The special position (splendid isolation) of English within the Germanic language group seems to cause peculiar interest of some Anglophones with the supposed closeness and mutual intelligibility of the more knit-together groups of IndoEuropean like Romance or Slavic. You know, English is so out-of-place, so unlike any other, that the very idea of people understanding a foreign language without proper training just because it’s closely related to their own seems fascinating.
Now, I won’t deny that there’s something to the supposed Slavic intelligibility. Lots of words are common, a lot of grammar seems intuitive, in short – it’s a piece of cake for us to learn another Slavic language and we don’t have to start from scratch – there’s always some base to build on. However, despite what other Poles may tell you, it’s not like we don’t have to learn the other languages to be able to communicate. We do. Even with a language as close as Slovak (nevermind Kashubian or Silesian – all speakers of these know Polish anyway) if you take “is able to communicate” as something more than “can order beer in a pub”. I mean, it was easier and less awkward for me to talk to Slovaks I met in Tehran in English. We tried for a while our respective languages (with a hint of Russian thrown in for a PanSlavic effect) but it just didn’t work well.
Now, since I know two and a half Slavic languages and had short stints with a couple more, from time to time I will talk here about what’s funnily different between them. You know, like the words which are innocent in one language but very vulgar in another. For starters, one widely known and one less known example.
Everyone knows that:
In Polish, “szukać” means ‘to look for, to search’. Its Czech and Slovak equivalents – “šukat” and “šukat'” mean no less than ‘to fuck’
Not everyone knows that:
A derivative of another very common Slavic verb for ‘to fuck’ serves a surprising function in Upper Sorbian:
“najebać” is “to fuck somebody up / to beat somebody up” in Polish (and similarly so in Czech&Slovak), but in Upper Sorbian (which belongs to the same sub-group of Slavic as the other three) it means, innocently, ‘despite’.
I had a ROTFL moment when I learnt about it.