Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Safety in numbers

Or not, as the case may be.

There's currently a debate going on at the obwarzanki stand outside the school (the one up, rather than down, the road). It regards a matter of some importance to the health and well-being of the students, namely how to order the famous Kraków pretzels.

You'd have thought I'd have had enough experience at this already, but it seems I may have been getting it wrong all along (this may explain the hostility of the Bad Obwarzanki Lady).

During a break between classes today we stood anxiously by the pretzel-stand, waiting for the Good Obwarzanki Lady to come back from her coffee break, or from the loo, or from getting change, or from wherever it was she had absconded to.

- You know what, said my fellow-student, I think the numbers change when you're asking for something...
- What?! Again?
- Well you see, my friend is in level B2, and he said that there's this special rule for when you're asking for one thing... you have to decline it in biernik... or is it genitive...

I was horrified. I really thought that buying food was the one area I'd got totally under control.

-Why is that? Is it the numbers? Or is it because you're asking for it?

See, I know that when you ask for something, like 'proszę o gazetę', you use the accusative, but since 'obwarzanek' and 'precle' are masculine and neutral respectively (aren't they??) the ending shouldn't change.

- I think it's to do with single objects. If it's a quantity, like 'chleb', that's different.
- So... every time I ask for 'jabłko', I should actually be asking for 'jabłka'?
- I'm not sure... maybe.

We fell silent, contemplating the elevated mysteries of level B2.

Can any helpful Polish readers clarify things for us?


Karolina said...

Poproszę jednego obwarzanka.
Poproszę jednego precla.
This is how I would say it. Don't ask why as I have no idea. But it is Accusative so seems the B2 guy is right.

Anonymous said...

Just say

"jeden obwarzanek, prosze"
"jeden chleb, prosze"

and so on.

"one obwarzanek, please"
"one bread, please"


What you tried to say was

"Could you please give me... (accusative)(whoM)...jeDNEGO obwarzanKA."

Pinolona, Polish is much easier if you do not make it too complicated for yourself. ;)

Anonymous said...

As an n-th generation local (and 3rd generation bajgiel-fan):

Proszę jednego/dwa/trzy/... z solą/makiem does the trick for me, honestly and natively!

Never z sezamem, cos it's against the Rules (=tradition). We just don't say what they are... otherwise we'd have to decide whether we eat:
- precle (YES! and not precelki, though - believe me Pinolonko, or rather Pinolonusiu or Pinoloneczko - we love those teeny-weeny diminutives)
- obwarzanki (somehow non-local)
- bajgle (deliciously Austro-Hungaro-Jewish)

As far as cases go, we never realise that we are so illogical:
1 jeden obiad (N sg)
2 dwa obiady (N pl)
5 pięć obiadów (G pl)

1 jeden chłopiec / chłopak (N sg)
2 dwaj chłopcy / ?chłopacy (N pl)
5 pięciu chłopców / chłopaków (G pl)

BTW: 99% of us will hesitate on this 2-3-4 plural for "dziewczę", and not on the noun but already on the numeral

halfLingus polonus

PS: critters asking for (ugh!) obwarzanka are non-you.

Darth Sida said...

'Precle' neutral? I think not.

pinolona said...

Karolina: thanks, that makes sense!

Anon 1: haaaaaang on a moment, so if I say 'proszę' afterwards, I don't have to conjugate? I thought grammar was regardless of word order in Polish?? And how come I can ask for 'one bread'? I thought - as in English - bread was a quantity and not a number?? (i.e. 'some bread')

Halfling: why not 'z sezamem'? Is it wrong? Sesame is the best!
Often I do just say 'proszę z sezamem', to bypass the whole declination issue (or because that's what the person in front said). Is it incorrect then to say what it actually is? (given that there's not much other than pretzels and obwarzanki that I could possibly be ordering). And why is obwarzanek not local?

I'd probably be Pinolusiu, right? the '-ona' ending is already a kind of diminutive, albeit from a different language... Sadly my real name is much less conjugation-friendly.

Darth: It isn't??? But it ends in a vowel! What is it then?!

peixote said...

I disagree with the first comment by Karolina - if you say "poproszę jednego obwarzanka" then literally this means that you are asking something of an obwarzanek (expecting him? it? to oblige), which I suppose would make sense you one were a crazy person.

The standard would be:

"poproszę jeden obwarzanek / precel etc"

or (as Anon correctly stated)

"jeden obwarzanek, proszę"

Darth Sida said...


The word "precle" is plural.

Nominative singular is:
-- precel
-- precelek [diminutive]
both masculine.

[I encountered regional spoken variety of Nominative sing. "(ta) precla" which is feminine, but merely once or twice in my sofar life, so don't mind it. The more so, the plural 'precle' would be the same.]

pinolona said...

Peixote: Hi!
So in B2 they're actually teaching them wrong? Or the students are misunderstanding? (the second case seems more likely).

Darth, ahhhh ok I get it. So long as I just buy one at a time, I'll be ok, right?

Maybe I should give up baked goods altogether and start eating salad for lunch...

Anonymous said...

It's obwarzanka!
(or just jednego without the noun)

Najlepiej z sezamem!

It's like asking for a burgera or a Żywca, isn't it?

But Poles disagree all the time on whether to add -a in these cases, in my, non-Pole, enquiring experience.


Anonymous said...

I don't mind "z sezamem" at all. all I wanted to say was that sesame got into... errr... onto "precle" quite recently, therefore it is still unaccepted among the traditional locals.

Precel vs Obwarzanek:

They are *not* the same, yet in Kraków, we chose to call "obwarzanek" "precel" and in pre-WWII days aso "bajgiel" under the influence of Yiddish. Maybe bcause "precle" were raher the fare for the rural folk.. don't know.

Yet I may be mistaken, as I remember Granny using the word "preclarka" for "babcia sprzedająca precle",which I haven't heard it for well over a decade.

You are

a) plainly wrong commenting Karolina (but not without a reason)
In short utterances we keep simplifying the cases: “proszę obwarzanka” is really short for “proszę [o podanie mi] obwarzanka” that – through frequent use – got abbreviated and is therefore accepted and correct, even though its “surface structure” seems to be wrong (Sorry to have ventured into generative grammar). If you don’t believe in such an ellipsis, just look into the history of your own subjunctive mood. The potential meaning of “proszę [szanownego] obwarzanka [żeby się dał zjeść]” is weeded out by the subconscious linguist in us before the synapses even notice such an explanation without the semantic ocean they’re drenched in.
b) just wrong speaking about the “standard”
As remarked above, all this is done for brevity’s sake. Without sacrificing clarity. Thanks to declension we don’t need “jeden”. Adding it makes the request too long. So though technically correct, your suggestion ?“Poproszę jeden obwarzanek” is wrong due to the same usage rules on redundancy that make us drop the initial personal pronoun in Polish. Interestingly, you don’t violate the usage rule when – possibly pointing at one with your finger – you say “proszę ten obwarzanek”, as “ten” plays an important demonstrative function.
c) perfectly correct agreeing with Anon on
“jeden obwarzanek, proszę” although in the spirit of language economy I’d say “jeden z makiem/solą, proszę”

So there is a good reason in this madness. A couple of hints when you are in two minds as to the “biernik czy dopełniacz” question:
- try a noun that you’ve practiced with.
- make a Pole use your phrase with a masculine noun with 0 ending, e.g. “stół”. X“Poproszę stołu” is right out. (Moreover, there is no room for the simplification discussed above, as we “nie kupujemy stołów” frequently enough to justify such a simplification. Hope I didn’t make it too complicated…

In a word:
- the correct form is “obwarzanek/wiertarkę proszę” (biernik)
- with words often used in this situation, dopełniacz may replace biernik in spoken Polish:
“obwarzanka proszę”
?“wiertarki proszę”
(or even X“wiertarki proszę”, as “wiertarki” is also N plur, and could be misleading, so it may be considered a mistake and not just a usage error)

PS: ? before a sentence means “not used”, and capital X – wrong.

Halfling PL
at your service, may the shadow of your beards never dwindle!

PPS: I know this is hard but I don't think many people would use Pinolusia as it may a) have a warm patronising sound (as "wnusia") or b) depending on the way you pronounce it, may be slightly unpleasant - among my friends (= znajomi) there is Marta who knows how to make a lot of people upset with little things, and for this reason is called Martusia.

PPPS: If you are in your late 40s and have that penchant for soft chairs and knitting, you may easily be Pinoloncia (in KRK pronounced Pinolońcia; see: pańcia).

pinolona said...

Ok - I don't need a diminutive, I like me as I am thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Pino on the diminutive thing with names. I like my name just fine (Basia) so please don't mess with it. I think this is a cultural thing (North American). I was raised in a Polish household, (first language which unfortunately needs a serious re-fresh) and I understand the penchant Poles have for incorporating diminutives into their speech patterns (especially names), but this is clearly something I'm not comfortable with. Odd really, I simply can't access this "register" of speech. Clearly, this behaviour is the result of social interactions here in Canada. I reserve diminutives strictly for small children, usually my own. When Poles use diminutives, I understand the context (usually) warm, but just can't reciprocate.
How about you Pino? Must be even stranger for you, as your background is not (completely) Polish ...might be wrong here.

not Baska, not Basienka, etc.

pinolona said...

Hi Basia,

Ahh no I'm not Polish at all: I'm just a gatecrasher! My roots are a mix of Celtic and (probably) old French, like most other Brits.

I find it very hard to add suffixes in any language (the issue first arose in Italy about four years ago). It's hard if you have a non-suffixing mother tongue. I like it when Italians do it but in Polish it gets confusing when suddenly everything ends in -ka, even the trams...

Anonymous said...

"Basia", "Basienka", "Basiunia" "Baska", "Basieczka", IS a diminutive and it comes from "Barbara" :D

Anonymous said...

Diminutives continued. Point taken that "Basia" is a diminutive of Barbara. In English, I acutaully use Barb rather than Barbara as well. I would never tolerate anything other than Barb/Barbara (such as Barbie, ugh)The polish diminutive names that followed after "Basia" above however rank up there with second derivatives in calculus in my books i.e. don't go there unless you absolutely have to. I think the point I was trying to make about the use of diminutives in Polish is that although I am familiar with them, understand their context in speech, I have been brought up in a culture, where this practice is generally limited to intimate or family settings. Vive la difference.

Sylwia said...

WOW What a grammar mess! I love it. :D

1.) “Poproszę (o) (jeden) obwarzanek/(jedno) jabłko/(jedną) wodę” are always correct, and I’d say much safer.

2.) “Poproszę (o) (jednego) obwarzanka” is correct as well, however, no one would ever say “Poproszę (o) (jednego) jabłka/(jednej) wiertarki” or “(jednego) stołu”.

I agree with this: “In short utterances we keep simplifying the cases: “proszę obwarzanka” is really short for “proszę [o podanie mi] obwarzanka” that – through frequent use – got abbreviated and is therefore accepted and correct, even though its “surface structure” seems to be wrong.”

but it works only for masculine nouns, and not even all of them.

One says “Proszę (o) (jednego) żywca”, but not “Proszę (o) (jednego) piwa”, while both “Proszę żywiec” and “Proszę piwo” are correct. Similarly, there’s no “Proszę (o) (jednego) jabłka”, only “Proszę (o) (jedno) jabłko”, and no “Proszę (o) (jednej) wody”, only “Proszę (o) (jedną) wodę”.

However, one should be careful even with the masculine form. At home, someone who was served a meal but needs a fork, might say “Poproszę o widelca”, but one would never say it in a store, and even at home “Poproszę o widelec” would sound more natural.

3.) There’s nothing wrong with using “jeden” in front of “obwarzanek, chleb, precel”. Even though it is redundant a very short sentence might sound rude. Sometimes we simply use the word “jeden” to be more polite. I certainly do that often in order to not end up with a two words sentence. So while one might say “Obwarzanek, proszę” one will be more civil with “Jeden obwarzanek, proszę”. Very short sentences sound as if one didn’t have any time to spare for the selling person, or as if one was giving orders, and one hears them more often in movies, where the guys need to keep things as short as possible, than in real life.

4.) IMHO precle, obwarzanki and bajgle are all different things. Look them up in Polish Wikipedia. The stuff from Kraków is obwarzanek.

5.) Quantity vs. number. Bread, water, milk, hair etc in Polish can be measured in both. When someone says “Kup chleba” it means “Buy some bread”, and when one says “Poproszę chleba” it doesn’t mean as above “Poproszę o podanie mi jednego chleba” only “Can I have some bread, please”, so one can’t say “Poproszę o chleba”. But we can also count them, and then they decline differently. “Poproszę (o) (jeden) chleb” means “One bread, please”, “Poproszę (o) dwa chleby” means “Two breads, please” and “Poproszę (o) pięć chlebów” means “Five breads, please”. I don’t think that there are uncountable things in Polish, or at least I can’t think of one.

For feminine it’s:

Poproszę wody = Some water, please
Poproszę wodę = One water, please
Poproszę dwie wody = Two waters, please
Poproszę pięć wód = Five waters, please

One doesn’t need the word “bottle”, and it’s not a shortened version of “Poproszę o podanie mi pięciu butelek wody” either. Actually in the phrase “butelka wody” water is applied in quantity, just as bread is in "bochenek chleba".


Poproszę mleka = Some milk, please
Poproszę mleko = One milk, please
Poproszę dwa mleka = Two milks, please
Poproszę pięć mlek = Five milks, please (sounds weird, but that’s because no one ever buys so many of them, unlike piwo in "Poproszę pięć piw")

6.) Basia IS a diminutive, so it makes no sense to argue against them and insist on this one. I can understand how Basieńka or Basiunia, Basieczka, Basienieczka can be too much, but asking Poles to call one Basia is too much as well. The most casual one is Baśka. Basia carries a sentiment that some people might not feel towards you. It’s fine within one’s family, but outside of it one needs time to become Basia to others, and especially other women who might not feel like using it in other cases than compassion. Of course much depends on your age, personality and the distance between you and other people. If someone addresses you per Pani then Pani Basiu is nearly neutral, since “Pani” draws the needed distance anyway, but for your various female acquaintances with whom you’re on first name terms it might be troublesome, unless you’re old enough. However, my mum in her 50s still calls her friend Baśka rather than Basia.

Out of two of my closest friends one is either Małgosia or Gośka to me, but the other is always Aśka. Thirty years wasn’t enough to make her Asia in my eyes, and I’d feel uncomfortable if I was to call her that.

It works both ways though. A woman is much more likely to call a man Krzyś while his male friends would prefer the form Krzysiek.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we are in a mess. Simply because it is living language and not just dead rules. And if there are any rules, they also depend on geographic location and class (the concept usually referred to in PL as “wychowanie” or in some cases “dom”).

I can’t agree with Sylwia’s 1.) – I tried “Poproszę jeden” in my corner shop and got a sympathetic answer ending in “pewnie znowu niewyspany?” Asked for the reason, the lady said “Bo tak coś Pan dziwnie mówi.”

“Proszę piwa” you hear a lot but not in Kraków, it always gets my attention, as I find it fascinating: why people make it so difficult. The sound of the phrase verges on plural: “Proszę 2/3/4 piwa”.

“Proszę wody” is just not used as it makes you then specify brand, volume etc. I’ve heard “Proszę mleka” and “Proszę Cisowianki.” The latter after Pinolonisko (sometimes “zgrubienie” is a term of endearment as well) this thread.

Your 3.) really depends on the tone and all the para- and non-linguistic content. Sounds awkward to the people around me. Especially the young ones. We may assume it’s non-U to use it around here.

4.) – Precle and obwarzanki are different things, as I showed in the link to Wrota Małopolski. Bajgle are obwarzanki, and they are not the American bagels. Ask the Bagelman if he’s already back to his den in Podbrzezie. “The stuff from Kraków is obwarzanek.” Sure, but there are plenty who call it precel (in the absence of the actual precle), and those who remember (also through ancestors) call it bajgiel. While still studying at UJ we recognised ‘folks from far away’ by the meticulous sticking to “obwarzanek” (And there were folks who used feminine form (ta obwarzanka if not even obwarzonka)). Interestingly, this is all changing as bakeries introduced the glazed crunchy variety, and there is even a Babcia with “precle i obwarzanki”.

“Quantity vs. number. Bread, water, milk, hair etc in Polish can be measured in both.” Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Yet, the case is more complex, so your arguments in 5.) don’t stand the usage test either way.
In Alma and in Stary Kleparz I say “Proszę chleba. Ale dobrego.” And it does mean “Proszę o podanie mi jednego chleba i doradzenie, który jest dobry”.
“Proszę (o) chleb” in a restaurant means the waitress forgot to bring it or I ate all she brought and want more.
“Proszę (o) dwa chleby/pięć chlebów” is another way of discovering the non-U speakers. There are quite a few people in KRK, WRO and POZ who can be quite cheeky if you say so. Although I “multiply waters”, I (think I) stick to counting loaves. It happened to e that a bakery girl did not know what “bochenek” is. On the other hand, I had to teach quite a few shop assistants the difference between “laska kiełbasy” and “pęto kiełbasy” (the first is I or J shaped, the latter – U, Ó or multiple spring-like O).

You say you can’t think of uncountable things in Polish, well, there’s “groch” for example. And “złoto”, “bawełna”… On a less material note “czas”. I hear “dwie mąki/kasze” but somehow never “dwa ryże” (And I don’t think the reason is the potential mistake with the adjective “ryży”.).
Returning to diminutives: I say “mydło podrożało” but asking for 2 bars, I’d ask for “dwa mydełka”.

“Poproszę wody = Some water, please” or: “4 butelki”
?“Poproszę wodę = One water, please” NOT if you say it in a restaurant!

“Poproszę mleka = Some milk, please” or: “2 butelki”
X“Poproszę mleko = One milk, please” again – NOT in a restaurant or at the table

6.) I agree, but be very careful with “Pani Basiu”. It strongly depends on the context and tone. It may be used to establish the pecking order. In 50s secret police addressed opposition leaders “Panie Krzysiu / Jureczku” during interrogations: after the superficially correct Pan came the infuriatingly patronising hyper-diminutive. In business speaking about someone as “Pani Basia / Pan Krzyś” gets the person demoted to the role of a secretary or cleaner, unless naturally the person holds such a post. If I were asked to play a sexist, I’d go for this form of address as a mock endearment. On the other hand I can’t imagine a friend of mine NOT addressing his secretary “Pani Basieńko”,

“A woman is much more likely to call a man Krzyś while his male friends would prefer the form Krzysiek.” Yes, with the accent on “more likely” but this again depends on their social roles, mood, age… and personal preferences. I played basketball with 3 Sebastians (sadly not all three of them together) one was always Sebi, one was Sebek / Bastek, and one Bastian. At other times, just like myself, each of them could be “Rychu”.

I co o tym wszystkim myślisz Rychu*)?

Halfling PL

*) Pinolono

Anonymous said...


And Mum wants me to learn Polish, because its the language of my Grands! NeVeR! Why cant it be simple?


Island1 said...

noc dobry.

pinolona said...

or should that be 'noc dobra'??

Anonymous said...

Czesc Halfling:
I need a man's perspective on male diminutives please.
I have a male cousin (Krzysztof) that I am close to. When he writes me he often uses diminutives. I usually stick to Krzysiek or Krzys, but I welcome other suggestions. How do I address an adult male without it sounding like I am addressing a 3 year- old or a lover?
Many thanks,

Sylwia said...

Halfling, you haven’t grown up in Poland, have you? No offence, your Polish is excellent. You make so few mistakes I could ascribe them to a dialect rather than think of them as errors, only that, well, no Pole would be caught dead learning Polish by testing how others use it. We assume that, with very few exceptions (Prof. Miodek), nearly no one can speak good Polish. We distrust even our teachers, and certainly people in bars and shopkeepers. When in doubt we pull out our grammar books, dictionaries or write to specialists. Your attitude is typical for an English speaker. English is so heavily based on idioms and so tolerant for dialects that it matters how people say things, rather than whether it’s grammatically correct. In Polish it does happen with idioms too, but we have so few of them in comparison that we stick to rules in grammar. And, to be sure, it’s not a matter of the rules being dead or it being a living language, only that you don’t recognise the rules in your examples.

“Proszę piwa” you hear a lot but not in Kraków, it always gets my attention, as I find it fascinating: why people make it so difficult. The sound of the phrase verges on plural: “Proszę 2/3/4 piwa”.

They don’t make it difficult, and it has nothing to do with plural. It means “Some bear, please.” I.e. “Proszę o trochę piwa” or “Proszę o kufel piwa”. You wouldn’t expect English people to always order one beer but never a mug of it for simplicity’s sake, would you?

There’s just no sense to mess it for Pinolona by what you heard being used, or limit her to the phrases you feel comfortable with. Let’s put it like this. When you ask for something (no matter whether in a restaurant, store, or at home):

a.) Nouns as countable are used in the accusative: “Poproszę (o) (jedną, jedno, jeden) wodę, piwo, chleb, (dwie, dwa) wody, piwa, chleby, (pięć) wód, piw, chlebów”

“Obwarzanek, precel, pączek” are yet more complicated (which probably is the thing they teach in level B2), because some masculine unanimated nouns simply behave like masculine animated when in singular, which means that they can take the form of the genitive in the accusative. They answer the question “kogo?” instead of “co?”, the way one’d say “Poproszę o psa”. That’s why one says either “Poproszę o jeden obwarzanek” or “jednego obwarzanka”, but not “jeden obwarzanka”. They are exceptions, but I’m afraid there are hundreds of them. They give a great deal of trouble to Poles too, although it might help that they exist in series i.e. some kinds of food, mushrooms, dances. We say “zatańczyć mazurka” although it’s accusative, so theoretically it should be “mazurek”, like when we say “zatańczyć polkę, tango, taniec”. Or we say “podaj mi pilota” most likely because the word “pilot” (pilot) was here before “pilot” (remote control), so we keep speaking of it as if it were a man. But in plural the words behave differently “piloty” for remote controls and “piloci” for pilots. “Poproszę piloty” but “Poproszę pilotów”. Just as you’d say “Poproszę o obwarzanki” and not “Poproszę o obwarzanków”, so it’s back to the accusative. It also means that we keep adding to the list of exceptions. I.e. the correct form is “Poproszę o kebab”, but many people say “Poproszę o kebaba”. (I’m just watching “Ryś”, and they’re laughing there at a politician by having him mess the accusative with the genitive.)

b.) Nouns as uncountable are used in the genitive: “Poproszę wody, piwa, chleba”. You can’t use “o” here unless you add the measure of quantity (in the accusative). “Poproszę (o) wiadro wody, beczkę piwa, bochenek chleba”.

The example with “jabłko” Pinolona asked about would be regular in both cases, because “jabłko” is neutral, so it can’t be among the masculine exceptions, and because apples are countable, so they’re used in plural when we add a measure of quantity. It’d be “Proszę o kilo jabłek”, while it’s “Proszę o kilo chleba”.

“Proszę wody” is used extremely often. I.e. you come to someone’s house and the host asks you “Herbaty?” “Nie, wody poproszę”. Note that the word “herbata” in this example is used as an uncountable noun too. Otherwise one’d ask if one should “Podać herbatę?”

Someone very thirsty will always say “Wody!” and not “Wodę!”. And you can “Wypić wodę” but “Napić się wody”.

In Alma and in Stary Kleparz I say “Proszę chleba. Ale dobrego.” And it does mean “Proszę o podanie mi jednego chleba i doradzenie, który jest dobry”.

No, it means “Some bread, please”. The fact that you’re understood in the context, simply because people usually don’t buy more than one loaf, doesn’t make you use another grammatical case or count loaves.

“Proszę (o) chleb” means that you’re asking for one bread, and not precisely one loaf of it. What you’ll get depends on how it’s portioned: a loaf, a quarter of it, a pack of slices, or a kilogram. And if you ask in a restaurant it’ll be whatever they serve it like. Similarly if you say “Poproszę (o) dwie kawy” in a store you’ll get two jars or two packs, but in a restaurant those will be two cups, and at someone’s house two glasses or mugs. Still, in all of the cases bread and coffee are used as countable nouns.

“Proszę (o) dwa chleby/pięć chlebów” is another way of discovering the non-U speakers. There are quite a few people in KRK, WRO and POZ who can be quite cheeky if you say so.

Because? They don’t know grammar? Show them this answer from PWN.

BTW It’s interesting that you throw together people who speak two different dialects (Kraków and Poznań) with people who largely use the standard Polish (Wrocław – or did you mean Radom?) as if it all didn’t matter.

Although I “multiply waters”, I (think I) stick to counting loaves.

Well, that’s just your personal preference, but in your earlier example in the restaurant you counted bread, not loaves, and in the one from bakery you didn’t count it at all. In order to count loaves specifically you need to use the word “bochenek”, which, via the analogy to English, probably makes more sense to you.

On the other hand, I had to teach quite a few shop assistants the difference between “laska kiełbasy” and “pęto kiełbasy”

LOL You were lucky they didn’t call police! “Laska kiełbasy” is a regionalism. To the majority of Poles it sounds like a poor euphemism for bj.

You say you can’t think of uncountable things in Polish, well, there’s “groch” for example. And “złoto”, “bawełna”… On a less material note “czas”. I hear “dwie mąki/kasze” but somehow never “dwa ryże”.

Saying “dwa grochy, złota, ryże, czasy” or “dwie bawełny” is perfectly proper, so you CAN count them. The practical usage depends only on context, so when you have a reason to count them you’ll be as correct as one can get. “Ile czasów jest w języku polskim?”, “Oni żyli w dwóch różnych czasach”, “Polacy zdobyli dwa złota”, “Kupiła pięć sreber”, “Zostały mu trzy życia”, “Na sukience ma dwa duże grochy”, “Kup oba ryże, zwykły i zelony”.

The only things difficult to count are some of those that exist only in plural, i.e. “spodnie”. It’s possible to say “pięć spodni”, but between 2-4 it’s problematic, so they’re counted in pairs. However, they’re treated as countable, i.e. one can speak of their number. There’s not any attitude against counting things in Polish, only sometimes it’s difficult to create a proper form, or no reason to do that. Generally uncountable nouns are one of the major problems for Poles learning English exactly because we can’t imagine that something could be uncountable.

Returning to diminutives: I say “mydło podrożało” but asking for 2 bars, I’d ask for “dwa mydełka”.

That’s again your personal preference. I’d say “dwa mydła” to not sound infantile, but when you say “mydło podrożało” you use “mydło” as an uncountable noun. You could say “mydełko podrożało” to the same effect though.

“Poproszę wodę = One water, please” NOT if you say it in a restaurant!
“Poproszę mleko = One milk, please” again – NOT in a restaurant or at the table

Why not? Earlier you said that one can’t say “Poproszę wody” and now that one can’t say “Poproszę wodę” either. Then how on earth one’s supposed to order water in a restaurant? Both forms are correct. You can also say “Poproszę niegazowanej” (uncountable) or “Poproszę niegazowaną (countable)” to order flat water, even though you skip the noun here.

3.) There’s no U or non-U Polish usage, because there’s no upper or middle class here (unless you consider “badylarze”, taxi drivers and shopkeepers who tend to overuse diminutives and mess cases). There’s only one standard Polish and dialects, and well educated people who can use grammar with ease and ill-educated ones who struggle with it. Many people who grew up speaking a dialect can master standard Polish as well (unless they’re drunk), even though dialects often apply grammar incorrectly. When you learn Polish from Kraków shopkeepers you learn a dialect, so saying that people not from Kraków speak strangely is like a non-U laughing at U usage. Aren’t those preoccupied with U usage from the middle class anyway?

6.) I think it’s clear that Basia doesn’t work in Poland and so doesn’t have this kind of associations, but of course you’re right that a police officer shouldn’t refer to anyone by a diminutive.

BTW Pinolonisko? Please! You went too far.

P.S. I'm sorry for the long answer. I hoped it'd be useful for Pinolona, but if it's not I won't mind it not being approved.

pinolona said...

Thanks Sylwia!

I've never had this many comments on a post before! I'll have to write about grammar more often...

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I'll be increasing the number of the comments as soon as I am back home... Sorry - I read everything but I cannot answer anything at the moment (work re-starts at 7pm!) but I hope I will...

Halfling PL

pinolona said...

Don't worry about it... I'm making a pretty poor show of writing at the moment: too much work :(
or :), depending on which way you look at it.

scatts said...

pino, forget the pretzels and hit McDonalds. Far easier!

Hmmm - I have "flatess" today.

pinolona said...

McDonalds?? Nooooooooooo!!