Return PolishForums LIVE
  PolishForums Archive :
Archives - 2005-2009 / Language  % width 19


Polonius3 1,000 | 12,448  
21 Dec 2008 /  #1
Many English speakers cannot hear the differences between the harder szcz and the softer (palatalised) ść. In the English of many Americans (esp. midwesterners) the ś and ć sound close or even identical to teh sh in ship or ch in chap. On the US east coast and in British English those words are often pronounced to sound closer to Polish sz and cz respectively.

Anyone know a sure-fire way to explain the difference between szcz and ść?
Polson 5 | 1,771  
21 Dec 2008 /  #2
Cz → like in 'China', can be transcribed [czajna]
Ć → like in 'chill', can be transcribed [ćyl]

Now, Sz → like in 'shark', can be transcribed [sza(r)k]
And, Ś → like 'attention', can be transcribed [-śyn]

What do you think? ^^
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,448  
21 Dec 2008 /  #3
Of course, regional and indivudal pronunciation varies, but in the main I have found that many (most?) midwestern Americans would say something very close to ciajna (China) and ciek (cheque), whilst Brits' pronunciation would be closer to czajna and czek.

Within a single group (Yank or Brit) it is still very difficult to illustrate the ś/sz and ć/cz difference, esp. since msot of them cannot really hear the difference.
Polson 5 | 1,771  
21 Dec 2008 /  #4
Well, there are also differences of pronunciation in Poland, depending on the regions.
Bondi 4 | 142  
5 Jan 2009 /  #5
I don't think anyone can hear any real difference between a soft and a hard consonant other than natives in a Slavonic language...

See also the problem in English with "a" and "e" (i.e. the classic example of "my dad's dad" vs "my dad's dead").

But the thing is that with an effort, you can always learn the correct pronounciation. And as your vocabulary grows, you will automatically recognize more and more words and "hear" the correct sounds.

Cz → like in 'China', can be transcribed [czajna]
Ć → like in 'chill', can be transcribed [ćyl]
Now, Sz → like in 'shark', can be transcribed [sza(r)k]
And, Ś → like 'attention', can be transcribed [-śyn]

What do you think? ^^

In my case, they are China [czajna], chill [czil], shark [sza(r)k] and attention [-sz(ö)n]... Well, a Polish speaker may occasionally judge them as "ś", "ć" etc., but they are quite accidental as there is no such distinction in my language. And there's no such soft/hard distinction in English, either, so that transcription above is quite pointless.
Softsong 5 | 495  
5 Jan 2009 /  #6
Polson, with the examples "China" vs. "Chill" the "CH" sounds do sound the same to me, except that with the "CH" in "China" there is a long sounding vowel after the initial "CH". But with the "CH" in "Chill" there is a short sounding vowel after the intital "CH."

I have not practiced any Polish sounds in a long time, but remember that it is important where you place your tongue.

When saying "China" I noticed that I put my tongue more forward to achieve the long sound. And with "Chill" I put my tongue further back. Is this the difference?

Same thing applies to your other example. "Shark" vs. the end in "Attention". Is this what you mean?
cjjc 29 | 408  
5 Jan 2009 /  #7
Wow! How random! I was just (and I swear in all honesty!) going to start a thread about this same thing! Great! :D

So am I safe in thinking that Cz has a shorter sound than Ć and the same with Sz and Ś?

In music music there is a thing called ADSR with regard to the "shape" of a sound...


How quickly the sound reaches full volume after the sound is activated (the key is pressed). For most mechanical instruments, this period is virtually instantaneous. However, for some popular synthesized voices that don't mimic real instruments, this parameter is slowed down. Slow attack is commonly part of sounds called pads.

[edit] Decay

How quickly the sound drops to the sustain level after the initial peak.

[edit] Sustain

The "constant" volume that the sound takes after decay until the note is released. Note that this parameter specifies a volume level rather than a time period.

[edit] Release

How quickly the sound fades when a note ends (the key is released). Often, this time is very short. An example where the release is longer might be a percussion instrument like a glockenspiel, or a piano with the sustain pedal pressed.

Bearing this in mind I would then think that as I said above Cz and Sz have a shorter decay and release than Ć and Ś.

I'm sorry to drag music into this but it seems the way to go on a text based site.

I'd love to hear pgtx's and Krzysztof's opinions on this one...


5 Jan 2009 /  #8
Cz and Sz have a shorter decay and release than Ć and Ś.

actually Ś and Ć are shorter then SZ and CZ
cjjc 29 | 408  
5 Jan 2009 /  #9
Thats why I became a gold member :)

Thanks :)
Eurola 4 | 1,906  
5 Jan 2009 /  #10
Thats why I became a gold member :)

Really? I thought it was the money. ;)
Davey 13 | 388  
12 Jan 2009 /  #11
I honestly cannot hear the difference but I can pronounce the difference
This was something I learned when I went to Poland I noticed the soft sounds ć, ś, and ź were pronounced with the front teeth together, while cz, sz, and ż are pronounced as English ch, sh, and zh.
CZERESNIA 1 | 16  
18 Jan 2009 /  #12
I noticed the soft sounds ć, ś, and ź were pronounced with the front teeth together

So when you say cześć do you actually close your teeth at the end? Or is this a trick for foreigners?
Cardno85 31 | 976  
18 Jan 2009 /  #13
I never thought about it before. But after saying cześć 6 or 7 times to myself now, I have found that I do actually put my teeth together at the end without thinking about it.

How interesting.
osiol 55 | 3,922  
18 Jan 2009 /  #14
In English, sz and ś, cz and ć are homophones. I can't hear the difference. If I'm trying to write a word I've heard but don't know how to spell it, I have to use a mixture of intuition and guesswork. I can pronounce them differently, although often get muddled. I can, if need be, explain the difference (or some of it at least).
16 May 2009 /  #15
I bugged my Polish teacher about this a couple of times. She said that CZ, SZ and Ż are pronounced with a stiff semi-frowning rounded mouth, and Ć, Ś and - are pronounced with a nice wide smile. That said, I still have trouble differentiating the sounds in Polish, but at least I can tell how a word is spelt if I'm looking at the person saying it.

On a tangent, for a long time of learning Norwegian I was wondering what the difference was between the Norwegian I and Y. I haven't heard anybody confirm this, but after going to Norway and hearing people speak it in person, it occurred to me that the norsk Y is simply an I pronounced with an ultra stiff rounded frown.

Maybe that's useful for any Norwegians learning Polish. :D
czeslaw 2 | 9  
20 Jun 2009 /  #16
Maybe this sounds naive, but my impression was that ś and ć were more forward in the mouth, while sz and cz were deeper, further back. Same for ź vs. ż/rz. To my ear, Polish sz, cz, and rz are more similar to English sh, ch, and French j than are ś, ć, ź. However, I think sz, cz, rz have more "oomph" behind them -- that is, they are deeper, richer sounds than their English counterparts. The Polish ś, ć, ź, on the contrary, sound more "hissy." Although I'm not a native Polish speaker, I can hear this difference in the words siedem and osiem, for example, compared to sześć.

Can a native speaker confirm or refute this?

To help me make the distinction in pronunciation, at least between ć and cz, I think of ć as sort of analagous to Russian soft т, as in тепло (sorry to leave out those who don't know Russian). This seems logical, especially when you consider the masculine demonstrative adjectives 'ten' and 'ci' ('this' and 'these' in English). In Russian, these words are этот (sing.) and эти (pl.). In этот, the first т is hard, like the t in Polish 'ten'. In эти, the т becomes soft, because it's followed by и, and to my ear, it sounds rather like Polish 'ci'. Likewise, the Polish pronoun 'ty' becomes 'ciebie' in the dative, just like Russian ты (hard т) becomes тебе (soft т).

BTW, I believe Czech has a similar distinction. Compare 'ti' and 'ty' -- the vowel is pronounced the same, but the quality of the 't' is different.
roysterdoyster 2 | 7  
20 Jun 2009 /  #17
Thanks guys I will be even more self conscious when greeting my Polish friends in Szczecin. Ha Ha!
Now to work out how to pronounce Bydgoszcz and Szczecin differently.
Ziemowit 13 | 3,915  
20 Jun 2009 /  #18
Can a native speaker confirm or refute this?

What makes them sound differently (sz/ś ; cz/ć ; ż/ź) is the shape of the aperture in the mouth formed between the tongue and the palatum (not the longevity of the sound, as someone in the thread said; closing or not the teeth doesn't matter at all). To achieve this, the tongue changes its shape, with both tip and dorsal (middle) part of it being active at the same time. The difference may indeed sound somewhat unimportant to a stranger's ear (as I am now thinking about it), but it is nevertheless very clear to a native speaker (someone mispronouncing one sound for the other would sound extremely funny, except when she or he is a foreigner). To show the difference in its depths it would be best to have a formal description (which I may find in the book "Fonetyka języka polskiego" just as soon as I find the book itself) of the pronounciation of the sounds. A cross-section filming of the mouth while telling sz/ś would be of great advatage in explaining it as well.

Such short films showing visually the difference in the way English vowels are pronounced (a great problem not only for a Slavic learner) were produced by the BBC for their course of English "Slim John" broadcast on Polish TV. Though these films had proved extremely helpful for me, I occasionally did run into problems, mispronouncing, for example, "ration" for "Russian" (luckily enough, a certain Reverened S.J. of the United Scottish Reformed Church was then by my side to correct me), so I realize what difficulty the sz/ś pronounciation may pose to foreign learners of Polish.
Davey 13 | 388  
23 Jun 2009 /  #19
closing or not the teeth doesn't matter at all

It does help because it helps the blade of my tongue touch the alveolar ridge when pronouncing them. Sz and cz are postveolar while ś and ć are alveo-palatal

Archives - 2005-2009 / Language / SZCZ and ŚĆ HARD TO EXPLAINArchived