Polish word ‘Murzyn’ describing Black people is officially discouraged by the Polish Language Council

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The Polish Language Council, a body of almost 40 experts responsible for determining debates over linguistic issues, declared in an official statement that “the word ‘Murzyn’ is not only saddled with negative connotations, it is also archaic”.

The road to the resolution being passed goes back to 2020 when one of the members of the council, professor Marek Łaziński, released an opinion in August 2020 concerning the word “Murzyn” (the closest translation in English is “Negro”).

He emphasized that the term was neutral in the 1970s and 1980s but later changed its meaning. He was of the opinion that the word “developed a very strong, insulting terminology in the Polish language, such as ‘100 years behind the Murzyn’”, which refers to something “backwards” in terms of development. He advised that the word should not be used except in the case of a historic citation.

Łaziński limited his recommendation concerning the word to media, public administration and schools. He added, however, that several linguistics experts support the word’s neutrality, and he did not encourage people to correct others on every occasion.

The professor’s opinion sparked media interest and provoked numerous responses from the public. People identifying with more left-wing views praised Łaziński’s recommendation, while conservatives accused him of excessive political correctness.

“So, one person has so much power that they can change our language? Incredible,” stated conservative publicist Piotr Zaremba. The Left MP Monika Falej wrote on Twitter: “Well done! Hurtful language cannot be tolerated!”

Several days later, the Polish Language Council’s presidium responded to Łaziński’s opinion. It underlined that the council does not have the power to forbid the usage of any term or to impose the usage of certain words. It also added that the opinion of a single member of the council is not an official stance, as that can only be made after the deliberations of the council.

The council declared that media reports that the body decided that the word “Murzyn” was insulting were baseless. Some media saw the council’s statement as distancing from Łaziński’s opinion.

But according to Rzeczpospolita’s daily source, the affair did not end there.

On Oct. 26, 2020, the council held it deliberations over the matter. During the meeting, the council unilaterally accepted the opinion concerning the word “Murzyn” based on Łoziński’s arguments and the opinion became the council’s official stance.

So just how important is the Polish Language Council’s opinions in reality? Its opinions by way of resolutions “on using the Polish language” and “deciding the rules of spelling and punctuation” are regulated statutorily.

Nevertheless, the majority of experts claim that these opinions are only advisory for people using the Polish language and not binding in any manner. One of the council’s members, Professor Jerzy Podracki, said in 2005 that the opinions are binding for those writing in Polish only when it comes to spelling and punctuation rules. The head of the council, Professor Katarzyna Kłosińska, admitted that according to the law concerning the Polish language, the council is an opinion-making and advisory body.

“The council’s opinion does not have binding power,” she stated.

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