Polish is a West Slavic language within the Indo-European family of languages. It is spoken by about 55 million speakers, most of them being mainly located in Poland, where it is the official language. However, over 20 million people of Polish descent live outside of Poland, thus making it one of the biggest immigrant groups worldwide. There are Polish communities in Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine, and also significant numbers of Polish speakers in other countries such as the UK and USA, Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia or Romania. In North America alone there are at least one million speakers of Polish. In the UK, Polish is one of the most widely spoken languages besides English.
This language is closely related to Kashubian, Lower Sorbian, Upper Sorbian, Czech and Slovak. While other Slavic languages use the Cyrillic alphabet, the Polish alphabet uses the letters of Latin with an additional 9 letters: (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, and ż).
The earliest examples of written Polish date back to the 12th century. Modern literary Polish, however, is believed to have developed around the 16th century.
In spite of the pressure exerted by its neighbours Austria, Germany and Russia on Poland in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the form of occupation and war, leading to the partition of the country and attempts to suppress the Polish language, a rich literature has nevertheless developed over the centuries. Nowadays, Polish has the largest number of speakers of the West Slavic group. It also happens to be the second most widely spoken Slavic language after Russian, closely followed by Ukrainian.
Twenty Polish people have won the Nobel Prize in the fields of science, literature, and peace. Because of this, the Polish language and culture are of considerable importance in the world today.