Slovak/Czech vs. Polish

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Icetrance

Senior Member
US English
Hello,

I don't know where to post this question, but I would like to know if Polish is as much of a phonetic language as Slovak or Czech.

English and French are not phonetic languages, as you know.

Thank you:)
 
  • sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I don't see much discussion potential here.

    Polish uses more consonant clusters than diacritics.
    And Polish pronunciation is not quite as straightforward related to writing than those of Czech and Slovak.

    Or did you want to know something more specific, Icetrance?
     
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    NotNow

    Senior Member
    English
    I'm not sure that this will answer your question, but it may help. Poles say every word in Polish is spelled exactly as it is pronounced. I have noticed, however, that some people confuse u with ó.
     
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    Piotr_WRF

    Senior Member
    Polish, German
    I have noticed, however, that some people confuse u with ó.
    That's because they are pronounced exactly the same way (i.e. /u/). It's nowadays only a matter of orthography but has its roots in Old Polish where ó denoted a long /o/, which mutated to /u/. This goes further back to Old Slavonic where there existed short and long vowels, but in modern Polish all vowels are short now.

    As to whether Polish is a phonetic language, I think it is. Maybe not as much as Czech and Slovak (note I don't speak either of them) but certainly more than English and French. There is of course the issue of digraphs in Polish (like sz, rz, cz, which represent one sound) but other than that it's pretty much phonetic.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    That's because they are pronounced exactly the same way (i.e. /u/). It's nowadays only a matter of orthography but has its roots in Old Polish where ó denoted a long /o/, which mutated to /u/. This goes further back to Old Slavonic where there existed short and long vowels, but in modern Polish all vowels are short now.

    As to whether Polish is a phonetic language, I think it is. Maybe not as much as Czech and Slovak (note I don't speak either of them) but certainly more than English and French. There is of course the issue of digraphs in Polish (like sz, rz, cz, which represent one sound) but other than that it's pretty much phonetic. (but that would still make the language pretty much phonetic if those orals sounds produced by those consonant combinations always translate into sz, rz, cz in the writing system)
    This post has really helped me out.

    I really appreciate everyone's input. I just wanted somewhat of a general answer.

    phonetic language = words are spelled as they are pronounced (sounds are always attributed to the same letters and letter combinations with few exceptions). In other words, you could easily predict the spelling of the language's words just by hearing them alone, provided you knew its alphabet and pronunciation system

    English and French are good examples of non-phonetic languages.

    In English, same sounds be represented by many different ways in our phonetic system. Take the long "o", for example.

    lonely
    though
    moan

    Woof! Confusing spelling

    I am saying this because I may start learning Czech or Slovak. I am really excited.

    Thanks again:)
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    phonetic language = words are spelled as they are pronounced
    Yes I know (I guess we all knew), but this is not an accepted term of linguistics; it's also not a term used on Wikipedia.

    What you meant is to what degree writing matches phonetics in Czech/Slovak vs. Polish.
    In Polish most sounds are easily matched with a single or a couple of phonetic pronunciations, but in Czech and Slovak it is even easier to match writing and phonetics.
    That's about it, really. There are some peculiarities of Polish pronunciation but it's quite easy to learn if you get accustomed to those consonant clusters.
     
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    robin74

    Senior Member
    Poles say every word in Polish is spelled exactly as it is pronounced.
    Well, many Poles do indeed say so, but it is actually very much untrue. Polish has rather complex rules concerning when consosnants become voiceless and many words are pronounced in a way that may not resemble much the way they are spelled. And vice versa - for many words you won't know how to spell them just by hearing them.
     

    texpert

    Senior Member
    Czech
    I am saying this because I may start learning Czech or Slovak. I am really excited.
    :)
    Look, I'm not a linguist but Czech is certainly not the most phonetic language in the world. Thare are many ordinary words pronounced differently than spelled: oběd [:eek:byet:] (lunch), nashledanou [:naskhedanou:] (good by) etc.
    If you look for a completely phonetic language to learn I may encourage you to try BSC. Back in the 90's I was astonished to find out that your former foreign secretary was spelled like this: Medlin Olbrajt.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Look, I'm not a linguist but Czech is certainly not the most phonetic language in the world. Thare are many ordinary words pronounced differently than spelled: oběd [:eek:byet:] (lunch), nashledanou [:naskhedanou:] (good by) etc.
    If you look for a completely phonetic language to learn I may encourage you to try BSC. Back in the 90's I was astonished to find out that your former foreign secretary was spelled like this: Medlin Olbrajt.
    Thanks for your response.

    I think that Slovak is more phonetic than Czech. Well, compared to English, I would think that Czech is more of a phonetic language.

    What is "BSC", by the way?
     

    Duya

    Senior Member
    Whatever
    What is "BSC", by the way?
    Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, also known as "Serbo-Croatian". For an overview, see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbo-Croatian#Phonology

    Note, however, that "phonetic spelling" is a two-way alley:

    1. Do you unambiguously know how to pronounce the written word?
    2. Do you unambiguously know how to spell a pronounced word?
    Many languages [or, to be more precise, writing systems] (English excluded) satisfy criterion 1: for example, in French, there are fairly clear and exceptionless rules how to pronounce words, but the reverse is often an impossible task.

    Even the criterion (2) is not "black and white", but has some degrees. For example, it can be argued that e.g. Spanish or Italian fulfill it: they do have several digraphs (qu, ll in Spanish, ch, gl in Italian) but they're the only way to spell those sounds (i.e. they're even less ambiguous than Polish, where "zh" can be written as rz or ż).

    P.S. English is, I'm almost certain, the worst writing system in the world concerning spelling and pronunciation rules (Rules? which Rules? :p), at least if we compare alphabetic (as opposed to logographic ones, such as Chinese). Most European (and World's) writing systems do satisfy at least criterion (1), or come pretty close to it.
     
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    TriglavNationalPark

    Senior Member
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    If you look for a completely phonetic language to learn I may encourage you to try BSC. Back in the 90's I was astonished to find out that your former foreign secretary was spelled like this: Medlin Olbrajt.
    Actually, this doesn't apply to the "C" part of BCS: Even when the language was known as Serbo-Croatian, Croatians never used phonetic spellings of foreign names. In Croatia, Medlin Olbrajt would still be Madeleine Albright.

    But having said that, yes, BCS is almost totally phonetic.
     
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    mcibor

    Senior Member
    Well, many Poles do indeed say so, but it is actually very much untrue. Polish has rather complex rules concerning when consosnants become voiceless and many words are pronounced in a way that may not resemble much the way they are spelled. And vice versa - for many words you won't know how to spell them just by hearing them.
    I agree completely with Robin, that it's sometimes hard to say the word correctly, but even if you speak phonetically I presume you would be understood (not as in English)
    It might sound funny, but understandable.
    About writing Polish that's completely another issue, as Polish themselves have problems with correct orthography:
    I was once asked to uncipher meaning of word "fshut" and due to my English knowledge I couldn't find out, that student meant wschód (meaning East) :)
     

    texpert

    Senior Member
    Czech
    Note, however, that "phonetic spelling" is a two-way alley:

    Yes. And then there's a question of stress. In Polish it generally falls on the next to the last syllable (not always), in BSC on the second or third (as the wiki link has just elaborated:). Anyway, it's not marked. In Czech and Slovak, on the other hand, the stress always falls on the first syllable and the length of words is indeed well-marked.

    So for a real beginner, Czech and Slovak orthography might prove to be a better guide. As long as you discard the pronunciation, that is. My private poll says that only about half of foreigners speak the language without heavy accent after several years of using it. There are nationalities that seem unable to master it completely (Eastern and South Slavs among them). Here the proximity probably plays the role.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, also known as "Serbo-Croatian". For an overview, see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbo-Croatian#Phonology

    Note, however, that "phonetic spelling" is a two-way alley ("two-way street", you mean):

    1. Do you unambiguously know how to pronounce the written word?
    2. Do you unambiguously know how to spell a pronounced word?
    Many languages [or, to be more precise, writing systems] (English excluded) satisfy criterion 1: for example, in French, there are fairly clear and exceptionless rules how to pronounce words, but the reverse is often an impossible task.

    Even the criterion (2) is not "black and white", but has some degrees. For example, it can be argued that e.g. Spanish or Italian fulfill it: they do have several digraphs (qu, ll in Spanish, ch, gl in Italian) but they're the only way to spell those sounds (i.e. they're even less ambiguous than Polish, where "zh" can be written as rz or ż).

    P.S. English is, I'm almost certain, the worst writing system in the world concerning spelling and pronunciation rules (Rules? which Rules? :p), at least if we compare alphabetic (as opposed to logographic ones, such as Chinese). Most European (and World's) writing systems do satisfy at least criterion (1), or come pretty close to it.
    Thanks a lot! Interesting post.

    I think that definition two is more what is meant by "phonetic language." If I can almost always figure out how to correctly spell a word in a given language by sound alone, I would definitely know how to pronounce it, right? Therefore, one has to know the pronunciation system of the language in question before one can see if it's phonetic or not.

    All languages have special rules that you have to know for pronunciation (what sounds the letters and letter combinations make). Some systems are more complicated than others. There's no doubt about that.

    Slovak and Czech are phonetic languages. I would say that Polish is a little less, but still much more so than English.

    English is probably the best example of a non-phonetic language.

    I'm learning Slovak, and I can tell you that it's so phonetic. I just love it!
     
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    Duya

    Senior Member
    Whatever
    Yes. And then there's a question of stress. In Polish it generally falls on the next to the last syllable (not always), in BSC on the second or third (as the wiki link has just elaborated:).
    Drifting off-topic slightly, I've just removed that sentence from Wikipedia. (It said "statistically... 2nd or 3rd from the end" actually). It looked like someone's own research, and I don't think it's even true.

    Simply put, the BCS stress is most often on 1st syllable, sometimes on 2nd (if only because most words are 2- or 3- syllabic). For 4-syllabic and longer words, it's almost unpredictable (more precisely, the rules get so complicated as to get useless for laypeople) -- depends if it's a proper compound word, word with a prefixed root, a borrowing, a latinism/internationalism...
     

    cajzl

    Senior Member
    Czech
    The Czech orthography is not phonetic, but ethymologic (and partly historical). The three main complications:

    1. Y and I:

    býti (to be) and bíti (to beat) are pronounced the same way
    similarly: chlapci byli (masc.), dívky byly (fem.)
    psi (nom.) and psy (accus.)
    etc.

    2. the regressive assimilation of voiceness:

    vchod (entrance) is pronounced /fchot/

    prefix s- and z- are both pronouced /s/ or /z/:

    /zb/: sbírati, zbaliti
    /sp/: spadati, zpívati

    3. the clusters of consonants:

    for example: t + s is pronounced like the affricate /ts/, the same for c

    so dětský (dět + ský) is pronouced like vědecký (vědec + ský)

    In fact the Czech orthography is a nightmare for the Czech children.
     

    phosphore

    Senior Member
    Serbian
    Yes. And then there's a question of stress. In Polish it generally falls on the next to the last syllable (not always), in BSC on the second or third (as the wiki link has just elaborated:).

    This is a little off topic, but I must say there is no such rule in Serbian. There are four accents in the standard language (short falling, short rising, long falling, long rising) and, in addition, unaccented sylables can be both long and short, and there is no rule where the accent may occur in polysyllabic words, there is only a rule where it cannot.

    But for consonants, the Serbian orthography pretty much matches the pronunciation.
     

    boriszcat

    Senior Member
    English - US and Dude - a California dialect
    Slovak is indeed extremely phonetic once you know the diacritical letters. The only real hurdle for English speakers is realizing that letters like R, N and L can be pronounced almost like a vowel (e.g., zmrzlina). The stress is always on the first syllable of every word and the grammar is really very consistent, even more so than Czech. I found Slovak very easy to learn. I still don't understand why Slovaks always tell me Slovak is such a hard language to learn and then proceed to ask me when to use a "y" ending and when to use an "i".
     
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    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Slovak is indeed extremely phonetic once you know the diacritical letters. The only real hurdle for English speakers is realizing that letters like R, N and L can be pronounced almost like a vowel (e.g., zmrzlina). The stress is always on the first syllable of every word and the grammar is really very consistent, even more so than Czech. I found Slovak very easy to learn. I still don't understand why Slovaks always tell me Slovak is such a hard language to learn and then proceed to ask me when to use a "y" ending and when to use an "i".
    I've dabbled in Slovak and found it to be a bit easier than Czech or Polish. It's much more regular.

    I'm not sure which Slavic language is closest to Russian. Apart from Ukrainian, Bulgarian may be vocabulary-wise. Grammar-wise, I think Ukrainian is closest (I could be wrong).
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    I'm not sure which Slavic language is closest to Russian. Apart from Ukrainian, Bulgarian may be vocabulary-wise. Grammar-wise, I think Ukrainian is closest (I could be wrong).
    Belarusian and Ukrainian are are both very close to Russian, so close in fact that personally I consider them to be the 3 dialects of 1 language(especcially if you take the Eastern Ukrainian dialects, which I hear aren't so.. err, rich with polonisms). If you take standard Ukrainian, then Belarusian is much closer. Between the 3 of them Russian is definitely the least phonetic one for most Russians because of the vowel reduction.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I'm not sure if I should have opened a new thread but my question fits into the Czech/Slovak versus Polish theme and it seemed the best one to continue.

    I had always assumed that Czech and Polish were to some extent mutually intelligible as they come both from the Western Slavic branch. So I thought that when they get together they can generally understand one another, perhaps making some kind of adjustments when necessary. So I was taken aback when I saw on a Polish series that the people switched to English when they went to Prague and everyone thought this was normal behavior. Then I thought it was artificial and just done in this series for some unknown reason. So what do you think? Czechs/Slovaks and Polish can get by speaking in their respective languages to one another or would they really really speak English together? Thanks so much for advising.
     

    robin74

    Senior Member
    I was taken aback when I saw on a Polish series that the people switched to English when they went to Prague and everyone thought this was normal behavior. Then I thought it was artificial and just done in this series for some unknown reason. So what do you think?
    Vast majority of the Poles I know would opt for English when speaking to Czech speakers. Personally I have literally a single friend who insists on using Polish/Czech rather than switching to English.
     
    I realize that I can't change this world, but as a hopeless attempt to make it somewhat better: a language can't be more or less phonetic, it's just wrong wording among English speakers, like saying that a person is more or less anatomical. It is the orthography that can be characterized in terms of degree of phoneticity, not the language :idea::idea::idea::idea::idea::idea:
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    I'm not sure if I should have opened a new thread but my question fits into the Czech/Slovak versus Polish theme and it seemed the best one to continue.

    I had always assumed that Czech and Polish were to some extent mutually intelligible as they come both from the Western Slavic branch. So I thought that when they get together they can generally understand one another, perhaps making some kind of adjustments when necessary. So I was taken aback when I saw on a Polish series that the people switched to English when they went to Prague and everyone thought this was normal behavior. Then I thought it was artificial and just done in this series for some unknown reason. So what do you think? Czechs/Slovaks and Polish can get by speaking in their respective languages to one another or would they really really speak English together? Thanks so much for advising.
    There is a degree of mutual intelligibility between Polish and Czech, indeed. With Slovak it's even higher because in the Czech language there are tonnes of German loanwords. There are a lot of similar words, pronunciation is shifted in a quite regular and systematic way, the grammars are very similar, etc. However....
    • It's easier if you live in the south of Poland, because the local dialects are closer to the respective languages than the standard Polish is (and they are even closer to the local dialects of respective languages)
    • The intelligibility is highest for the common, basic daily matters - like food, drinks, basic questions (where, when), accommodation, etc. The more advanced the topic, the lesser the intelligibility. For example, the vocabulary used in a formal or educated register in Polish typically comes from Latin or French, while in the Czech language - from German, as far as I can tell. Besides all the languages experienced a period of purification, ie. intentional replacing loanwords with the local words, often neologisms.
    • There is a huge amount of false friends, ie. the words which have common roots, sound similarly, but nowadays they have entirely different meanings. Sometimes it's just a fun fact (like swapped 'love' and 'grace'), sometimes it leads to misunderstandings (for example "jahoda" in Slovak is a strawberry, while a respective word "jagoda" in Polish is a blackberry), sometimes it's just funny (I still recall my Slovak friend, who once told me 'taky maly pes a v košiku': I heard him saying 'so little dog and it's in a basket", while he meant that the dog was in a muzzle). Sometimes it's even rude - like the Polish word meaning "search" which for the Czech ears sounds like an f-word. There are dozens if not hundreds such cases, so a conversation can be like a walk on a mine field.
    • Mislead by superficial similarities many speakers attempt to mimic the other language pronunciation or vocabulary, which often actually decreases the intelligibility. In my generation - people who had grown up before 1989 - there was also a tendency to include russian or russian-like words - for the same reason (Russian had been taught in schools across all the countries, with moderate results, at the best), and with even worse effects.
    • Last but not least, the Czech - especially the Moravian dialect - sounds extremely funny for the unaccustomed Polish ear, and I've heard the same is true the other way round, albeit to the lesser degree. One of the reasons is probably a different stress pattern combined with the long vowels (often in syllables which in Polish would be accented), and quite regular pronunciation shifts. Combined, to our ear it sounds like a heavily distorted Polish, hence a comedic effect. I recall seeing an American comedy in a cinema in Slovakia, dubbed in the Czech language and with Slovak subtitles. We were laughing not less than the local audience, but in completely different moments. But in a regular conversation, it's a serious obstacle - especially in business.
    So it is possible indeed to have a bi-lingual conversations, and I practised it dozens times. However, it requires a lot of attention and effort and may lead to misunderstandings or even to unwillingly insulting people. Consequently, switching to a common foreign language sounds like a good solution.

    EDIT: There's one more aspect... during a conversation of a native speaker and an L2 speaker, even on an intermediate level, it's easy to fall back to a colloquial speech with its relaxed syntax, slang expressions etc., and forget that it may not be comprehensible for the other party. Often it's simply more convenient to switch to another language, which is L2 for both sides, than to struggle with this asymmetry. I think that this also applies to situations when one side is a native speaker, while the other - relies entirely on MI.
     
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    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    I realize that I can't change this world, but as a hopeless attempt to make it somewhat better: a language can't be more or less phonetic, it's just wrong wording among English speakers, like saying that a person is more or less anatomical. It is the orthography that can be characterized in terms of degree of phoneticity, not the language :idea::idea::idea::idea::idea::idea:
    Thank you for this. People saying "oh, X language is phonetic" is one of my greatest pet peeves. Now I'm gonna have a great comeback whenever I hear this :)
     

    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Thank you for this. People saying "oh, X language is phonetic" is one of my greatest pet peeves. Now I'm gonna have a great comeback whenever I hear this :)
    Unfortunately some dictionaries have begun reporting the 'wrong' definition. For example, the Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner's Dictionary (2nd ed) says:
    phonetic
    2 A spelling system can be described as phonetic if you can understand how words are pronounced simply by looking at their spelling.

    At least it has't gone as far as to say that a language can be phonetic.
     

    Chrzaszcz Saproksyliczny

    Senior Member
    Polish - Poland
    phonetic language = words are spelled as they are pronounced
    I thought everyone says that of their mother tongue.
    Seriously, though, Latin alphabet was not designed for Slavic languages, so it's had always trouble with transcribing our rustling consonants, nasals and other funny things.
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    Thank you for saying this! There’s something about seeing written Czech, Slovak, Polish, Slovene, and Croatian that has always bothered me: it just doesn’t look right. :oops:
    There’s really no problem for Slovene I think. We don’t have nasals, and also no hard/soft consonant difference. Latin is completely fine and we only have 3 extra characters č š ž.
     
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