pronunciation of ą and ę

venenum

Senior Member
Croatian/Croatia
Hi there!

I started dabbling in Polish, and at the very beginning encountered a problem. It seems that these letters (ą and ę) have more ways of pronunciation: ą can be either om or on, and ę ether en, on or plain e. But I can't find a pattern of regularity between those alternations, so I'd be more than thankful if someone would be that kind as to explain this to me.

Poison
 
  • beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I guess you mean in word final position? Word internally I suppose it mostly depends on the consonant following, so dęb would be demb, and dziękuję would be đenkuje (actually ng, not n).
    I'm not sure word-finally.
     

    janek

    Member
    Polish, Poland
    Nasal ę is slowly disappearing in Polish language in terms of pronounciation. In many cases, literal pronounciation of ę may be regarded as hypercorrectness.

    Now, a 5-minute guide to Polish nasal vowels -

    The rule of thumb for ę is such:
    Pronounce ę in the middle of the word like en
    Pronounce ę in the final position like e

    Therefore, będę should be pronounced like BEN-deh

    The situation with ą is different. In most cases, it should be pronounced nasally, regardless of it's position. Sometimes, especially when ą is immediately followed by a bilabial consonant (p, b) it's pronounced like om:
    skąpy - SKOM-pyh
    skąd - SKAT
    będą - BEN-da

    [I used underline to indicate a nasal pronounciation of the vowel]

    Pronounciation of ą as ou, on or oh is regarded as a pronounciation fault or regionalism, by my knowledge. That does not prevent most of the people I know from pronouncing skąd like [SKONT].

    Hope that helps.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    Sorry for duplicating some but I'd like to summarise and enhance the rules that helped me to learn.

    Letters ą and ę are pronounced as:

    1) as plain o and e (British English hot and pen) in front of l and ł.
    2) as o + ng and e + ng (English wonk and length) in front of k and g (k and g are also pronounced)
    3) as nasal o and e (French son and pain) in front of w, z, ż, ś, s, sz, f, h, ch, j (most consonants) and in front of another vowel.
    4) as on and en (font and dent) in front of t, d, c, cz, dz, dż, (n?)
    5) as and (with palatalised ń) in front of dź, ć
    6) as om and em in front of b, p, (m?)
    7) final ę can be pronounced (in the spoken language) as plain e (pen) in a final position będę (bende) but będą is bendon (French on!)

    These sounds don't exist in other modern Slavic languages (but they did in East-Slavic!) and can be matched to modern Slavic words in other languages having either "u" (Cyrillic у) or "ya" (Cyrillic я) sounds (also a, á, ou in Czech, interesting that it can be pronounced as ou in Polish dialects).

    Compare Polish and Russian:
    mąż, męża - муж, мужа
    pięć - пять
    związek -(=союз) связь
     

    Toscana27

    Member
    poland, polish
    I think it is hard to discuss pronounciation on a forum, too bad we don't have access to voice recoeding. but I just wanted to add that as in all languages depending on the region of the country people pronounce words differently. but differently is not always correctly. in the best of all worlds in polish a, and e, should always be nasal. the emphasis is often softened out, so if you are listening to a fluent polish speaker you may not notice it, but it is always nasal. in the example that janek gave "be,da," he wrote that it is pronounced benda, with only the a, being nasal. I would disagree because both letters should be nasal (here i could use the voice recording!:)) like i said at the beginning, it's hard to make a point without you listening to the exact pronounciation. You would be better off speaking to someone who is fluent.
     

    venenum

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Croatia
    I actually have some recordings included in the textbook (the Pittsburg University textbook Jana recommended) - and I haven't actually noticed the nasal vowels, except in ą/ę combinations, and the nasal om/on/em/en (gees, I miss IPA fonts here!!!) sound perfectly natural to me, because it's virtually impossible to pronounce them any other way in the phonetic surroundings they occur in.
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    :idea: In this site, you can hear the nasal vowels of French. Are any of the Polish nasals identical to the French ones?
    In my post #4, they are identical to my point 3)


    I think it is hard to discuss pronounciation on a forum, too bad we don't have access to voice recoeding. but I just wanted to add that as in all languages depending on the region of the country people pronounce words differently. but differently is not always correctly. in the best of all worlds in polish a, and e, should always be nasal. the emphasis is often softened out, so if you are listening to a fluent polish speaker you may not notice it, but it is always nasal. in the example that janek gave "be,da," he wrote that it is pronounced benda, with only the a, being nasal. I would disagree because both letters should be nasal (here i could use the voice recording!:)) like i said at the beginning, it's hard to make a point without you listening to the exact pronounciation. You would be better off speaking to someone who is fluent.

    Toscana, do you disagree with any of my descriptions? Yes, listening is always better but you can describe too, since there are no special sounds in this case, unknown to some other languages.

    Your post is not quite clear, since you don't use diacritics (you could have copied and pasted the symbols)
    Do you mean that in będą the first ę is not "en"?
     

    Toscana27

    Member
    poland, polish
    [
    Your post is not quite clear, since you don't use diacritics (you could have copied and pasted the symbols)
    Do you mean that in będą the first ę is not "en"?[/quote]

    well, yes and no... if one was to pronouce it correctly the first ę should not be pronounced en, but many natives do pronounce it that way. Still just because they do does it make it a correct pronouciation. at least my elementary polish teacher from back when...would stress this point. So in a way I could give you that one:D
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Sounds like Polish, too, is not immune to clashes between descriptivism and prescriptivism. :D Why am I not surprised? :rolleyes:

    As a very recent addition to the learners' club, I'd like to stress that as a learner I'm interested in how letters are pronounced, not how they are supposed to be pronounced according to some obscure prescriptive rule.

    I have listened to the recordings repeatedly, and the "ę" in "ęd" is definitely not nasalized. In fact, the de-nasalization is listed as one of the pronunciation rules - which, by the way, overlap with Anatoli's summary (good job, Anatoli!). This would lead me to assume that this pronunciation is common enough among native speakers of Polish to be, for all intents and purposes, correct - prescriptive rules notwithstanding. As we all know, languages constantly evolve - and pronunciation change is part of that. So unless I am told that the vast majority of Polish speakers actually do maintain the nasalization unconditionally, I'm certainly not going to bend over backwards to try to sound unnecessarily "correct" in a language that has more than enough legitimate pronunciation challenges to meet. ;)
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    You're welcome, Elroy :)

    I agree with you, its' easier to stick with the most common pronunciation, which is also considered standard. Same applies to Polish ł, the majority of Poles pronounce it like English w (wind), no point trying to pronounce it like Russian hard/unpalatalised л (l), but this letter is prescribed to be pronounced as the Russian letter in the classical language.
     

    beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I'm surprised... those Polish textbooks I came across always said that it was pronounced like [w]. I actually find it easier/more natural to pronounce it like a hard "l" because that makes the connection to related words in other Slavic languages more obvious, but my textbooks tell me not to...
     

    Anatoli

    Senior Member
    русский (Russian)
    I'm surprised... those Polish textbooks I came across always said that it was pronounced like [w]. I actually find it easier/more natural to pronounce it like a hard "l" because that makes the connection to related words in other Slavic languages more obvious, but my textbooks tell me not to...
    Yes, your textbooks says the right thing and yes, you can make that connection to other Slavic languages. For a Russian speaker if "głowny" [main] was pronounced as "гловны" it would be easier to understand but we are able to match it still to the corresponding Russian words after some getting used to Polish accent. Ukrainians realise the connection even quicker because letters л (same as hard "Russian" l) and в (v but can sound similar to Polish ł in the final position) can interchange:

    ("was" masculine/feminine):

    Polish: był/była
    Ukrainian: був/була
    Russian: был/была
     

    beclija

    Senior Member
    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    That (i.e. Ukrainian) reminds me of Croatian/Serbian, where you have an alternation between l/л and o in final position:
    bio - bila / био - била
    (Also within the word in syllable-final position: "thinker" nominative/genitive:
    mislilac - mislioca / мислилац - мислиоца) Wildly off topic...
     

    ryba

    Senior Member
    Hey, Slavic Language forum users! I wrote it in the Portuguese section and in portuguese and then decided to move it here. I hope you don't mind I didn't translate it to English. Basically I just explained what nasal sounds we have and how they are pronounced. ;)

    (from Pronúncia das vogais para um espanhol)
    P.S. Em polaco também têm vogais nasais, não é verdade?

    Sim, é verdade. Tenemos duas nasais: "ę" (quase como no francês impôt) e "ą" (parecido com o francês bon ton). Mas na realidade na fala a nasalização se perde na maioria dos contextos, p.ex. węgorz [v'ęgoʒ] > [v'eŋgoʒ], tępo [t'ępo] > [t'empo]; kąt [kõt] > [kont], etc.

    É interessante que mesmo que não tenhamos a vogal nasal ã, para nos é fácil pronunciá-la e até a introduzimos em algumas palavras: awans é pronunciada /avãs/ e włączać é com freqüência pronunciada como [/vw'ãʧaʨ], mais ou menos assim como a maioria dos brasileiros leria "vuântchate".

    As I said, officially, nasal "a" is absent from Polish phonetics.
    Nevertheless, so many people* pronounce włączać as [vw'ãʧaʨ] with a nasal "a" instead of a nasal "o" [vw'õʧaʨ] that an alternative spelling has been approved: włanczać. Ethimologically it isn't correct at all.

    Włączać means to turn on, it is an imperfective verb. Another example of this phenomenon is wyłączać, 'to turn off', also pronounced by many with a nasal "a" sound. Obviously, przełączać, przyłączać, odłączać, dołączać are also the case.

    Someone who does it will conjugate these verbs like this:
    ja włączam /włãczam/
    ty włączasz /włãczasz/
    on włącza /włãcza/, etc.,
    the ã tending to sound like a slightly nasalized "an".

    I noticed that some people pronounce zdążać and podążać in the same way but it is way less common and less explicit.

    *(including me, although in formal situations I'd use the original pronounciation)
     

    Hal1fax

    Member
    Canada, English
    Whenever 'ę' is at the end of a word I can always hear the slight nasal sound made, I think it would be incorrect to pronounce it like a normal e at the end of a word.
     

    JakubikF

    Senior Member
    Hal1fax - I must make you sad but whenever 'ę' is at the end of any word it looses its nasal character:
    zrobię -> zrobie
    skaczę -> skacze
    będę -> possible pronunciation: będe, bende,
    etc. In this case pronouncing 'ę' at the end of the word is thought to be a hyper correctness and doesn't sound good. It is not just my opinion but Polish linguists voice such opinions. On the other hand it is rather required to pronounce 'ę' as nasal sound INSIDE a word:
    będę, ręce, kręce, dętka, dęty etc.
     

    ryba

    Senior Member
    Whenever 'ę' is at the end of a word I can always hear the slight nasal sound made, I think it would be incorrect to pronounce it like a normal e at the end of a word.

    Well, in fact, I was going to agree with you at first but then I realized that the final ę is very often NOT a nasal sound BUT it is a little bit shorter than a plain e, which is an effect of the speaker subconsciously "feeling" it should be nasalized, I think, i.e.:


    Odczep się! (Piss off!, a lighter version of :warn:F*©k off)
    Chcę.,

    pronounced like Odczep sie! and Chce, respectively, with a short, "disappearing" e at the end.

    -E
    Praca wrze. (russian pабота кипит, no idea how to translate it to English)
    On tego chce. (He wants it),

    prounounced with what is a standard final e in Polish which is a little bit longer, doesn't disappear that much.

    What do others think?
     

    JakubikF

    Senior Member
    As far as I am concerned I do not feel any difference between those "two" 'e' - the one which lost nasalization and the one which never had it. In everyday life, while talking I pronounce them in the same way 'wrze' is the same as 'chcę'. By the way, it's a pity that e.g. in word 'pustynia' -> (kogo? co?) pustynię 'ę' lost its nasalization because without context we are not able to distinguish whether somebody means the word (kogo? co?) 'pustynię' or plural form of 'pustynia' - 'pustynie'.
     

    ryba

    Senior Member
    Anatoli, I used your post #4, I hope you don't mind. I added some examples.

    I didn't use the standard notation for the rest of the sounds, I used polish letters, that's why I used the // signs and not [].


    Sorry for duplicating some but I'd like to summarise and enhance the rules that helped me to learn.

    Letters ą and ę are pronounced as:

    1) as plain o and e (British English hot and pen) in front of l and ł.

    wziął > /wzioł/
    I cant think of any example of -ąl-...
    ujęli (
    past imperfective masculine plural form of "ujmować") > /ujeli/
    wzięła > /wzieła/
    pęłł (
    past imperfective masculine form of pleć) > /pęłł/ :warning: I think there is no reduction in here.

    2) as o + ng and e + ng (English wonk and length) in front of k and g (k and g are also pronounced)

    łąka > /łoŋka/
    pstrągi > /pstroŋgi/
    pęk > /peŋk/
    pręga > /preŋga/

    3) as nasal o and e (French son and pain) in front of w, z, ż, ś, s, sz, f, h, ch, j (most consonants) and in front of another vowel.

    wąski > /wąski/
    wąż > /wąż/
    I'd say these sounds are near the classic [õ] sound. It often tends to sound like a kind of nasal /oł/, that is [ow] but it is still nasal. Saying wąż as /wołsz/ and wąski as /wonski/, without nasalization would sound really funny.:D And it would be more difficult.


    język > /język/ althouht this ę is similar to /eŋ/ or [ŋ], it is not as explicit as a nasalized [ẽw] which theoretically is how ę is pronounced.
    węszyć, węch, część, kęs, and so on are also the case.

    4) as on and en (font and dent) in front of t, d, c, cz, dz, dż, (n?)

    kąt > /kont/
    błąd > /błont/,
    etc.
    krętacz > /krentacz/,
    etc.

    They are often slightly nasal though (influence of the nasal consonant n?).

    5) as and (with palatalised ń) in front of dź, ć

    sądzić
    mącić
    pędzić
    kręcić


    Slightly nasal (ń is a nasal consonant!). Making them sound as carefully pronounced sońdzić, mońcić, peńdzić, kreńcić, with no nasalization would sound artificial, because it is hard to pronounce the -ńdź- / -ńć- groups.

    6) as om and em in front of b, p, (m?)

    trąbka > /trombka/, in fact it is [trompka], b looses its sonority.
    trębacz > /trembacz/

    I would say they are also slightly nasal, it is hard to pronounce -omp- or -emb- and make each letter sound c l e a r l y.

    7) final ę can be pronounced (in the spoken language) as plain e (pen) in a final position będę (bende) but będą is bendon (French on!)

    As far as I am concerned I do not feel any difference between those "two" 'e' - the one which lost nasalization and the one which never had it. In everyday life, while talking I pronounce them in the same way 'wrze' is the same as 'chcę'.
    Maybe you are right.

    I think in case of a possible doubt any Pole would nasalize ą and ę in order to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    Ryba, am I right if I say that this confirms the impression I had that unlike French or Portuguese nasal vowels, Polish nasal vowels tend towards diphthongs in these cases?
    It often tends to sound like a kind of nasal /oł/, that is [ow] but it is still nasal. Saying wąż as /wołsz/ and wąski as /wonski/, without nasalization would sound really funny.:D And it would be more difficult.

    język > /język/ althouht this ę is similar to /eŋ/ or [ŋ], it is not as explicit as a nasalized [ẽw] which theoretically is how ę is pronounced.
     

    Hal1fax

    Member
    Canada, English
    I know that ę at the end of a word is way different from when its in the middle of a word but it still has a slight nasal sound otherwise there would be no difference between 'chcę' and 'chce' or 'potrzebuję' and 'potrzebuje' I find some Poles just pronounce it more than others...
     

    JakubikF

    Senior Member
    I assure you Hal1fax that I have been listening to people who speak Polish for last 19 years so since I was born and in normal, everyday talk nobody would pronounce "potrzebuję", "chcę" with nasal sounds at the end. Moreover, it is thought not to be a mistake or neglect in pronunciation. In fact, there is no difference between "ja-chcę" and "on-chce" at all.
     

    Hal1fax

    Member
    Canada, English
    That's not what I was told....When I first started learning from this Polish woman who taught English she said to pronounce 'ę' at the end of a word like 'eu' in order to make the nasal sound?
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    I assure you Hal1fax that I have been listening to people who speak Polish for last 19 years so since I was born and in normal, everyday talk nobody would pronounce "potrzebuję", "chcę" with nasal sounds at the end. Moreover, it is thought not to be a mistake or neglect in pronunciation. In fact, there is no difference between "ja-chcę" and "on-chce" at all.
    <<<chuckle>>> I read a text today by a civil servant who seemed to have kept the similarity even in writing. :D

    That's not what I was told....When I first started learning from this Polish woman who taught English she said to pronounce 'ę' at the end of a word like 'eu' in order to make the nasal sound?
    Well, there are some people who pronounce them differently, but it many cases it sounds sort of affected. You were taught the correct pronunciation, Hal1fax. In normal everyday speech most people I talk to skip the difference. So may you. :)


    Tom
     

    JakubikF

    Senior Member
    What's more even if you skip ę at the end of the word NO-ONE will tell you that you pronounce it in wrong way because in fact it is correct. As I said... saying intentionally ę at the end of words would sound artificially. You must know that children are often taught (e.g. by parents) the hyper correct pronunciation and sometime it is possible to hear how a small child try to pronounce all of nasal sounds in words which is a bit funny. While growing up a child looses this tendency.
     

    Hal1fax

    Member
    Canada, English
    What's more even if you skip ę at the end of the word NO-ONE will tell you that you pronounce it in wrong way because in fact it is correct. As I said... saying intentionally ę at the end of words would sound artificially. You must know that children are often taught (e.g. by parents) the hyper correct pronunciation and sometime it is possible to hear how a small child try to pronounce all of nasal sounds in words which is a bit funny. While growing up a child looses this tendency.

    Well since that's the way I was taught to pronounce it, it just naturally comes out when I am speaking Polish, so I guess it doesn't sound artificial because I am not trying to make this sound come out, it just does=P
     

    ryba

    Senior Member
    What's more even if you skip ę at the end of the word NO-ONE will tell you that you pronounce it in wrong way because in fact it is correct. As I said... saying intentionally ę at the end of words would sound artificially. You must know that children are often taught (e.g. by parents) the hyper correct pronunciation and sometime it is possible to hear how a small child try to pronounce all of nasal sounds in words which is a bit funny. While growing up a child looses this tendency.

    Yeah, in elementary I had a friend who did it and she had to go to a logopedist in order to learn to evitate that hypercorrection.:)

    An interesting comment on how one should pronounce final ę can be found on the page you gave a link to in the thread Trzetrzelewska:

    Tak samo trzeba unikać przesady w wymawianiu samogłoski ę na końcu wyrazu. Nie wolno więc mówić [widzę tę kobietę], tylko [widze te kobiete] z wyraźnym ustnym e albo co najwyżej zaznaczając lekką nosowość ę* (typowe dla wymowy scenicznej). Formy [widze], [te], [kobiete] nie są wcale błędne, jak sądzą niektórzy…

    * I really like the fact that this remark appears in the text. A slight nasalization IS O.K. and it is what I was trying:p to say in one of the posts.
     

    ryba

    Senior Member
    Hello!

    I've just had a conversation with a girl that thought parę 'a couple of, a small indefinite number' was written pare because she's always pronounced like that.

    She thought the word parę was used meaning 'a pair of'.
    Curiously enough, even if I know both words are spelled the same way, I can't say her phonetical observation was wrong. When someone says parę with a clearly nasal ę I am inclined to think they mean 'a pair', like in "Kupiłem parę butów" = 'I bought a pair of shoes', rather than 'a couple' like in "Kupiłem parę książek" = 'I bought a couple of books'.

    Intesting. Both words come from para 'couple, pair' but the one that means 'several' is never used in singular. Probably that's why it has gotten lexycalized like that (has it?). What do other Poles think?
     
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