Soft consonants in Polish and Slovak

Masseman

New Member
Swedish
Comparing the descriptions of Polish and Slovak phonology, it seems that Polish has more pairs of hard and soft consonants than Slovak. I was surprised to see soft m, p, b, f, w indicated in a Polish dictionary, but I have trouble hearing much of a difference between how for example "mi" is realized in Polish and Slovak, so I'm wondering if maybe the same actually goes for Slovak, and I'm just unable to hear it, or does Polish indeed have more soft consonants? If so, are there any minimal pairs?
 
  • jasio

    Senior Member
    It's complex, because in Polish soft m is typically pronounced before an i sound, and if it's before other vowels, it's actually followed by a iotation. On the other hand, hard m is before y sound and before other vowels there's no iotation. So even if you think about pairs like mewa - miewa or mara-miara, they differ not only with palatalisation of m, but also with the said iotation before the following vowel. Also the following vowel may be pronounced slightly differently - especially e, which can be pronounced more narrow or more open.

    Also, albeit my knowledge of Slovak language is rather shallow, there is a substantial difference between i-y opposition between Polish and Slovak. As far as I understand, in Slovak these letters refer basically to the same vowel, accept that i softenes the preceding consonant, while y does not. Compare sni-sny. On the other hand, in Polish they refer to two distinct vowels - y is pronounced with a flat tongue, while i - with the tongue raised to the palate.

    I referred mostly to m, but the same is true also with the other consonants.

    EDIT: these differences in pronunciation and coarticulation are so systematic in Polish that most probably most does not notice them, and would consider soft only consonants marked with diacritics: ć, ń, ś, ź, dź, but the truth is, these can also be soft before consonants, while m, k, p, b, g - only before vowels.
     
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    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Comparing the descriptions of Polish and Slovak phonology, it seems that Polish has more pairs of hard and soft consonants than Slovak. I was surprised to see soft m, p, b, f, w indicated in a Polish dictionary, but I have trouble hearing much of a difference between how for example "mi" is realized in Polish and Slovak
    "Phonology" is the keyword. Languages may have certain sounds without the phonemic status, simply as positional allophones.
    Also note that [i] is very likely to palatalize preceding labial consonants in general; the only question is the proximity of your tongue to the i-position by the monent of the release. Either way, "mi" is a poor example for a comparison. Russian, for example, does oppose /mʲi/ and /mi/, but the second combination actually has [ɨ] as a vowel (even though it is normally denied of phonemic status in Russian; also note that in Russian most unpalatalized consonants are consistently velarized instead). Other Slavic languages either don't oppose /mʲ/ and /m/ at all, or have /mʲi/ vs. /mɨ/ complementary distribution (like Polish). In fact, I even often find Polish /mʲ/ in /mʲi/ underpalatalized, and indeed, there is no actual phonological need to palatalize it in that position at all, since before [i] it will be always assumed as /mʲ/ anyway.
     
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