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『素粒子、象とピエロギと ─101語のポーランド─』より「Książka (本)」

"Książka (book)" from Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words

ミコワイ・グリンスキ

"Książka (book)" from Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words

Spend time in Poland and you’ll see this word camouflaged under the sign of a księgarnia (‘bookstore’).

As etymological dictionaries explain, the Polish word książka is a diminutive (though no longer recognised as such) formed from księga, a word that today is only used for really weighty books (though you can still find it in the word księgarnia).

The word itself goes back to an earlier knięga and ultimately the Slavic kniga. Linguists say the s supplanting the original n is a typically Polish linguistic invention dating back to the Middle Ages. Księżyc (‘moon’) is another example of a word which has a pan-Slavic counterpart starting with kn-.

But you don’t have to know all this to ask what the most important Polish książki have been. But firstly, what was the first one? Or the first written by a Pole? That would be Wincenty Kadłubek’s Latin “Chronica Polonorum” from around the 12-13th century. As for the first written in Polish? That would be “Rozmyślania Przemyskie” (“The Przemyśl Meditation”) from around 1500.

What about books from Poland that changed the world? There’s Copernicus’ “De Revolutionibus” (1543), which changed how we see the universe. There are also books that changed history by sparking political events – like Adam Mickiewicz’s “Konrad Wallenrod” (1828) which is said to have impacted the outbreak of the November Uprising (1830).

Certainly important are books by those pisarze (‘writers’) who became Nobel Prize winners. Polish literature is lucky to have had four of them: from Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905) and Władysław Reymont (1924) to Czesław Miłosz (1980) and Wisława Szymborska (1996).

And then there were important books, manuscripts, whole libraries of them, that perished during all the wars and tribulations. There are even books we’re not entirely sure actually existed but would still love to read, like “Mesjasz” (“The Messiah”) by Bruno Schulz. All these missing pages are important too.

M.G

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