July 3, 2011 | Polish

In Polish, Accent Marks Roam Freely

They show up boldly wherever they like.

Accent marks in Polish throw me. They show up in places where I don’t expect them.

First, in consonants. I am most definitely not used to consonants with accents. They are especially audacious in the Polish word for “song”: pieśń.

Accent Marks Congregating

Accent Marks Congregating

An accent mark makes me want to stress the syllable in which it appears. I am used to them on vowels. I am used to them in Spanish.

Yeah, I know in French they are used to indicate pronunciation—e is pronounced differently from è and é—but for some reason that fact never dislodged my original association of accent mark with syllable stress.

With respect to the Polish for “song”: an s with an accent on it is pronounced roughly sh in Polish. The n with the accent I am still kind of figuring out, but it seems to give you a little lift, almost like a ni sound but without the i being thoroughly pronounced/noticeable? So “song” would be roughly PYESH-ni?

Polish speakers, please feel free to correct me. I have found some of the instructions I have received on that accented n a bit mysterious.

Although they look more familiar than accented consonants, accented Polish vowels sometimes throw me more.

Take the word samochód, which means “car.” When I look at that word, it makes me want to stress the last syllable. As in sah-mo-HODE.

But in fact, the stress falls on the second-to-last syllable, and what the accent does is change the pronunciation to an oo sound—so the word is roughly sah-MO-hood.

When I write it, I keep trying to put the accent mark on the first o. I have to restrain myself.

Comments (4)

Luba • Posted on Tue, July 12, 2011 - 2:18 am EST

As I understand n with accent mark means the consonant is palatalized (in transcription it would be written with upper register j instead of an accent mark).
by the way, you can check pronunciation on this website - Native speakers add pronunciations of thousands of words in many languages, and if the specific word you want is not there you can add it to a list of words waiting for being pronounced.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, July 21, 2011 - 1:04 am EST

Thank you so much for this website tip, Luba!

Kasia • Posted on Thu, July 21, 2011 - 9:06 pm EST

I speak Polish (was born in Poland). Here’s a little insight I can give about the n with the accent mark.  It’s akin to the French “gn” sound, for example, in “la campagne.” 

So for pieśń, it would be more like, “PYESH-gne.”  But a little softer than the French.

With Polish I think it helps to think of the letters with accents as actual separate letters.  So, think of the N with the accent as a whole different letter, apart from a regular N.

In keeping with this, an O with an accent mark is essentially a U.

Putting the accent on the second to last syllable of each word comes naturally to me, as a native speaker—this was annoying when I was learning Russian, because I automatically would do this to Russian words (and this rule does not apply to Russian)!

I look forward to your other posts! Good luck!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, July 21, 2011 - 10:23 pm EST

Kasia, thank you for the “gn” tip. That definitely fits what I thought I had been hearing. And by the way, I have been very grateful that Polish has such consistent syllable stress…I definitely don’t take that for granted! It’s a gift among the many grammatical challenges Polish offers.

Also, Luba, I was just hanging out on - it’s amusing to listen to different people’s recordings of the same word!

Post a Comment