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While chatting with a polish penpal, I've discovered that in Polish the expression for "good morning/good day/hello/good afternoon" varies if compared to the other Slavic languages; later I saw that also Belarusian has the same behavior: they both invert the structure of the expression, see the table below.

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Is there a reason for this and is this reason known? I doubt it's a matter of coincidence, but I can't exclude it completely.

Note: The above are not all of the Slavic languages. They include the ones I could find the expressions for, and some extra ones that I failed to do that. They have not been translated with Google translate, but they have been taken from resources to learn those languages.

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Intererstingly, the Silesian language (Ślůnski), which some alternatively regard as a dialect of Polish or as transitional between Polish and Czech, has dobry dźyń. –  Mark Beadles Jan 28 '12 at 16:56
    
A dialect? It's still interesting, but let's stick to the standard languages. Not because your add was not valuable, but rather because otherwise we could/had to include many other dialects and it would affect the "scope" of my question. :D But thanks for posting it. –  Alenanno Jan 28 '12 at 17:02
    
this very question puzzled me for years. –  shabunc Oct 10 '12 at 13:41

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Belarusian "добры дзень" produces 181,000 hits, "дзень добры" only 38,000. I do not speak Belarusian fluently, but it seems to me that "добры дзень" is rather unmarked. For Polish, though, the pattern you spotted holds: over 16 million ghits for "dzień dobry", and only 3 million for "dobry dzień" the greeting is indeed invariably "dzień dobry". "Dobry dzień", on the other hand, will almost always be the order chosen when the phrase is not a greeting, as in "to był dobry dzień," which means "this was a good day."

Honestly, I do not think the reason for such an inversion is known. Slavic languages have free word order, and inversion would indeed be grammatical. I am a native speaker of Russian, and I can tell that, while "добрый день" is unmarked, "день добрый" would be marked only slightly, if at all. It sounds a bit more cheerful to me, but the difference is indeed marginal. Google produces 41 mil hits for "добрый день" and 2.7 mil hits for "день добрый", indicating that the former wording is customary.

It is also notable that Polish expression for good afternoon is invariably "dobry wieczór". Google search also reveals same huge skew (more than ×100 times!) towards "добрый вечер" versus "вечер добрый" for Russian, but again, if someone would say the latter to me I would not perceive that as ungrammatical or particularly strange at all.

Also note that Ukrainian form that you list is not exactly parallel to others. You can say "добрый динь" which, as with other expressions in your list, is in the nominative case. You can also say "доброго дня" in both Russian and Ukrainian. This is in the genitive form, taken by the object to verbs of wishing, and therefore implies a missing verb: [I wish you] good day. I think that the genitive form is more customary for Ukrainian, while it is uncommon in Russian, and much more likely to be used when bidding farewell than greeting someone. So you may think Ukrainian is also "atypical" in this regard.

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About the "bidding farewell" you mention at the end, you mean something like "До скорого"? You reminded me of this when you mentioned "farewell" + "genitive"... :) –  Alenanno Jan 29 '12 at 15:07
    
@Alenanno: not really. In "До скорого [свидания]", "до" is a preposition, and governs the case of both the explicit adjective and the implied noun. In e. g. "желаю вам приятного путешествия" (I wish you a good trip), the noun путешествие is an object of the verb желаю, and is governed by that verb directly. This verb forces its object into the genitive, as opposed to the more regular accusative case. –  kkm Jan 30 '12 at 0:52
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@OtavioMacedo: Thanks for your copyedit, but I think that the term "ghit" (short for a "Google hit") as a unit of Web frequency of a word, is entering the mainstream now. That usage can be traced back to 2004 (see itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000954.html for an amusing discussion); in recent articles on Language Log ghits are used freely. See, for an example usage, (languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3732), published 3 days ago. –  kkm Jan 30 '12 at 1:51
    
Sorry, my mistake. Rollback done ;-) –  Otavio Macedo Jan 30 '12 at 10:31
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@Alenanno: correct, this kind of question probably does not admit a definitive answer. Even though etymological research can, for example, end up in a discovery when and where some form same into use and how it overcame one previously in use, there is no answer as to why such a thing happened. Language is abundant with peculiarity. You can see there is no grammatical reason for this inversion in Polish (cf. dobry wieczór), and ordering the words either way would be equally grammatical. I'd like to be proven wrong, but I frankly think this is the best answer there is. –  kkm Feb 1 '12 at 11:23

Typical adjectives (or adjectival groups), indeed, precede nouns in Polish, as in many Slavic languages.

However, there is a notable exception to that rule. If the purpose of adjective is to classify the denoted entity which belongs to a certain category or type, such adjective appears in postposition.

Simply speaking, adjective in green apple goes in preposition: zielone jabłko, but in Polish Kingdom it's in postposition: Królestwo Polskie.

Consider these two phrases: good day versus waiting for a good day (waiting for a good moment to do something). They would be dzień dobry and czeka na dobry dzień, respectively.


As per similar appearances in Belarusian, Ukrainian, and even Russian, I would think that this has not been actually invented solely in Polish language. Instead, it was rather a common pattern for many languages and dialects, most likely borrowed from sacral texts.

There's is an interesting parallel with Sanskrit that uses postpositions to emphasize sacral meaning.


Further reading:

  • Brajerski, Tadeusz. 1963. O szyku zaimka dzierżawczego w funkcji przydawki. Studia linguistica in honorem Thaddaei Lehr-Spławiński. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe
  • Warren, Beatrice. 1984. Classifying adjectives. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.
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According to Maciej Malinowski, the cause was accentuation. Until the end of the 17th century, "dobry dzień" was the literary form. This phrase has two accents in Polish: "dobry dzień." However, people started to shift the stress and pronounce it as "dobrydzień." That was because they started to think of the phrase as a single word. In Polish, words are stressed almost excusively on the penultimate syllable. (See the note at the bottom.) The same happened to the greeting "dobra noc" (good night). In this case the linked form has since become standard, and we write "dobranoc" and say "dobranoc" instead of "dobra noc". Now, Malinowski says, there were people ("linguists") who objected to that process. They came up with a solution, which was to introduce a new word order, "dzień dobry". This phrase has only one stressed syllable in it: "dzień dobry", and a Pole doesn't have to consider it a single word to pronounce it this way. Thus the phrase was saved from the offending linking. We still write "dzień dobry" and not "dzieńdobry".

Unfortunately, Malinowski doesn't substantiate his claim. I do not know where he got his information from. It could be a guess for all I know, but it doesn't seem improbable at all. Note that Belarussian retains both forms: "добрыдзень" and "дзень добры".

According to Małgorzata Marcjanik, "dobry wieczór" (good evening) was also changed to "wieczór dobry", but that form doesn't survive. Note that the phrase "dobry wieczór" also has two stresses in it: "dobry wieczór". However, the attempt to change it to "wieczór dobry" seems inconsistent with what Malinowski says. "Wieczór dobry" also has two stresses: "wieczór dobry". Also I don't know whether the spelling "dobrywieczór" was ever trying to creep into the written language.

NOTE. West Slavic languages are special among Slavic languages in that they all, or at least the standardized ones, have fixed stress. Among them, Polish is the only one with penultimate stres. There is one South Slavic language, Macedonian, with fixed antepenultimate stress.

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Polish also has an interesting "good night": dobranoc, a frozen expression written and pronounced as one word You can tell that dobranoc is a single word because the stress patterns like one word, not two: /dɔ'branɔʦ̑/ vs / 'dɔbra 'nɔʦ̑/.

Noc dobra is not found, although dobrej nocy sometimes is.

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