Although, as I mentioned in the introduction, this series is not meant to be a course in Polish as such, some discussion of the alphabet is certainly necessary and this will be a topic we will need to come back to on numerous occasions, as the orthography of Polish, when properly understood, not only enables you to pronounce what you read probably but also understand the reason why things are spelled as they are, avoid errors and also spot the history and origins of words.
Polish is written obviously with a version of the Latin alphabet but there are various adaptions for the particular needs of Polish, which includes hard and soft consonant versions for sibilants, fricatives and liquids, as well as nasal vowels.
We’ll hold back the whole sibilants and fricatives discussion for another time, and for today we’ll just address the issue of the nasal vowels.
In Polish there are two nasal vowels, arguably three but only two are shown, perhaps because o with a line under would resemble Q, but more probably because Old Slavic already had the nasals described in terms of just two, Ѫ known as big yus and Ѧ, known as little yus which in time became У and Я in Russian, as it had abandoned nasal vowels and so had little use for little yus and no major use for big yus either, but most probably there were really three in Old Slavic also. In French people talk about three, but not to be outdone, there are those who say French has four. I always managed OK with three in French and two in Polish, I have to say. And the two you find in the Polish alphabet are namely Ąą and Ęę.
Nasality basically means there is a reduced ‘n’ after them, n being one of the letters that comes out of your nose. You can think of the little tail on these letters as a reduced n on its side and joined to the letter, and in a sense that’s a very good way of showing in an image what is going on with ą and ę. Read the rest of this entry