The
Polish
alphabet
The Polish alphabet has 32 letters, nine of which are unique. Considering that some of them combine to form seven different digraphs and even one trigraph, this adds up to a total of 17 unfamiliar symbols you‘ll unfortunately have to learn by heart. But once you know all of them, you’ll easily be able to pronounce any Polish word, guaranteed.
Latin
background
The Polish language has always had

issues with the Latin alphabet. Ever

since the 12th century, when the language first started to be written down in the Latin script, scribes were struggling to fit the mind-boggling abundance of Slavic phonology (estimated at that time to comprise of 12 vowels and 33 consonants) into the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet.
The Polish alphabet has
17 letters and letter
combinations
unknown to English
speakers
Let's start
with something
Non-threatening
False
Friends
Before we go into detail about letters unique to the Polish alphabet, we must make one thing clear:
some Polish letters are impostors!
For example...
Example:
The word co,
pronounced tso
meaning what
The letter C,
unless followed
by the letter i,
is pronounced ts
(as in tsunami)
never k like in
the word cat
Example:
Wietnam
(pronounced
like in English)
The letter W is
always pronounced
v like van, so forget
the weird way
English-speakers
pronounce their w
Example:
Lojalny
pronounced
lo-yal-neh,
meaning loyal
Another false
friend – J in Polish
is pronounced y,
like the y sound
in yeti
Ogonki, kreski, kropki...
Polish
Diacritics
Ogonek means little tail and is responsible for nasalising two vowel sounds – ą and ę
Kreska (acute accent)
means either palatalization,
as in ś and ć, or turns
o into u
Kropka (overdot) is only
used with ż
The slash across letters is
used only with ł
Example:
This letter is most
often found in
infinitive verbs
like pić (to drink),
spać (to sleep),
wstać (to get up)
The letter Ć
is pronounced
like ch in China,
except softer
Example:
Ślub, śpiew
meaning
respectively
wedding, singing
The letter Ś
is pronounced
like sh in shore
only much softer
Example:
Famous director
Roman Polański,
even though
foreign media
often drop the ń
Ń is a palatalized n,
a sound close to the
Spanish ñ, but youll
find it also in onion
Example:
The surname
Woźniak
Ź has no English
equivalent. It is very
similar to Ż, except
softer
 
The differentiation
between soft and
hard consonants is
one of the hardest
features to conquer,
but fortunately people
will still understand
you even if you can’t
quite pull it off
Example:
The common Polish
surname Zieliński
is pronounced
zhel-een’skee,
with the ź sound
at the beginning
Please note that the
four above-mentioned
phonemes (ć, ś, ź and ń)
have an alternative
notation

Before a vowel they
are written as ci, si,
zi, ni, but they sound
the same
Example:
Król
meaning
king
Ó is pronounced
oo as in moon

This means it's
pronounced just
the same as
the Polish u
Example:
Żyrafa
meaning
giraffe
Ż is pronounced
exactly like the
s in measure
Example:
Polish doughnuts, pączki, have
recently become
trendy in the
Western world,
where they are
sometimes
anglicised as ponchki
Ą is one of the two
nasal sounds
preserved in Polish

It sounds more
or less like on
in wrong
Example:
Dziękuję is
the Polish
word for
thank you
At the end of a word,
Ę is almost inaudible

In the middle of
a word, it sounds like
in in bin
Example:
Forget the English
pronunciation
of Wałęsa, and
try to say it
the Polish way!
The mysterious Ł
with a stroke is
pronounced like
w in wool
Digraphs
and
Trigraphs
Even though these
agglomerations
of consonants may look
frightening, they all
represent a single sound,
many of which exist
in English.
Example:
You can use CZ
to greet Polish
acquaintances:
cześć means
hello!
CZ is pronounced
like ch in change
Example:
Szal is a scarf
or shawl.
Proszę means please
SZ is pronounced
like sh in shape
Example:
Rzecz (thing),
Rzeczpospolita
(republic) – used as another
word for
Poland
Just like ż, RZ is
pronounced like
s in measure
Example:
Dzban
(water pitcher)
DZ sounds close
to ts, but sounds
more like the end
of heads
Example:
Dżem
(meaning jam – the sweet fruit spread kind, not the traffic kind)
DŻ is pronounced
like g in gel
Example:
Dźwig (lift)
or
dźwięk (sound)
DŹ – trying to
say d+ź should
do the trick
here.
Example:
In Polish, cholera is both a disease
and a popular
curse word!
CH is pronounced
just like h
Example:
Dziewczyna
(girl)
Polish has also
one trigraph: DZI
is pronounced
like dź
Find out
more about
the Polish
language
on culture.pl
Culture.pl is the biggest and most comprehensive online source of knowledge about Polish culture. It boasts a wealth of articles, artist bios, reviews, essays, synopses, videos and more. For over a decade now, the Culture.pl website has been operated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute – a national institution working to strengthen Poland's cultural impact and the international reputation of its artists.
http://culture.pl/en/
Credits
Poland word
by word
Don't forget what you just learned! Start building your vocabulary with Poland Word by Word, a convenient way to learn Polish while getting acquainted with contemporary Polish culture.
http://culture.pl/en/tag/poland...
How Much Polish
Do You Know?
If you know some Polish already, test your skills with this nifty quiz!
http://culture.pl/en/article/how-much...
The Story Behind
Words Like Horde,
Gherkin, Schmuck
and Quarks
Think you can differentiate Polish from English now? Don't be so sure! Find out which English words are really Polish words in disguise...
http://culture.pl/en/article/the-story...
10 Great Polish
Books You Have
to Read
Once you master the language, you're ready for the literature: here is Culture.pl's top 10 must-read Polish books (don't worry, they're all available in English too).
http://culture.pl/en/article/10-great-polish...
Languages You
Never Knew
Existed
Don't be misled into thinking that Polish is the only language spoken in Poland! Have you ever heard of Lemko or Wymysiöeryś?
http://culture.pl/en/article/languages-you...
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AUDIO
READ
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next

Latin
Background

It got easier over time. Over the years and with the help of a few diacritic signs (like the ogonek, the kropka, and the kreska) Polish has developed all the necessary letters for its specific needs: Ą, Ć, Ę, Ł, Ń, Ó, Ś, Ź, Ż. (Also, it dropped those ‘useless’ Latin letters such as Q, V, X, still preserved in the English alphabet.)


To complicate things further, there’s more to the terrible Polish orthography. Polish also features a few curiosities, like its digraphs CH, CZ, DZ, DŹ, DŻ, RZ, SZ, and even one trigraph: DZI.


This adds up to a total of 17 letters and letter combinations unknown to English speakers. But, no worries - we will take you through those strange letters step by step. So read up, and soon you’ll be able to master such monstrous monstrosities, such as our most famous tongue-twister: W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie [fʂt͡ʂɛbʐɛʂɨɲɛ xʂɔɰ̃ʂt͡ʂ bʐmi ftʂt͡ɕiɲɛ].

Trivia

Though J might seem like an honest character, it was a problematic letter for a long time because it used to be written as ‘i’, or sometimes ‘y’ or ‘g’. Unsurprisingly, this has caused significant controversy amongst Polish scholars and linguists. Despite having been introduced into Polish as early as the 16th century, by a man fittingly called Jan Januszowski, it remained the most contested letter in Polish orthography up until the 19th century when it was finally accepted for good. One of the greatest J-adversaries, Jan Śniadecki, called it a ‘bad grammatical spirit’, ‘an intruder’, and even the ‘Gdańsk bastard’ (the letter J was used in the 1632 Protestant edition of the Bible published in Gdańsk).

Trivia

Ó is the bane of Polish schoolchildren, who never know if a word is written with ó or u, but etymologically speaking, it’s very useful. Centuries earlier, there was no such thing as ó in Polish. For example, the word król (king) used to be krol. Knowing this, one can guess that it derives from the name Karol (Carolus, or Karl) ‒ the emperor of the Franks and at one time Europe's most powerful ruler. His name became the generic name for king in many languages in Eastern and Central Europe (Czech král, Croatian kralj, Russian король, Lithuanian karalius and Hungarian király).

Trivia

Polish and Kashubian are the only two Slavic languages to have preserved the nasal vowels that used to be present in all the Slavic languages. For example, dąb (oak) became Дуб (dub) in Russian, and ręka (hand) became рука (ruka).

Trivia

Until very recently, Ł was pronounced more or less like an English L – the so-called dark L. There are still older people in Poland who pronounce it that way, but if anyone below 80 does it, it sounds cheesy.

Trivia

Another etymological hint: rz indicates a former ‘r’ sound. For example, the word rzeka (river) in Polish is река (reka) in Russian, rijeka in Croatian, etc.


N.B. There are a couple of exceptions, like Tarzan’s name – the rz is pronounced here as r and z separately.

Trivia

This alternative spelling for ‘h’ indicates that the two sounds differed at one point in history. ‘H’ alone used to represent a voiced glottal fricative /ɦ/, whereas ‘ch’ stood for a voiceless velar fricative /x/. The Czech language still maintains this distinction. Also, you can still find people born around the eastern border who pronounce ‘h’ the old way.

Credits

Written by
Mikołaj Gliński

Adapted by
Adam Zulawski
Lea Berriault


Narrated by
Grażyna Soczewka

Music
Skalpel - The Fairy Tale From A Dusty Crate
(unreleased; courtesy of the artist)

Creative concept and production by
BrightMedia




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