As I mentioned before, the Polish language is very entertaining when it comes to learning all the rules. It seems that I haven’t mastered them yet, and I never will, but trying to will keep me busy for a long time. Sometimes I ponder hard over the origins of some of the rules, and either find out or make up some guidelines that would help me to understand (at least me, if nobody else) what is behind those untranslatable words and unexplainable rules. Let’s begin with a one syllable word, “no”, which I’ve been thinking about and using a lot. When I came to Poland it helped me a lot in conversations. I was using it very often to express my emotions in response to different subjects that I understood in a very general way. It wasn’t until last year when it got to me that “no” tends to be affirmative, in opposition to many other languages when it’s a denial. Imagine this, Christmas is coming and my aunt from Szczecin talks to her housekeeper (Grażyna) mainly about Christmas meals. My sister-in-law (who’s an Argentinean, learning Polish) stands next to them and listens to their conversation. My aunt Zosia suggests a dish and Grażyna replies to her every idea with lots of gestures and raised voice saying, “no, No, NO!” My sister-in-law couldn’t comprehend why Grażyna didn’t like any of the dishes. A few minutes later, after I translated to her the whole situation, I realised that “no” means “yep” in contrary to other languages. What is causing me the biggest pain is a neuter gender that can be preceded by a pronoun, “to”. It was very hard for me to remember that words like “tree” or “word” are neuter. I couldn’t understand why it is this way and not another but I will try to explain it to you right now.
In Spanish all nouns are either feminine or masculine, so there is no neuter gender. There are many differences between Spanish and Polish genders. Let’s take as an example a word “prezerwatywa” (condom), in Polish it’s feminine and in Spanish masculine - “el preservativo”. The Spanish genders (artículos) help us to determine sex, e.g. EL auto, EL perro, LA casa, LA comida – this doesn’t exist in the Polish language which is sometimes very difficult to explain to my students who learn Spanish.
Since the neuter gender is very strange to me, I noticed an exceptional example – the word “dziecko” (child).
Like my sister-in-law, I couldn’t understand why the word “dziecko” is neuter and belongs to the same category as “tree”, “lane”, “eye” and many others I’m not even going to mention. It is getting even more ridiculous when you have to add a verb to this word. If you want to describe a child who is able to speak (hypothetically of course), you can use a word “mówca” (speaker) that is of a masculine gender. In this case, the question is whether it is correct for this masculine version of “dziecko” to say; “Wszystkie dzieci słyszymy” (We, all children can hear), or “Ja, dziecko, szłem po lesie” (I, child, was walking around the forest). Is this right or should it be changed? According to a very well known online encyclopaedia neuter verbs in the first and second person do not exist. This opened my mind to some new theories. I started to wonder why certain words are neuter.
The first theory that came to my mind refers to the word “dziecko”. I think that children are innocent to some extent and I believe they represent angels in our world. It’s been widely known that angels are asexual which makes them free from “dirty” desire.
The second theory, which I like the most, evolves around the idea that the Polish language somehow prepares the child for a choice of their own sexuality. Growing up, the child slowly finds the orientation that will suit them and it doesn’t matter if it’s going to be “ten”, “ta”, “tin”, “ ton” or “tun”. It can be even “to” if they prefer.
While teaching Spanish, I had a chance to meet a lot of interesting people. Once, one of my friends asked me to look after her students while she was away in Argentina. In this way I met Tomek, Paweł and Dominik. They wanted to learn as much Spanish as possible in a very short period of time as they were planning to go Mexico. They were complete beginners and everything seemed to them really difficult. I was wondering if I wasn’t trying to teach them too much but 1.5 months later they went on their vacation with basic knowledge of Spanish.
Paweł and Tomek were a couple at that time and Dominik was single. It came to my mind that maybe their trip was connected to getting married and legalizing their relationship. As far as I know, homosexual marriages are legal in some parts of Mexico (Distrito Federal).
Recently, Argentina has legalised homosexual marriages and became the first country in South America which fights against homophobia and gives homosexuals their identity. In the past, Argentina treated homosexuals differently throughout the years; the first South American group regaining homosexual policies “Nuevo Mundo” (New World) was set up in the period of dictatorship 1966-1973. A few years later, during the next, even more severe dictatorship (with the consent of the Catholic Church), homosexuality was treated as a crime and a reason to be prosecuted for left-wing views. When those terrible times were finally over, democracy came back and homosexuality became legalised. A few years later, in 2003, homosexual couples were officially accepted in terms of law and social attitudes. It took a little bit longer (until the end of 2005) to introduce the same ideas and legalise them in the Argentinean provinces. However, in the morning of 15 July 2010, Senate changed the civil law and finally legalised homosexual marriages.
Paweł and Tomek are married today. We met after they came back from Mexico and they were very pleased with the results of our lessons, as they could easily talk to other people about general subjects. Especially the vocabulary referring to diseases’ symptoms came handy, as Dominik got food poisoning. Apart from getting a good feedback, I also got a green, ceramic scull which is typical for a Mexican culture. After all, they didn’t get married in Mexico (maybe they didn’t even try). We met for dinner once, and they told me that the only place they could get married as foreigners was Scotland and they even had a wedding date for 8 March. Hopefully that’s a good tip for those who are thinking about getting married.
In Poland the situation of homosexual couples is still unregulated but I believe this may change one day. In terms of language we’ve been prepared for this for a long time.
Nicolas de la Vega
Tłumaczenie: Anna Martinsen