Poles - Orientation

Identification. Poles speak Polish and the overwhelming majority are Roman Catholics. Although Poles reside world-wide, most live in Poland and their name for their country is Polska.

Location. Poland is located in the center of Europe Between 49° and 54°50′ N and 14°7′ and 24°8′ E. In the United States and western Europe, Poland is thought to be in eastern Europe; in Poland the country is considered to be in central Europe. Poland is bounded by Lithuania and the Baltic Sea on the north, the independent republics of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine on the north and east, the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic on the south, and Germany on the west. Poland is mainly an open lowland plain, as 75 percent of the land is less than 200 meters above sea level, with drainage to the Baltic in the north. The north consists of the swamps and dunes of the Baltic coastal plain. Southward is a belt of glacial-origin lakes. Farther south are the central Lowlands with agricultural (Lower Silesia and Great Poland) and industrial areas. South of these lowlands are the Little Poland Uplands and the Little Poland Lowlands with deposits of coal, iron, lead, and zinc. This is Poland's most important industrial area. At the country's southern border are the Carpathians and their foothills, with a large rural population and medium-sized towns. Deposits of salt, sulfur, natural gas, and oil are found here. Poland lies in the temperate zone, and its climate is transitory from oceanic to continental. In general, the warmest area is in the southwest and the coldest in the northeast. The country can be divided into twenty-one agricultural and climatic divisions with six seasons. The highest recorded temperature is 40.2° C and the lowest —42° C. The mean annual temperatures range from 8° C to 6° C, Except in the mountains where the temperatures decrease with altitude.

Demography. There are 51 million Poles worldwide; 38 million live in Poland, while 13 million live outside the Country. Of those residing abroad, the vast majority live in the United States, Belarus, and Ukraine. Significant Polish Populations also are found in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. Ethnically, Poland is one of the most homogeneous (over 98 percent Polish) countries in the world. Ukrainians constitute the largest minority followed by Belarusians, Slovaks, Russians, Gypsies, Lithuanians, and Greeks and Macedonians. Because of the genocide perpetrated by Germans during World War II and subsequent Emigration, the formerly sizable Jewish minority has all but disappeared.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Polish language belongs to the West Slavic Group of languages of the Indo-European Family, which is a part of the Nostratic Macrofamily. The Poles use the Latin alphabet. The spelling of foreign words diffused into Polish usually is changed to reflect Polish alphabetical values. Literary Polish has been developing since the sixteenth century. It is based mainly on the speech of the Polish upper class and the Great Polish and Little Polish dialects. As a result of universal education and mass migration, literary Polish is becoming more homogeneous and more widely used. However, most Poles can still identify an individual's place of origin by his/her speech. The main dialects are Great Polish, Kashubian (which has its own orthography and literature), Kuyavian, Little Polish, Mazowian, Pomeranian, and Silesian.

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