as handel (trade) and kraan (crane) entered Polish at this time, although this is not certain. From handel we get other Polish words such as handlowy (commercial) and handlować (to trade).
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people from the Low Countries, in particular Mennonites, migrated to the area around Gdańsk and the marshy areas along the River Vistula (Wisła in Polish). Nowadays, 54 settlements have ‘holender’ or a variant thereof in their toponyms, a number which was much larger in the past. It is also reckoned that more than 4000 Poles have the surname, ‘Olender’. In Gdańsk itself, there was a Dutch community in the early modern period where a Reformed church community met for worship. Dutch technical skills were in demand. For example, Abraham van den Blocke, who was of Dutch descent, designed the imposing Golden Gate (Polish: Złota Brama) in the city centre. Along with Van den Blocke and a Polish architect, the Fleming Anthonis van Obbergen designed the city's Old Arsenal.
It is reckoned that there are at least 370 Dutch loanwords in Polish. However, some of these may derive from varieties of Low German (Nedersaksisch), spoken from the West of the Low Countries as far as present-day Western Poland, and used as a lingua franca in the Hanseatic League. Many of the Dutch loanwords in Polish, loaned directly or indirectly, relate to seafaring. These include harpun (harpoon), kielwater (ship’s wake), maszt (mast), szyper (skipper) and kooi (hammock). However, this is not the whole story. Other loan words not related to seafaring include lakmus (litmus) from the Dutch lakmoes and makler (broker) from the Dutch makelaar. In truth, however, it seems that although both Dutch and Polish are significant European languages, there is more work to be done on Dutch loanwords in Polish.

Further reading:

Nicoline van der Sijs, Nederlandse woorden wereldwijd. The Hague: SDU Uitgevers, 2010.
Barbara Czopek-Kopciuch, ‘Holendry and holender; the influence of Dutch immigrants on the Polish lexicon’. Lecture given on June 9th 2009 at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam. 
Additional material: Janek Urbaniak.

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