Polish Phonology
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Polish Phonology

The phonological system of the Polish language is similar in many ways to those of other Slavic languages, although there are some characteristic features found in only a few other languages of the family, such as contrasting postalveolar and alveolo-palatal fricatives and affricates, and nasal vowels. The vowel system is relatively simple, with just six oral monophthongs and two nasals, while the consonant system is much more complex.


Polish oral vowels depicted on a vowel diagram, from Wierzchowska (1971:130). Main allophones (in black) are in broad transcription. Positional variants (in red) appear in palatal contexts.
Polish oral vowels depicted on a vowel diagram, from Roc?awski (1976:75). Main allophones (in black) are in broad transcription, and positional allophones (in red and green) are in narrow transcription. Positional variants (in red) appear in palatal contexts.
Polish oral vowels depicted on a vowel diagram, from Wi?niewski (2007:72). Main allophones (in black) are in broad transcription. Positional variants (in red) appear in palatal contexts. The close-mid back is a free variant (in blue) before .

Traditionally, the Polish vowel system consists of six oral monophthongs and two nasal diphthongs.[1] Vowel nasality in Polish is partially preserved from Proto-Slavic, having been lost in most other modern Slavic languages. However, more recent sources[2] present a vowel system without nasal vowel phonemes.

  1. ^ /?/ is also less commonly transcribed /?/, such as by the PWN-Oxford Polish-English.[3]
  2. ^ a b c d /? ? / are also less commonly transcribed /e o ? õ/ respectively, e.g. by the PWN-Oxford Polish-English [3] and by Jassem (2003:105).
  3. ^ /a/ is sometimes transcribed /?/ e.g. Sawicka (1995:118), Wi?niewski (2007:24)
  4. ^ a b Most sources[4] present a vowel system without nasal vowel phonemes but with a phonemic /?/.

Oral vowels

Close vowels

  • /i/ is close front unrounded .[5][6] It is somewhat more open than cardinal .[7]
  • /?/ is ranging from almost close-mid near-front to (advanced) close-mid central [8] or alternatively from near-close near-front unrounded to close-mid central unrounded .[9] These descriptions are essentially equivalent. Traditionally, is used in narrow transcriptions (as if close central unrounded). Older sources describe this vowel as follows:
    • According to Jassem (1971:234), it is intermediate between cardinal and , but closer to the latter one. Alternatively, it is intermediate between cardinal and , but closer to the former. [10] He places it on a vowel chart closer to . [11]
    • According to Wierzchowska (1971:125,130) it is articulated with the centre of the tongue raised up and moved somewhat forward; the pharynx also widens. She places it on a vowel chart closer to .
    • According to Roc?awski (1976:75,105), it is near-close central unrounded , with a close-mid central unrounded allophone being optional before /r/ and in some unstressed positions. A realization close to near-close near front unrounded is present in northeastern dialects.
  • /u/ is close back rounded .[5][6] It is somewhat more open than cardinal , and intermediate between them in terms of labialization.[12]
    • There is no complete agreement about the realization of /u/ between soft consonants:

Mid vowels

  • /?/ is open-mid front unrounded .[5][6] It is somewhat more open than cardinal .[13]
    • There is no complete agreement about the realization of /?/ between soft consonants:
  • /?/ is open-mid back.[5][6][15] It is somewhat more open than cardinal , and intermediate between them in terms of labialization. [16]
    • There is no complete agreement about the rounding of /?/:
      • According to Roc?awski (1976:113), it is usually somewhat rounded , but sometimes, it is pronounced with neutral lips . In the latter case, the lack of rounding is compensated for by a stronger retraction of the tongue.
      • According to Sawicka (1995:119), citing Wierzchowska (1967:109), it is unrounded .
      • According to Gussmann (2007:2), it is simply "rounded" .
    • There is no complete agreement about the realization of /?/ between soft consonants:
      • According to Roc?awski (1976:113), it can be any of the following: open-mid centralized back rounded , raised open-mid back rounded or mid advanced back rounded [17]
      • According to Wi?niewski (2001:72), it is close-mid advanced back rounded .
      • According to Sawicka (1995:122), it is close-mid central rounded vowel .
    • According to Wi?niewski (2001:72), a close-mid back is a free variant before .

Open vowels

  • /a/ open central unrounded . According to most sources[18] it is intermediate between cardinal and . However, Gussmann (2007) describes it broadly as open front unrounded . Traditionally, is used even in otherwise narrow transcriptions.
    • There is no complete agreement about the realization of /a/ between soft consonants:
      • According to Jassem (2003:106), it is open front unrounded .
      • According to Sawicka (1995:122), it is open front unrounded or even near-open front unrounded . She uses for the main central allophone.
      • According to Wi?niewski (2001:70), it is near-open central unrounded .
      • According to Roc?awski (1976:110), it is near-open near-front unrounded .


Positional allophones in (alveolo-)palatal contexts[19]
Phoneme Typical


/?/ y C?(C)
/i/ i (Ç)i(C)
/?/ e, ?* (C)?(C)
ie, je

i?*, j?*

Ç?(C) ,
/a/ a (C)a(C)
ia, ja Ça(C) ,
/?/ o, ?* (C)?(C)
io, jo

i?*, j?*

Ç?(C) ,
/u/ u, ó Cu(C)
iu, ju

ió, jó

Çu(C) ,
"C" represents a non-(alveolo)-palatal consonant only.
"(C)" represents a non-(alveolo)-palatal consonant,
a vowel, utterance boundary.
"Ç" represents an alveolo-palatal consonant
/?, ?, ?, t, d/ or /j/.
?*, ?* represent /?, ?/ followed by /m, n, ?, ?/

The vowels /?/ and /i/ have largely complementary distribution. Either vowel may follow a labial consonant, as in mi ('to me') and my ('we'). Elsewhere, however, /i/ is usually restricted to word-initial position and positions after alveolo-palatal consonants and approximants /l, j/, while /?/ cannot appear in those positions (see § Hard and soft consonants below). Either vowel may a velar fricative /x/ but after velar /k, ?/ the vowel /?/ is limited to rare loanwords e.g. kynologia [?k?n?'lja] ('cynology') and gyros ['?s] ('gyro').[20] Dental, postalveolar consonants and approximants /r, w/ are followed by /?/ in native or assimilated words. However, /i/ appears outside its usual positions in some foreign-derived words, as in chipsy [t?ips?] ('potato chips') and tir [ti?] ('large lorry', see TIR). The degree of palatalization in these contexts is weak.[21] In some phonological descriptions of Polish that make a phonemic distinction between palatized and unpalatized consonants, and may thus be treated as allophones of a single phoneme. In the past, /?/ was closer to , which is acoustically more similar to [].

Nasal vowels

Nasal vowels do not feature uniform nasality over their duration. Phonetically, they consist of an oral vowel followed by a nasal semivowel or (s? is pronounced [s?w?], which sounds closer to Portuguese são [sw?] than French sont [s] - all three words mean "[they] are"). Therefore, they are phonetically diphthongs.[22] (For nasality following other vowel nuclei, see § Allophony below.)

Phonological status

Nasal phonemes /, / appear in older phonological descriptions of Polish e.g. Stieber (1966), Roc?awski (1976:84), Wierzchwoska (1980:51). In more recent descriptions orthographical nasal vowels ?, ? are analyzed as two phonemes in all contexts e.g. Sawicka (1995), Wi?niewski (2007). Before a fricative and in word-final position they are transcribed as an oral vowel /?, ?/ followed by a nasal consonant /?, ?/[23] or /j?, w?/.[24] Under such an analysis, the list of consonantal phonemes is extended by a velar nasal phoneme /?/ or by two nasal approximants /j?/, /w?/.


If analyzed as separate phonemes, nasal vowels do not occur except before a fricative and in word-final position[]. When the letters ? and ? appear before stops and affricates, they indicate an oral /?/ or /?/ followed by a nasal consonant homorganic with the following consonant. For example, k?t is [k?nt] ('angle'), g?ba ('mouth') is ['mba], pi ('five') is [pjt] and b?k is [bk] ('bumble bee'),[25] as if they were spelled *kont, *gemba, *pie and *bonk. Before /l/ or /w/, nasality is lost altogether and ? and ? pronounced as oral or . The // phoneme is also denasalized to in word-final position, as in b?d? ['b?nd?] "I will be".

Example words (click on a word to hear its pronunciation)
IPA Polish script Example
/i/ i About this soundmi? [m?i?] ('teddy bear')
/?/ e About this soundten [t?n] ('this one')
/?/ y About this soundmysz [m] ('mouse')
/a/ a About this soundptak [ptak] ('bird')
/u/ u/ó About this soundbum [bum] ('boom')
/?/ o About this soundkot [k?t] ('cat')
// (or //) ? About this soundw??e [v?w] ('snakes')
// (or //) ? About this soundw?? [v?w] ('snake')

Historical development

Distinctive vowel length was inherited from late Proto-Slavic, with some changes (for example, stressed acute and circumflex vowels, and some long vowels occurring after the stress, were shortened). Additional vowel lengths were introduced in Proto-Polish (as in other West Slavic languages) as a result of compensatory lengthening when a yer in the next syllable disappeared. If a yer (or other vowel) disappeared, the preceding vowel became long (unless it was also a yer, in which case it became a short e).

This system of vowel lengths is well preserved in Czech and to a lesser degree in Slovak. In the emerging modern Polish, however, the long vowels were shortened again but sometimes (depending on dialect) with a change in quality (the vowels tended to become higher). The latter changes came to be incorporated into the standard language only in the case of long o and the long nasal vowel, mostly for vowels located before voiced obstruents. The vowel shift may thus be presented as follows:

  • long oral /a:/ > short oral /a/ (certain dialects: /?/, /?/)
  • long oral /e:/ > short oral /?/ (certain dialects: /e/, /?/ or /i/)
  • long oral /?:/ or /i:/ > short oral /?/ or /i/
  • long oral /o:/ > short oral /u/ (certain dialects: /o/), written ó
  • long oral /u:/ > short oral /u/, written u
  • long nasal /ã:/ > short nasal //, written ?

Note that the /u/ that was once a long /o:/ is still distinguished in script as ó. Former long /e:/ was written é until the 19th century (á for former long /a:/ had already fallen into disuse).

In most circumstances, consonants were palatalized when followed by an original front vowel, including the soft yer (?) that was often later lost. For example: *d?n? became dzie? ('day'), while *d?n?m? became dniem ('day' instr.).

Nasal vowels *? and *? of late Proto-Slavic merged (*? leaving a trace by palatalizing the preceding consonant) to become the medieval Polish vowel /ã/, written ø. Like other Polish vowels, it developed long and short variants. The short variant developed into present-day // ?, while the long form became //, written ?, as described above. Overall:

  • Proto-Slavic *? > i? when short, i? when long (where the i represents palatalization of the preceding consonant)
  • Proto-Slavic *? > ? when short, ? when long

The historical shifts are the reason for the alternations o:ó and ?:? commonly encountered in Polish morphology: *rog? ('horn') became róg due to the loss of the following yer (originally pronounced with a long o, now with /u/), and the instrumental case of the same word went from *rog?m? to rogiem (with no lengthening of the o). Similarly, *d?b? ('oak') became d?b (originally with the long form of the nasal vowel), and in the instrumental case, *d?b?m? the vowel remained short, causing the modern d?bem.

Dialectal variation

Polish dialects differ particularly in their realization of nasal vowels, both in terms of whether and when they are decomposed to an oral vowel followed by a nasal consonant and in terms of the quality of the vowels used.

Also, some dialects preserve nonstandard developments of historical long vowels (see previous section); for example, a may be pronounced with [?] in words in which it was historically long.


The Polish consonant system is more complicated; its characteristic features include the series of affricates and palatal consonants that resulted from four Proto-Slavic palatalizations and two further palatalizations that took place in Polish and Belarusian.


The consonant phonemes of Polish are as follows:[26][27][28]

  1. ^ Most recent sources[29] present a consonant system with a phonemic /?/ and without nasal vowel phonemes // and //.(See Phonological status above).
  2. ^ a b c The phonemes /k?/, // and /x?/ are alternatively transcribed as /c/, /?/ and /ç/ (as if they were palatal consonants).[30] The phonological status of palatalized velars is not completely agreed on. A system with /k?/ and // but without /x?/ is given by Roc?awski (1976:86), Wi?niewski (2007:187), Jasem (2003:103) and Ostaszewska & Tabor (2000:135). Sawicka (1995:146-147) considers /k?/, // and /x?/ to be phonemes on distributional grounds. A system without palatalized velars is given by Struty?ski (2002:73), Roc?awski (2010:199) and Osowicka-Kondratowicz (2012:223). In such a system palatalized velars are analyzed as /k/, /?/ and /x/ before /i/ and /kj/, /?j/ and /xj/ before other vowels.[31]
  3. ^ a b c d The postalveolar consonants /?/, /?/, /t/ and /d/ are alternatively transcribed as /?/, /?/, /t/ and /d/. [32]
Example words (click on a word to hear its pronunciation)
IPA Polish script Example IPA Polish script Example
/m/ m About this soundmasa ('mass') /?/ ?/n(i) About this soundko? ('horse')
/b/ b About this soundbas ('bass') /?/ ?/z(i) About this sound?rebi? ('foal')
/p/ p About this soundpas ('belt') /?/ ?/s(i) About this sound?ruba ('screw')
/v/ w About this soundwór ('bag') /d/ d?/dz(i) About this soundd?wi?k ('sound')
/f/ f About this soundfutro ('fur') /t/ ?/c(i) About this sound?ma ('moth')
/n/ n About this soundnoga ('leg') /?/ ?/rz About this sound?ona ('wife') About this soundrzeka ('river')
/d/ d About this sounddom ('home') /?/ sz About this soundszum ('rustle')
/t/ t About this soundtom ('volume') /d/ d? About this soundd?em ('jam')
/z/ z About this soundzero ('zero') /t/ cz About this soundczas ('time')
/s/ s About this soundsum ('catfish') /?/ n(k)/n(g) About this soundbank ('bank'), About this soundgong ('gong')
/d?z/ dz About this sounddzwon ('bell') /?/ g About this soundgmin ('populace')
/t?s/ c About this soundco ('what') /k/ k About this soundkmin ('cumin'), About this soundbuk ('beech tree')
/r/ r About this soundkrok ('step') /x/ h/ch About this soundhak ('hook'), About this soundchór ('choir')
/l/ l About this soundpole ('field'), About this soundli ('leaf') (//) g(i) About this soundgips ('plaster cast')
/j/ j About this soundjutro ('tomorrow') (/k?/) k(i) About this soundkiedy ('when')
/w/ ? About this soundma?y ('small'), About this sound?aska ('grace') (/x?/) h(i)/ch(i) About this soundhistoria ('history'), About this soundchichot ('giggle')

The postalveolar sounds (sz, ?, cz, d?) and the corresponding alveolo-palatals (?, ?, ?, d?) both sound similar to the English palato-alveolar consonants (the sh and ch sounds and their voiced equivalents). The tongue shape of the postalveolar sounds is similar to the shape postalveolar approximant (one of the realization of the English /r/ phoneme, see also Pronunciation of English /r/). The alveolo-palatals are pronounced with the body of the tongue raised to the hard palate but a greater area of the front of the tongue is raised close to the hard palate compared to the English palato-alveolar sounds. The series are known as "rustling" (szeleszcz?ce) and "humming" (szumi?ce) respectively; the equivalent alveolar series (s, z, c, dz) is called "hissing" (sycz?ce).

Polish contrasts affricates and stop-fricative clusters[33] by the fricatives being longer in clusters than in affricates:[34]

  • About this soundczysta ['tsta] ('clean' fem.) vs. About this soundtrzysta ['tsta] ('three hundred').
  • About this soundd?em ['dm] ('jam') with vs. About this sounddrzem ['dm] ('take a nap' imper.).

The distinction is lost in some Lesser Polish dialects.

For the possibility of an additional velar fricative /?/[35] for ⟨h⟩, see § Dialectal variation below. On the same grounds as for /x?/ Sawicka (1995:146) gives // a phonemic status for speakers who have /?/ in their system.


  • /m, p, b, f, v/ are labial except before /i, j/ where they are palatalized [m?, p?, b?, f?, v?].
  • /m, n/ have a labiodental allophone , which occurs before labiodental consonants (as in symfonia 'symphony' or konfiguracja 'configuration').[36]. Before fricatives, orthographic nasal consonants m, n may be realized as nasal approximants [w? j?], analogous to /?, ?/ below. This occurs in loanwords, and in free variation with the typical consonantal pronunciation (e.g. instynkt ['iw?stkt?'instkt] 'instinct').[37]
  • /n, t, d, t?s, d?z, s, z/ are denti-alveolar [n?, t?, d?, ts?, dz?, s?, z?] except before /i, j/ and postalveolar consonants. They are pronounced with the tip of the tongue very close or touching to the upper front teeth and partially the front of the alveolar ridge.[38] In western and northern Poland, [n?] is maintained in native words across a morpheme boundary in nk, e.g. sionka ('a small hallway') ['n?ka] contrasts with si?ka ('s/he sniffs') ['ka]. In other parts of Poland, the contrast is neutralized towards /?/, i.e. ['ka] is used for both. [39] In foreign words nk, ng represent /?k, /.
  • /t, d, t?s, d?z, s, z/ are palatalized laminal alveolar [t, d, ts, dz, s, z] before /i, j/ in recent borrowings. They are pronounced with the blade of the tongue very close or touching the alveolar ridge.[40]
  • /n, t, d/ are apical alveolar [n?, t?, d?] before apical postalveolar /t d/.[41][42]
  • /t, d, ?, ?/ are variously described as apical postalveolar [t?, d?, , ][43][44] or as (laminal) flat postalveolar.[45] They are articulated with a flat, retracted tongue body, the tongue tip being raised and the entire blade moved up and back behind the corner of the alveolar ridge. A recent study[46] shows that /?, ?/ and the release of /t, d/ are predominantly alveolar, while the place of articulation of the stop in /t, d/ varies between alveolar and postalveolar. This agrees with characterizations of /t, d, ?, ?/ as alveolar in older sources.[47][48] They may be described as retroflex [t, d, ?, ?][49][50] to indicate that they are not palatalized laminal postalveolar [t?, d?, , ]. Strictly speaking, this is at odds with the narrower definition of retroflex consonants as subapical, in which the tongue curls back and its underside becomes the active articulator.
  • /t, d, ?, ?/ become palatalized laminal postalveolar [t?, d?, , ][51] before /i, j/ in recent loanwords.[52]
  • /?, t, d, ?, ?/ are alveolo-palatal [, t, d, ?, ?]. They are articulated with the blade of the tongue behind the alveolar ridge and the body of the tongue raised toward the palate. Before fricatives, /?/ is usually realized as a nasalized palatal approximant ,[25][53] for example, pa?stwo [paj?stfo], Gda?sk [?daj?sk].
  • /?, k, ?/ are velar [?, k, ?]. Before fricatives, /?/ is realized as nasalized velar approximant . According to Sawicka (1985:127-128, 136), this allophone is non-labialized .
  • /x/ is primilary velar ; it has the strongest friction before consonants , weaker friction before vowels and weakest friction intervocalically, where it may be realized as glottal (this variant "may appear to be voiced"). [54] /x/ has a voiced allophone , which occurs whenever /x/ is followed by a voiced obstruent (even across a word boundary), in accordance with the rules given under § Voicing and devoicing below. For example, klechda 'legend, myth' ['kle?da], dach ('roof') is ['dax], but dach domu ('roof of the house') is [da? 'd?mu].
  • /k, ?, x/ before /i, j/ (or phonemic /k?, , x?/) are postpalatal [c?, , ç?].[55] A postpalatal allophone of /?/ appears only in front of [c?, ].
  • /l/ is apical alveolar and becomes denti-alveolar before a following denti-alveolar consonant /n, t, d, t?s, d?z, s, z/. A palatalized laminal or alveopalatal is used before /i, j/.[56]
  • /r/ is apical alveolar. It has been traditionally classified as a trill , with a tap supposedly only occurring as an allophone or in fast speech.[57] However, more recent studies show that /r/ is predominantly realized as a tap , sometimes as an approximant or a fricative, but almost never as a trill.[58][59] One study found that in an intervocalic context a trilled occurs in less than 3% of cases, while a tapped occurred in approximately 95% of cases. Another study by the same researcher showed that in a postconsonantal position, /r/ is realized as a tapped in 80-90% of cases, while trilled occurs in just 1.5% of articulations.[60] A palatalized laminal is used before /i, j/ in recent loanwords.[56]
  • /j/ is a palatal approximant . According to Roc?awski (1976:123), /j/ is reduced and very short after consonants before vowels, for example miasto ('a city') ['m?i?ast?], piasek ('sand') ['p?i?as?k].
  • /w/ is a velar approximant . According to Wierzchowska (1976:123), /w/ is most commonly non-labialized ; a labialization being typical only before /u/. A palatalized allophone [61] before /i/ is given by Sawicka (1995:128).
  • The approximants /j, w/ may be regarded as non-syllabic vowels when they are not followed by a vowel. For example, raj ('paradise') [rai?], da? ('he gave') [dau?], autor ('author') ['au?t?r].
  • /m, n, ?, ?, l, r, w/ are regularly devoiced [m?, n?, , , l?, , w?] after a voiceless obstruent and optionally after a voiced obstruent which was devoiced.[62] For example, wiatr ('wind') is pronounced [vjat], while kadr ('a frame') can be pronounced [kat] or [kad?]. (See § Voicing and devoicing below.)


Polish, like other Slavic languages, permits complex consonant clusters, which often arose from the disappearance of yers (see § Historical development above). Polish can have word-initial and word-medial clusters of up to four consonants, whereas word-final clusters can have up to five consonants.[63] Examples of such clusters can be found in words such as bezwzgl?dny [b?z'vz?l?ndn?] ('absolute' or 'heartless', 'ruthless'), ?d?b?o ['?dbw?] ('blade of grass'), About this soundwstrz?s ['fstw?s] ('shock'), and krn?brno ['krn?mbrnt] ('disobedience'). A popular Polish tongue-twister (from a verse by Jan Brzechwa) is About this soundW Szczebrzeszynie chrz?szcz brzmi w trzcinie [f?tb'? 'xwd 'b?mi f't?ti] ('In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed').

For the restrictions on combinations of voiced and voiceless consonants in clusters, see § Voicing and devoicing below. Unlike languages such as Czech, Polish does not have syllabic consonants: the nucleus of a syllable is always a vowel.

The consonant /j/ is restricted to positions adjacent to a vowel. It also cannot precede i or y. (For other restrictions on consonants appearing before i or y, see § Distribution above.)

Voicing and devoicing

Polish obstruents (stops, affricates and fricatives) are subject to voicing and devoicing in certain positions. This leads to neutralization of voiced/voiceless pairs in those positions (or equivalently, restrictions on the distribution of voiced and voiceless consonants). The phenomenon applies in word-final position and in consonant clusters.

In Polish consonant clusters, including across a word boundary, the obstruents are all voiced or all voiceless. To determine (based on the spelling of the words) whether a given cluster has voiced or voiceless obstruents, the last obstruent in the cluster, excluding w or rz (but including ?), should be examined to see if appears to be voiced or voiceless. The consonants n, m, ?, r, j, l, ? do not represent obstruents and so do not affect the voicing of other consonants; they are also usually not subject to devoicing except when surrounded by unvoiced consonants.[64] Some examples follow (click the words to hear them spoken):

  • About this sound?ódka ['wutka] ('boat'), /d/ -> [t] before the voiceless k
  • About this soundkawka ['kafka] ('jackdaw'), /v/ -> [f] before the voiceless k
  • About this soundtak?e ['ta] ('also'), /k/ -> [?] before the voiced ?
  • About this soundjakby ['ja?b?] ('as if'), /k/ -> [?] before the voiced b
  • About this soundkrzak [k?ak] ('bush'), /?/ -> [?]; rz does not determine the voicing of the cluster
  • About this soundodtworzy? [?t'tft] ('to replay'), /d/ -> [t] & /v/ -> [f]; w does not determine the voicing of the cluster
  • dach domu [da? d?mu] ('roof of the house'), /x/ -> [?]; the rule still applies across a word boundary

In some dialects of Wielkopolska and the eastern borderlands, /v/ remains voiced after voiceless consonants.

The above rule does not apply to sonorants: a consonant cluster may contain voiced sonorants and voiceless obstruents, as in About this soundkról [krul], About this soundwart [vart], s?o? ['sw], tn?c ['tn?nt?s].

Utterance-finally, obstruents are pronounced voiceless. For example, the /?/ in bóg ('god') is pronounced [k], and the /zd/ in zajazd ('inn') represents a pronunciation like [st]. If followed by a word beginning with a obstruent then the above cluster rules apply across morpheme boundaries. When the second word begins with a sonorant the voicing of any preceding word-final obstruent varies regionally. In western and southern Poland, final obstruents are voiced (voicing pronunciation) if the following word starts with a sonorant (here, for example, the /t/ in brat ojca 'father's brother' would be pronounced as [d]). On the other hand, they are voiceless (devoicing pronunciation) in eastern and northern Poland (/t/ is pronounced [t]). This rule does not apply to prepositional clitics w, z, bez, przez, nad, pod, od, przed which are always voiced before sonorants. [65][66]

Voicing of final obstruents[67]
Position Example Sandhi
Final Initial voicing pronunciation devoicing pronunciation
Word final obstruent or

Obstruent + /m, n, l, r, j, w/

Sonorant: /m, n, l, r, j, w, i, ?, ?, a, ?, u/ kot rudy ('a ginger cat')

d?ug ma?y ('a small debt')

kot ?aciaty ('a speckled cat')

d?ug ?ukasza ('Luke's debt')

kot Ewy ('Eve's cat')

m?? Ewy ('Eve's husband')













Voiceless obstruent: /p, f, t, t?s, s, t, ?, t, ?, k, x, (k?), (x?)/ rok Smoka ('the Year of the Dragon')

g sto?u ('a table corner')

wiatr szumi ('the wind rustles')

kadr filmu ('a film frame')





Voiced obstruent: /b, v, d, d?z, z, d, ?, d, ?, ?, (?), (), ()/ porad? Zosi ('give Zosia some advise')

rok dobry ('a good year')

id? zaraz ('go right now')

p?ot br?zowy ('a brown fence')





Prepositional clitic: w, z, bez, przez, nad, pod, od, przed Sonorant: /m, n, l, r, j, w, i, ?, ?, a, ?, u/ od matki ('from the mother')

od ??ki ('from a meadow')

od ojca ('from the father')




Voiceless obstruent: /p, f, t, t?s, s, t, ?, t, ?, k, x, k?, x?/ pod p?otem ('at/by the fence') [p?t?pw?t?m]
Voiced obstruent: /b, v, d, d?z, z, d, ?, d, ?, ?, (?), , ()/ pod dzwonnic? ('beneath a bell tower') [p?d?d?zv:it?s?w?]

Hard and soft consonants

Multiple palatalizations and some depalatalizations that took place in the history of Proto-Slavic and Polish have created quite a complex system of what are often called 'soft' and 'hard' consonants. These terms are useful in describing some inflection patterns and other morphological processes, but exact definitions of 'soft' and 'hard' may differ somewhat.

'Soft' generally refers to the palatal nature of a consonant. The alveolo-palatal sounds ?, ?, ?, ?, d? are considered soft, as normally is the palatal j. The l sound is also normally classed as a soft consonant: like the preceding sounds, it cannot be followed by y but takes i instead. The palatalized velars /k?/, // and /x?/ might also be regarded as soft on this basis.

Consonants not classified as soft are dubbed 'hard'. However, a subset of hard consonants, c, dz, sz, ?/rz, cz, d?, often derive from historical palatalizations (for example, rz usually represents a historical palatalized r) and behaves like the soft consonants in some respects (for example, they normally take e in the nominative plural). These sounds may be called 'hardened' or 'historically soft' consonants.

In some phonological descriptions of Polish, however, a greater number of consonants, including especially the labials m, p, b, f, w, are regarded as occurring in 'hard' and 'soft' pairs. In this approach, for example, the word pies ('dog') is analyzed not as /pj?s/ but as /ps/, with a soft /p?/. These consonants are then also analyzed as soft when they precede the vowel /i/ (as in pi? /p?it/ 'to drink'). Unlike their equivalents in Russian, these consonants cannot retain their softness in the syllable coda (when not followed by a vowel). For example, the word for 'carp' has the inflected forms karpia, karpie etc., with soft /p?/ (or /pj/, depending on the analysis), but the nominative singular is karp, with a hard /p/.

The consonants t, d, r (and some others) can also be regarded as having hard and soft forms according to the above approach, although the soft forms occur only in loanwords such as tir /t?ir/ ('large lorry'; see TIR).[] If the distinction is made for all relevant consonants, then y and i can be regarded as allophones of a single phoneme, with y following hard consonants and i following soft ones (and in initial position).

The historical palatalized forms of some consonants have developed in Polish into noticeably different sounds: historical palatalized t, d, r have become the sounds now represented by ?, d?, rz respectively. Similarly palatalized s, z, n became the sounds ?, ?, ?. The palatalization of labials has resulted (according to the main phonological analysis given in the sections above) in the addition of , as in the example pies just given. These developments are reflected in some regular morphological changes in Polish grammar, such as in noun declension.

Glottal stop

In more contemporary Polish, a phonetic glottal stop may appear as the onset of a vowel-initial word (e.g. Ala [?ala]).[68] It may also appear following word-final vowels to connote particular affects; for example, nie ('no') is normally pronounced [], but may instead be pronounced [] or in a prolonged interrupted [?]. This intervocalic glottal stop may also break up a vowel hiatus, even when one appears morpheme-internally, as in poeta ('poet') [pta] or Ukraina ('Ukraine') [?ukra?ina]. A relatively new phenomenon in Polish is the expansion of the usage of glottal stops. In the past, initial vowels were pronounced with an initial voiceless glottal fricative (so that Ala was pronounced [hala]), pre-iotation (so that ig?a 'needle' was pronounced [ji?u?a]), or pre-labialization (so that oko 'eye' was pronounced [uk?]).[69]

Dialectal variation

In some Polish dialects (found in the eastern borderlands and in Upper Silesia) there is an additional voiced velar fricative /?/, represented by the letter ⟨h⟩. It may be actually a voiced glottal fricative [?] for some speakers, especially word-finally.[70] In most varieties of Polish, both ⟨h⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ represent /x/.

Some eastern dialects also preserve the velarized dental lateral approximant, [], which corresponds with [w] in most varieties of Polish. Those dialects also can palatalize /l/ to [l?] in every position, but standard Polish does so only allophonically before /i/ and /j/.[71] [] and [l?] are also common realizations in native speakers of Polish from Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

Roc?awski (1976) notes that students of Polish philology were hostile towards the lateral variant of ⟨?⟩, saying that it sounded "unnatural" and "awful". Some of the students also said that they perceived the lateral ⟨?⟩ as a variant of ⟨l⟩, which, he further notes, along with the necessity of deciding from context whether the sound meant was /w/ or /l/, made people hostile towards the sound.[72] On the other hand, some Poles view the lateral variant with nostalgia, associating it with the elegant culture of interwar Poland.[73]

In the Masurian dialect and some neighboring dialects, mazurzenie occurs: postalveolar /?, ?, t, d/ merge with the corresponding dentals /s, z, t?s, d?z/ unless /?/ is spelled ⟨rz⟩ (a few centuries ago, it represented a fricative trill /r?/, distinct from /?/; only the latter sound occurs in modern Polish).


The predominant stress pattern in Polish is penultimate: the second-last syllable is stressed. Alternating preceding syllables carry secondary stress: in a four-syllable word, if the primary stress is on the third syllable, there will be secondary stress on the first.[74]

Each vowel represents one syllable although the letter i normally does not represent a vowel when it precedes another vowel (it represents /j/, palatalization of the preceding consonant, or both depending on analysis; see Polish orthography and the above). Also, the letters u and i sometimes represent only semivowels after another vowel, as in autor /'awt?r/ ('author'), mostly in loanwords (so not in native nauka /na'u.ka/ 'science, the act of learning', for example, nor in nativized Mateusz /ma'te.u?/ 'Matthew').

Some loanwords, particularly from classical languages, have the stress on the antepenultimate (third-last) syllable. For example, fizyka (/'fiz?ka/) ('physics') is stressed on the first syllable. That may lead to a rare phenomenon of minimal pairs differing only in stress placement: muzyka /'muz?ka/ 'music' vs. muzyka /mu'z?ka/ - genitive singular of muzyk 'musician'. When further syllables are added at the end of such words through suffixation, the stress normally becomes regular: uniwersytet (/u?i'v?rs?t?t/, 'university') has irregular stress on the third (or antepenultimate) syllable, but the genitive uniwersytetu (/u?iv?rs?'t?tu/) and derived adjective uniwersytecki (/u?iv?rs?'t?t?sk?i/) have regular stress on the penultimate syllables. Over time, loanwords become nativized to have a penultimate stress.[75]

Another class of exceptions is verbs with the conditional endings -by, -bym, -by?my etc. Those endings are not counted in determining the position of the stress: zrobi?bym ('I would do') is stressed on the first syllable and zrobiliby?my ('we would do') on the second. According to prescriptive grammars, the same applies to the first and second person plural past tense endings -?my, -?cie although this rule is often ignored in colloquial speech (so zrobili?my 'we did' is said to be correctly stressed on the second syllable, although in practice it is commonly stressed on the third as zrobili?my).[76] The irregular stress patterns are explained by the fact that these endings are detachable clitics rather than true verbal inflections: for example, instead of kogo zobaczyli?cie? ('whom did you see?') it is possible to say kogo?cie zobaczyli? - here kogo retains its usual stress (first syllable) in spite of the attachment of the clitic. Reanalysis of the endings as inflections when attached to verbs causes the different colloquial stress patterns.

Some common word combinations are stressed as if they were a single word. That applies in particular to many combinations of preposition plus a personal pronoun, such as do niej ('to her'), na nas ('on us'), przeze mnie ('because of me'), all stressed on the bolded syllable.

See also


  1. ^ Roc?awski (1976), p. 84.
  2. ^ Sawicka (1995:118), Ostaszewska & Tabor (2000:137-139), Jasem (2003:104-105) and Wi?niewski (2007:188-191)
  3. ^ a b Linde-Usiekniewicz et al. (2011), p. 1430.
  4. ^ Sawicka (1995:118), Ostaszewska & Tabor (2000:137-139), Jasem (2003:104-105) and Wi?niewski (2007:188-191)
  5. ^ a b c d Jassem (2003), p. 105.
  6. ^ a b c d Gussmann (2007), p. 2.
  7. ^ Jassem (1971:234) and Jassem (1974:71)
  8. ^ Gussmann 2007, p. 1, "[A] case in point is the Polish vowel [?] in ty [t?] 'you, sg.'. Kara? and Madejowa (1977) and Jassem (1983) use this symbol to denote a vowel which is described as almost half close, retracted to (almost) central position."
  9. ^ Rybka (2015), p. 79.
  10. ^ Jassem (1974), p. 71.
  11. ^ Jassem's description is often cited, e.g. Ba?utowa (1992:27),Dukiewicz (1995:26), Wi?niewski (2007:69)
  12. ^ Jassem (1971:234) and Jassem (1974:71)
  13. ^ Jassem (1971:234) and Jassem (1974:71)
  14. ^ Wells, John C. (19 December 2011). "the Polish way out". John Wells's phonetic blog. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 75, 112-113.
  16. ^ Jassem (1971:234) and Jassem (1974:71)
  17. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 75, 113.
  18. ^ For example, Jassem (1971:234), Jassem (1974:71), Jassem (2003:105), Roc?awski (1976:75) and Wi?niewski (2007:72)
  19. ^ Sawicka, p. 122.
  20. ^ Gussmann, p. 101.
  21. ^ Sawicka, p. 148.
  22. ^ Gussmann (2007:2), citing Biedrzycki (1963), Biedrzycki (1978), Wierzchowska (1971:135).
  23. ^ Sawicka (1995:135)
  24. ^ Jassem (2003:104) and Wi?niewski (2007:192)
  25. ^ a b Gussmann (2007), pp. 2-3.
  26. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 130-181.
  27. ^ Sawicka (1995), pp. 116-117.
  28. ^ Roc?awski (2010), pp. 197-199.
  29. ^ Sawicka (1995:118), Ostaszewska & Tabor (2000:137-139), Jasem (2003:104-105) and Wi?niewski (2007:188-191)
  30. ^ Jasem (2003:103), Gussmann (2007:5) and Sawicka (1995:146)
  31. ^ Grzybowski (1986), p. 169.
  32. ^ Jasem (2003:103), Sawicka (1995:143) and Gussmann (2007:6-7) Roc?awski (2010:165,198-199)
  33. ^ Gussmann (2007), p. 7.
  34. ^ Zagórska Brooks (1964).
  35. ^ Sawicka (1995), p. 143.
  36. ^ Buczek-Zawi?a (2014), p. 9.
  37. ^ Gussmann (2007:3), citing Dukiewicz (1995:32-33)
  38. ^ Wierzchowska (1971), pp. 155,157,159,160.
  39. ^ Struty?ski (2002), pp. 80.
  40. ^ Wierzchowska (1971), pp. 185,187.
  41. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 136, 179.
  42. ^ Wierzchowska (1971), pp. 163,167.
  43. ^ Rybka (2015), p. 70,101.
  44. ^ J. C. Catford (2001). A Practical Introduction to Phonetics (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 87.
  45. ^ Ladefoged and Maddieson after P. A. Keating (1991). "Coronal places of articulation". In C. Paradis; J.-F. Prunet (eds.). The Special Status of Coronals (PDF). Academic Press. p. 35.
  46. ^ Lorenc (2018), pp. 164-165.
  47. ^ Wierzchowska (1971), pp. 164-165.
  48. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 153,155,167.
  49. ^ Rybka (2015), p. 101.
  50. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 56, "Summing up the articulatory criteria for retroflex fricatives, they are all articulated behind the alveolar ridge, show a sub-lingual cavity, are articulated with the tongue tip (though this is not always discernible in the x-ray tracings), and with a retracted and flat tongue body."
  51. ^ Rybka (2015), p. 105.
  52. ^ Hamann 2004, p. 64.
  53. ^ Sawicka (1995), p. 135.
  54. ^ Roc?awski (1976), p. 158.
  55. ^ Wierzchowska (1971), pp. 195.
  56. ^ a b Sawicka (1995), p. 130.
  57. ^ Roc?awski (1976), p. 132.
  58. ^ Szpyra-Koz?owska, Jolanta (2018). "The rhotic in fake and authentic Polish-accented English". Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature. 42 (1): 81. doi:10.17951/lsmll.2018.42.1.81. ISSN 2450-4580.
  59. ^ "On the phonetic instability of the Polish rhotic /r/ | Request PDF". ResearchGate. Retrieved .
  60. ^ "Further analysis of the articulation of /r/ in Polish - The postconsonantal position". ResearchGate. Retrieved .
  61. ^ Rybka (2015), p. 43.
  62. ^ Sawicka (1995), p. 155.
  63. ^ "Polish". UCLA Phonetics Lab data. UCLA Phonetics Laboratory, University of California, Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  64. ^ Urba?czyk (1992), p. 369.
  65. ^ Ostaszewska & Tambor (2000), p. 89.
  66. ^ Wierzbicka (1971), p. 207.
  67. ^ Ostaszewska & Tambor (2000), p. 88.
  68. ^ Magdalena Osowicka-Kondratowicz, "Zwarcie krtaniowe - rodzaj fonacji czy artykulacji?", Rocznik Slawistyczny, t. LXVII, 2018 doi:10.24425/rslaw.2018.124590, p. 41
  69. ^ Osowicka-Kondratowicz, 2018 p. 40
  70. ^ Sawicka (1995), p. 142.
  71. ^ Roc?awski (1976), p. 130.
  72. ^ Roc?awski (1976), pp. 130-131.
  73. ^ "S?ynne g?adkie ?". Radio Bia?ystok. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  74. ^ Gussmann (2007:8), deferring to Rubach & Booij (1985) for further discussion.
  75. ^ Gussmann (2007), p. 9.
  76. ^ Phonetics and Phonology of lexical stress in Polish verbs[permanent dead link], Dominika Oliver, Martine Grice, Institute of Phonetics, Saarland University, Germany


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Further reading

External links

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