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Polish Phonetics 波蘭文發音規則

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Before we start the serious lesson, let’s enjoy a very wordy song, which was wordy enough in the original English:

Three weeks or so ago I had an online phone call with my Polish Angel.  We quickly jumped into the task of arranging our schedules and see how things should be co-ordinated.  There were two funny things

  • One, as soon as he speaks a certain place name in Poland, I can give two words or a short phrase to describe what it’s famous for, as if it were a quiz show (for instance, “Chełm”? “Underground chalk tunnels.” Ding!)
  • Two, as soon as he first reached Wrocław, I went “what? what did you just say?”

After failing a couple of times to make me understand, he started to spell the name of the city, but as soon as he said “w, r,…” I realized that it must be the city with a “speical l.”  I rushed to ask him to explain the rules, but after trying two or three times he laughed and said he’d teach me when I visit.

Oh, that’ll never be good enough to me.  Hell no.  I have to nail the rules in advance.  When I travel to a certain country or area (for more than 10 days, shall we say?), I tend to make sure I understand the phonetic rules — that way even if I don’t understand anything in the language, I can at least pronounce place names, street names and shop names appropriately so that people will have a better chance of understanding me.  I know I can do it as long as the alphabet system is, well, more or less the usual Western alphabet system — I can probably not do it if I visit Macedonia or Greece and certainly didn’t make it when I was in Egypt/Jordan/Syria.  But even in the latter case I made sure I could read and write all the numerals in the language, which look pretty differently.  (Basically, ٠‎ – ١‎ – ٢‎ – ٣‎ – ٤‎ – ٥‎ – ٦‎ – ٧‎ – ٨‎ – ٩ for 0 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9.)

I Googled a bit and found some websites for phonetic rules; some are good, but way too wordy or pedantic.  This one is just like that, but I read it through, and decided to re-arrange its information to make a chart for myself.  And since this website says that one can treat soft sh and hard sh as if they were the same, I decide to apply that to all the corresponding soft/strong pairs.  Below are the results, and indeed I could memorize the whole set of rules within two minutes.  (I tested myself several times already.)

 

Notes

c

Like ts in cats.
Equivalent to German z

ć
ci

cz

tch.

ch

“ch” in German ‘lachen’, Spanish ‘j’ in Javier

Most Poles pronounce ch and h identically.

g

Always hard like in game

i

feet but shorter.
Acts like Polish j in front of another vowel

l

Must be a clear L sound. Avoid dark L.

w

Pronounced like v.
as f before voiceless consonants

y

Somewhat similar to sit or myth.
być (to be) and bić (to beat, hit) sound roughly like the English word bitch and beach.

Special letters are:

 

Notes

ą

“Nasal o”
When ą is followed by ł, most Poles pronounce it as o.

ę

“Nasal e”
When ę is the last letter of a word, or when followed by l or ł, most Poles will pronounce it like a regular Polish e, slightly lengthened.

Ł ł

Pronounced like an English w as in will.

ń
ni

Similar to Spanish ñ and French gn.

ó

Exactly the same as u, like tool or soup.

ś
si

sz

sh.


zi

ż

rz

zh. Like vision, measure, and French je suis.

(*Even Poles find it impossible to pronounce rz after k, ch, p, or t. Pronouncing it as “sh”)

dz

cads

dź
dzi

dż

Somewhat similar to gene. Similar to but softer than dż.

If you don’t know how to pronounce hard/soft pairs, use the same form.

  • Doubled consonants are pronounced individually or lengthened
  • You may also notice something called final devoicing, for example:
    • chodź (come!) sounds like choć (although)
    • final ż sounds more like sz: gdyż (because, since), chociaż (although)
    • final b → p
    • final g → k
    • final d → t
    • final w → f
    • final z → s

Devoicing is not something you need to focus on but you should be aware of it.

So for example, the only parts I need to be careful about in the following names are the parts underlined and in blue:
Grzesiek, Grzesiu, Grześ, Grzesiaczek, Grzesiuniek, Grzesiulek, Griszka, Grisza.  (All these are variations of the name Grzegorz.)

Well, ok, I also have to be careful not to pronounce the Polish z as the German z (which is sounded “ts,”  exactly like the Polich c).

Now I can finally move on to learn the Polish version of “Just Around the Riverbend” from Disney’s animation filmPocahontas:

Gdy wchodzisz w rzeki nurt drugi raz
Wiedz że to rzeka jest już nie ta
Bo woda ciągle płynie, wciąż się zmienia
A gdyby jej prąd chciał ponieść nas
Tam gdzie bezkresna mgła
I odslonić znany tylko nam z marzenia…
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat
Ten za łukiem rzeki inny świat

Przyzywa mnie
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat
Daleki brzeg
Tam gdzie krzyki mew
Lecz któż to wie
Co przyniesie jutro mi
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat…
Co lśni…
…marzeń mych świat.

Przeczuwam go za pasmem gór
I tam gdzie wodospadów huk
Lecz ciągle słyszę ten rozsądku sygnał
Solidny mąż co trwały dom
Wznieść dla mnie będzie mógł
Nie troszcząc się, że dzis go z serca wygnał
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat
Ten za łukiem rzeki inny świat

Przyzywa mnie
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat
Daleki brzeg
Tam gdzie krzyki mew
Lecz któż to wie
Co przyniesie jutro mi
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat…

Czy mam wybrać prosty los
Jak uparty bębna ton
Moim mężem ma być on
Czy sen najcudowniejszy zgasł?

Czy wciąż mi dajesz
Panie mych marzeń
Ten za łukiem rzeki świat…

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4 responses »

  1. Haha! I laughed a lot! Polish languge sounds very crazy and difficult… I’m lost with all the rules… haha.

    Reply
  2. Yes, all rules sound for us so crasy cause it is our mother tounge … Would you read it :

    Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie.

    W szczękach chrząszcza trzeszczy miąższ.

    Czcza szczypawka czka w Szczecinie.

    Chrząszcza szczudłem przechrzcił wąż.

    Strząsa skrzydła z dżdżu, a trzmiel w puszczy, tuż przy Pszczynie, straszny wszczyna szum.

    All of it because I have just returned from Roztocze (as you know) and from Szczebrzeszyn … 20 km from Zamość … small city .. I will tell you about whe you will be here …

    Keep reading !

    Reply
    • Hey sweetie. All sounds great. I was actually practicing “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie” this morning.
      Not the easiest thing, but give me more time. I did master the French “Un chasseur sachant chasser sans son chien est un bon chasseur” within a couple of minutes.

      (Come to think of it, German is really a pushover; for example, try this:
      “Der dicke Dachdecker deckte das dicke Dach.
      Dann trug der dicke Dachdecker, die dicke Dame durch den dicken Dreck.
      Dann dankte die dicke Dame dem dicken Dachdecker,
      dass der dicke Dachdecker die dicke Dame durch den dicken Dreck trug.”

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