June 18, 2011 | Polish
When Consonants Attack!
Polish sometimes looks to me as though it is suffering a vowel shortage.
When I start a new language, I typically “like” a bunch of pages on Facebook relevant to it. Today on my Facebook news feed, I came across this news-story excerpt entitled “W sondażu Gallupa Obama przegrywa z kandydatem Republikanów,” from one of my likes, Nowy Dziennik, or the Polish Daily News.
It read, “Gdyby wybory prezydenckie w USA odbyły się teraz, to hipotetyczny kandydat Partii Republikańskiej (GOP) pokonałby Baracka Obamę—wynika z ogłoszonego w piątek sondażu Instytutu Gallupa. Za czołowego kandydata GOP uchodzi na razie Mitt Romney.”
(Readers, if you have trouble seeing the Polish characters in your browsers, I would be very grateful if you let me know!)
I include this quotation here not for the content (which I am not equipped to translate anyway), but rather because I have an aesthetic comment: don’t there seem to be an awful lot of consonants?!
Everything, in Polish
To my eye, Polish words often look like consonant traffic jams. And a number of characters are pronounced differently from their English counterparts, so you have to proceed with caution.
At left is a word I find visually stunning. It means “everything.”
Although y is (as far as I know) exclusively a vowel in Polish, in English it flips back and forth between vowel (as in “syntax”) and consonant (“days of yore”). But when I see a y in an unfamiliar foreign word, I tend to instinctively read (often misread) it as a consonant. When I first saw wszystko, it looked as though there was no vowel until the o, by which point I would have already choked on consonants.
But it’s really not that bad. In Polish, the w is pronounced v, and the sz combination is pronounced sh. So this word is pronounced VSHIST-ko. There are two vowels, which is totally reasonable.
Not that bad at all!
Hi in Polish
Now here’s the word for “hi.” Cz is pronounced as a ch sound, as is the c with the accent over it. The s with the accent over it is pronounced sh. So “hi” is pronounced cheshch.
It is a little tongue-twisting at first, and maybe the kind of word it is good to practice alone at home first so you don’t spit on people when you greet them.
Fortunately, there are easy words in Polish, too. Rosetta Stone recently taught me that “laptop” in Polish is: laptop!
I forgot to mention that last week I got back my French writing test results from ALTA Language Services, the testing company I have used for some of the languages. I got a 10 this time (out of a possible 12), which is defined as “advanced.”
As a reminder, this is a language I studied in college in the 1980s, but then pretty much stopped using. So in the end, after three months of study and review, I raised my oral score two points, to 9, and my written score three points. I was hoping for two 11’s, but I am moderately happy with that.