I came to care a lot about spelling all that Ą, Ł, Ó, Ś, Ź accurately. A LOT.
Why? for very practical reasons. I think none of the Poles I came to have met, including Grzegorz, the single person that got the most involved, have realized that I rely very much on knowing how words are spelled to pronounce them. Many of them (maybe especially Grzegorz) would say a word (usually a place name) quickly, and when I failed to repeat it after the first hearing, simply deemed that it’s too difficult for me to pronounce. Which is actually nonsense: I would ask them to spell out the names, and the most I need is a couple of seconds to think it over. Since I have come to know a thing or two about Polish phonetics — cf. my two entries written before I left Taiwan summarizing Polish phonetics, i.e here and here –, I can damn well pronounce Polish words, even though sometime some fine-tuning may be needed! So yes, just give me two seconds to breathe quietly — I can pronounce Rosciszów, Osówka, Świebodzice (cf. my entry of 9 June 2012), and Bydgoszcz.
That’s why I’ve come to care so much about getting all the “strange letters” right — Książ obviously sounds very different from Ksiaz, since ą has a nasal sound, and ż can be approximated to “dg” as in “knowledge.” Similarly, while many Poles in tourism business pronounce “złote” (Polish currency unit) and “Wrocław” as “zlote” and “Wroclaw,” supposedly to make it easier for tourists like us, in my case it does not make things easier, since it doesn’t help me with retaining a consistency. (In Polish, Ł provides the “w” sound in English, while “w” generates the “v” sound.) As a result, I need to see that a proper “Ś” is spelled to retain the peace of my mind.
[* As for the title of this blog entry: “Zażółć gęślą jaźń” is a pangram that contains all the Polish diacritics; this phrase means “make your self yellow with a fiddle.”]