Transcription systems
used in Polish
phonetic and phonology

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Warning: if you see boxes instead of the symbols: f́, ȯ, ȵ, ɛ, t͇, y̨, ɨ̃, ʦ̑, please acquaint yourself with the content of this page. In order to see all symbols used here, you must have had installed Code2000, Code2001, Code2002 or TITUS Cyberbit Basic fonts. Other Unicode fonts, including Arial Unicode and Lucida Sans Unicode, don’t contain all necessary glyphs.

The international transcription system IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) has been created on the basis of phonetics and phonology of West-European languages, and it is not adapted satisfactorily to Polish. For example, the IPA transcription doesn’t contain separate signs for affricates which are treated as groups put together from two consonants, on no evidence. The Polish language, like other Slavic languages, distinguishes e.g. the cluster [ts] from the affricate [ʦ]. As you can see, the difference in spelling is minimal, which can lead to misunderstandings. Using the writing with the arch [ʦ̑] instead of the composite sign [ʦ] precludes such misunderstandings but it is inconvenient for publishing again. Moreover both users of Slavic languages and Slavists have consciousness that affricates are single sounds rather than combinations of sounds as the IPA suggests. In regard to the Polish language, it has been an additional issue until recently (and it is still in practice) that IPA does not contain symbols for some sounds existing in the Polish phonetics, which is discussed below.

From the consideration discussed above, a special transcriptional system, called the Slavistic alphabet, is used in Slavistics most frequently. A somewhat modified version of it is also applied on later pages of this website.

In the following table both systems are set together. The applying of some symbols is explained with detailed remarks. The abbreviation AS means alfabet slawistyczny (the Slavistic alphabet).

In both systems of the transcription, writing in slash brackets /t/ means phonological transcription while writing in square brackets [t] – phonetic transcription.

System Example Spelling Remarks
AS IPA AS IPA
PHONEMES
Oral vowels
a a /mama/ /mama/ mama The symbol /a/ in AS means a low central vowel. IPA doesn’t contain a symbol for such a vowel, the symbol /a/ for the front vowel is applied instead.
e ɛ /eva/ /ɛva/ Ewa The symbols /e/, /o/ are simpler; compound [ė], [ȯ] (i.e. IPA [e], [o]) mean their positional variants (allophones).
o ɔ /rok/ /rɔk/ rok
i i /liǯba/ /liʤ̑ba/ liczba  
y ɨ /by/ /bɨʨ̑/ by The symbol /y/ is consistent with spelling.
u u /muχa/ /muxa/ mucha  
Nasal vowels
ã /sa/ /ʃãsa/ szansa So called nasal vowels are nasal diphthongs in the Polish language in fact, however in older works you can meet symbols given here. See also remark 1. In AS the symbols /ã ẽ ĩ/ are also in use.
ɛ̃ /msḱi/ /mɛ̃sci/ mski
ǫ ɔ̃ /vǫsḱi/ /vɔ̃sci/ wski
į ĩ /įstyŋkt/ /ĩstɨŋkt/ instynkt
ɨ̃ /ry̨tok/ /rɨ̃ʃtɔk/ rynsztok
ų ũ /kųt/ /kũʃt/ kunszt
Semivowels
j /moi̯e/ /mɔjɛ/ moje See remark 2.
w /u̯oŋka/ /wɔŋka/ ka See remarks 2 and 3.
Sonorants
ɫ /oŋka/ /ɫɔŋka/ ka Dental sonorant. See remark 3.
l l /lala/ /lala/ lala Alveolar sonorant.
r r /rura/ /rura/ rura See remark 4.
m m /mama/ /mama/ mama  
/ḿeek/ /mʲɛʃɛk/ mieszek See remark 5.
n n /noga/ /nɔga/ noga  
ȵ /ko/ /kɔȵ/ ko Also IPA /ɲ/, see remark 6.
ŋ ŋ /peŋka/ /pɛŋkaʨ̑/ pka  
Proper consonants
p p /paka/ /paʧ̑ka/ paczka  
b b /bai̯ka/ /bajka/ bajka
f f /fai̯ka/ /fajka/ fajka
v v /voda/ /vɔda/ woda
/ṕesek/ /pʲɛsɛk/ piesek See remark 5.
/b́au̯y/ /bʲawɨ/ biay
/traf́a/ /trafʲa/ trafia
/v́eʒ́e/ /vʲɛʥ̑ɛʨ̑/ wiedzie
t t /tata/ /tata/ tata See remark 7.
d d /rudy/ /rudɨ/ rudy
c ʦ̑ /ulica/ /uliʦ̑a/ ulica
ʒ ʣ̑ /ʒvon/ /ʣ̑vɔn/ dzwon
s s /ser/ /sɛr/ ser
z z /zupa/ /zupa/ zupa
ʧ̑ /arny/ /ʧ̑arnɨ/ czarny See remark 8.
ǯ ʤ̑ /ǯem/ /ʤ̑ɛm/ dem
ʃ /kou̯a/ /ʃkɔwa/ szkoa
ʒ /ye/ /ʒɨʨ̑ɛ/ ycie
ʨ̑ /astko/ /ʨ̑astkɔ/ ciastko  
ʒ́ ʥ̑ /ʒ́ivny/ /ʥ̑ivnɨ/ dziwny
ɕ /iny/ /ɕinɨ/ siny
ʑ /arno/ /ʑarnɔ/ ziarno
c /ḱedy/ /cɛdɨ/ kiedy See remark 9.
ǵ ɟ /ǵo/ /ɟɔȵʨ̑/ gi
χ́ /χ́iǵena/ /iɟɛna/ higiena See remarks 3 and 9.
γ́ ʝ /γ́iǵena/ /ʝiɟɛna/ higiena
k k /kot/ /kɔt/ kot  
g g /gazeta/ /gazɛta/ gazeta
χ x /χak/ /xak/ hak See remark 3.
γ γ /γak/ /γak/ hak
h ɦ /hak/ /ɦak/ hak
ɦʲ /h́iǵena/ /ɦʲiɟɛna/ higiena
ALLOPHONES
æ [i̯i̯ko] [jæjkɔ] jajko Alophones of the phonemes /a e o u/ between soft consonants.
ė e [ʒ́ė] [ʥ̑eɲ] dzie
ȯ o [ȯa] [ʨ̑oʨ̑a] ciocia
ʉ [jo] [jʉʑɔ] Jzio
u̯̦ [umysu̯̦] [umɨsw̥] umys Voiceless allophone of /u̯/.
̦ ɫ̥ [umyș] [umɨsɫ̥] umys Voiceless allophone of //.
[myl̦] [mɨɕl̥] myl Voiceless allophone of /l/.
l′ ʎ [l′ista] [ʎista] lista Allophone of /l/, see remark 6.
[v́atr̦] [vʲatr̥] wiatr Voiceless allophone of /r/.
r′ [baler′ina] [balɛrʲina] balerina Allophone of /r/.
[ṕism̦] [pʲism̥] pism Voiceless allophone of /m/.
[ḿiek] [mʲiɕɛk] misiek See remark 5.
[ṕosn̦ka] [pʲɔsn̥ka] piosnka Voiceless allophone of /n/.
[soṇek] [sɔn͇ʧ̑ɛk] sczek See remark 7.
̦ ȵ̥ [ṕe̦] [pʲɛɕȵ̥] pie Also IPA [ɲ̊]. Allophone of //.
į̯ [paį̯sḱi] [paj̃sci] paski Allophone of //. AS also [ĩ̯].
ŋ́ ŋʲ [veŋ́ǵel] [vɛŋʲɟɛl] wgiel Allophone of /ŋ/ before /ḱ ǵ/.
ų̯ [voų̯sḱi] [vɔw̃sci] wski Also AS [ũ̯], IPA [ɰ̃]. See rem. 1.
[ṕi] [pʲiʨ̑] pi See remark 5.
[b́i] [bʲiʨ̑] bi
[traf́i] [trafʲiʨ̑] trafi
[v́i] [vʲiʨ̑] wi
[ṭy] [t͇ʃɨ] trzy See remark 7.
[ḍevo] [d͇ʒɛvɔ] drzewo
t′ [t′ik] [tʲik] tik See remark 10.
d′ [d′iva] [dʲiva] diwa
c′ ʦ̑ʲ [c′ito] [ʦ̑ʲitɔ] cito
ʒ′ ʣ̑ʲ [goʒ′illa] [gɔʣ̑ʲilla] Godzilla
s′ [s′inus] [sʲinus] sinus
z′ [z′in] [zʲin] zin
ʧ̑ʲ [′ipsy] [ʧ̑ʲipsɨ] chipsy
ǯ′ ʤ̑ʲ [ǯ′ių̯sy] [ʤ̑ʲiw̃sɨ] dinsy
ʃʲ [′in] [ʃʲin] szin
ʒʲ [re′im] [rɛʒʲim] reim
h [druh̦] [druh] druh See remark 3.

Remarks

1. In newer works the following symbols are in use: AS /aŋ eŋ oŋ iŋ yŋ uŋ/, IPA /aŋ ɛŋ ɔŋ iŋ ɨŋ uŋ/. The consonant /ŋ/ occurs here in the form of the allophone written as [w̃] or [ɰ̃].

2. Instead of the symbols /i̯ u̯/ used by Slavists as a rule, the simpler IPA symbols /j w/ are in use on this website.

3. A small number of Poles still pronounces the velarized dental // instead of /w/ (/u̯/), in the place of the letter . In these persons’ speech the phoneme /w/ occurs in such words like auto /awto/, weekend /wikent/. However the majority of Poles pronounces one phoneme /w/ in the place of both /w/ and //.

Similarly, a number of Poles pronounces the letter h (in spelling) as the laryngeal voiced consonant /ɦ/. This is so called borderland pronunciation. The conviction that it is the velar voiced /γ/ is incorrect or refers to some users of the Polish language only. However, in pronunciation of the majority of Poles /ɦ/ and /x/ (ch in spelling) are pronounced identically as /x/.

Usually in the Slavistic alphabet the sign /χ/is used for marking the voiceless velar spirant, but some authors use /x/ like in IPA (and such a convention is also accepted on this website). According to literature, its voiced equivalent /γ/ is supposed to have the status of the phoneme in the borderland pronunciation. For the majority of Poles [γ] is an allophone of the phoneme /x/ which occurs before a voiced consonant, e.g. in the word klechda [kleγda].

As mentioned above, the persons with the borderland pronunciation probably use the laryngeal /ɦ/ rather than velar /γ/. In such a pronunciation also [γ] probably occurs as an allophone of the phoneme /x/ (in the word klechda), as well as [h] as the allophone of the phoneme /ɦ/ before a voiceless and in the absolute final position (e.g. in the word Boh [boh]). In general, in the Slavistic alphabet the symbol /h/ is applied for marking the voiced laryngeal /h/, however the IPA symbol /ɦ/ is used sometimes (also on this website).

According to literature, the phoneme /γ́/ is supposed to occur in the borderland pronunciation, e.g. in the words higiena or hieroglif. In fact, this phoneme may be the palatalized laryngeal /ɦ′/.

The phoneme /x́/ (also /γ́/ or /ɦ′/ in the borderland pronunciation) has an uncertain status. The sound [x́] occurs before /i/ or /j/, e.g. chimera [x́imera], anarchia [anarx́ja], historia [x́istorja], hiena [x́jena]. But, there exist words in which [j] can be reduced, e.g. psychiatra [psyx́atra], hieroglif [x́eroglif], and thanks to this [x́] obtains the status of the phoneme.

4. In the Polish language apart from positional variants also optional variants exist. The uvular [ʀ] is an optional variant of the alveolar phoneme /r/. It means some persons pronounce [ʀ] instead of [r] and this does not disturb the language communication (even if such a pronunciation is considered incorrect and therefore is not taken into consideration in the table).

5. There exist 2 interpretations of soft labial consonants. According to 1st interpretation these are separate phonemes, according to the other one they are only allophones of suitable hard consonants which occur before /i/, whereas a sequence of two phonemes corresponds to them in another environment. The best idea is to illustrate this with some examples:

Spelling The first interpretation The second interpretation
Transcription Transcription
Phonological Phonetic Phonological Phonetic
AS IPA AS IPA AS IPA AS IPA
mieszek /ḿeek/ /mʲɛʃɛk/ [ḿeek] [mʲɛʃɛk] /meek/ /mʲɛʃɛk/ [ḿeek] [mʲɛʃɛk]
piesek /ṕesek/ /pʲɛsɛk/ [ṕesek] [pʲɛsɛk] /pesek/ /pʲɛsɛk/ [ṕesek] [pʲɛsɛk]
biay /b́au̯y/ /bʲawɨ/ [b́au̯y] [bʲawɨ] /bau̯y/ /bʲawɨ/ [b́au̯y] [bʲawɨ]
trafia /traf́a/ /trafʲa/ [traf́a] [trafʲa] /trafa/ /trafʲa/ [traf́a] [trafʲa]
wiedzie /v́eʒ́e/ /vʲɛʥ̑ɛʨ̑/ [v́eʒ́e] [vʲɛʥ̑ɛʨ̑] /veʒ́e/ /vʲɛʥ̑ɛʨ̑/ [v́eʒ́e] [vʲɛʥ̑ɛʨ̑]
misiek /ḿiek/ /mʲiɕɛk/ [ḿiek] [mʲiɕɛk] /miek/ /miɕɛk/ [ḿiek] [mʲiɕɛk]
pi /ṕi/ /pʲiʨ̑/ [ṕi] [pʲiʨ̑] /pi/ /piʨ̑/ [ṕi] [pʲiʨ̑]
bi /b́i/ /bʲiʨ̑/ [b́i] [bʲiʨ̑] /bi/ /biʨ̑/ [b́i] [bʲiʨ̑]
trafi /traf́i/ /trafʲiʨ/ [traf́i] [trafʲiʨ] /trafi/ /trafiʨ/ [traf́i] [trafʲiʨ]
wi /v́i/ /vʲiʨ̑/ [v́i] [vʲiʨ̑] /vi/ /viʨ̑/ [v́i] [vʲiʨ̑]

As you can see from the table, the IPA transcription cannot mark the difference between e.g. the phoneme /ḿ/ (1st interpretation), and the sequence of phonemes /m/ (2nd interpretation).

On this website the writings of the type /m′eek/ is in use. It is a simplified version of the spelling /meek/.

6. The palatalized allophone [] of the phoneme /l/ and the phoneme // differ from the standard palatal sounds marked in IPA with [ʎ] and /ɲ/. Which is more, // has the same place of the articulation as / ʒ́ /, i.e. it is an alveolar-palatal consonant. For the nasal alveolar-palatal sonorant, the newest Unicode version offers the sign /ȵ/ (code 565 or U+0235), applied e.g. for description of Chinese dialects for a long time.

The allophone [l′], which should be marked with [lʲ] in IPA transcription, occurs before /i/. It is usually assumed to occur before /j/ (/i̯/) as well, but it does not seem to be true. Occurring of this sound on the border of morphemes or words is even more questionable.

7. The basic variations of Polish /t d c ʒ s z n/ have rather dental than alveolar articulation. On the second hand, the standard set of IPA symbols, leaned on English patterns and international only from its name, comprises alveolar sounds /t d ʦ̑ ʣ̑ s z n/. However, Polish alveolar sounds are merely a special case of phonemes which are dental in principle. In the Slavistic alphabet, symbols of alveolar allophones, which occur only in a special phonetic environment, are combined of the basic symbol of the phoneme and the diacritic in the form of the dot under the letter, meaning the alveolar articulation. IPA didn’t contain a sign for alveolar articulation originally. Only later a symbol for alveolar articulation was introduced, in the form of the equals sign (of two horizontal lines) under the sign of the phoneme (the sign has the code U+0347 which means 839).

The alveolar allophones [ṭ ḍ] are most often replaced by the affricates [ ǯ], e.g. trzeba [ṭeba eba].

8. The Polish alveolar consonants / ǯ / are so considerably different from English postalveolar (palatoalveolar) sounds marked /ʧ̑ ʤ̑ ʃ ʒ/ in IPA that even IPA creators prefer using the nonstandard markings /ʦ̣̑ ʣ̣̑ ṣ ẓ/ (see here) for the Polish consonants. Others use the symbols /t͡ d͡ / even if they use IPA basically.

9. A palatal consonant in the Polish language is /j/. Articulation of the consonants /ḱ ǵ χ́ γ́/ should be determined as prevelar. Therefore using IPA symbols /c ɟ ʝ/ in order to mark them is confusing, /k̟ g̟ x̟ γ̟/ should be used instead. 10. The softened allophones [t′ d′ c′ ʒ′ s′ z′ ′ ǯ′ ′ ′ r′] occur in words of foreign origin before /i/. They are usually assumed to occur before /j/ (/i̯/) but it does not seem to be true. Occurring of these sounds on the border of morphemes or words is even more questionable. Good examples of [ʒ′] are absent, the word Godzilla is pronounced [goʒ́illa] more frequently.


Continuation: symbols


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2008-02-21