Polish is a West Slavic language spoken primarily in Poland and is the native language of the Poles. It belongs to the Lechitic subgroup of the West Slavic languages. Polish is the official language of Poland, but it is also used throughout the world by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 55 million Polish language speakers around the world and it is one of the official languages of the European Union. Its written standard is the Polish alphabet, which has 9 additions to the letters of the basic Latin script (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż). Polish is closely related to Kashubian, Silesian, Upper Sorbian, Lower Sorbian, Czech and Slovak.
Although the Austrian, German and Russian administrations exerted much pressure on the Polish nation (during the 19th and early 20th centuries) following the Partitions of Poland, which resulted in attempts to suppress the Polish language, a rich literature has regardless developed over the centuries and the language currently has the largest number of speakers of the West Slavic group. It is also the second most widely spoken Slavic language, after Russian and just ahead of Ukrainian.
In history, Polish is known to be an important language, both diplomatically and academically in Central and Eastern Europe. Today, Polish is spoken by over 38.5 million people as their first language in Poland. It is also spoken as a second language in northern Czech Republic and Slovakia, Hungary, western parts of Belarus and Ukraine, and central-western Lithuania. Because of the emigration from Poland during different time periods, most notably after World War II, millions of Polish speakers can be found in countries such as Israel, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, The United States and New Zealand.
The inhabitants of different regions of Poland still speak "standard" Polish somewhat differently, although the differences between regional dialects appear slight. First-language speakers of Polish have no trouble understanding each other, and non-native speakers may have difficulty distinguishing regional variations.
Polish is normally described as consisting of four or five main dialects:
Greater Polish, spoken in the west
Lesser Polish, spoken in the south and southeast
Masovian, spoken throughout the central and eastern parts of the country
Silesian, spoken in the southwest (also considered a separate language, see comment below)