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Polish Language/Pronunciation of the name "Kasia"

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Question
Maciej,

My girlfriend uses the name Kasia, as endearment for Katarzyna. I was always pronouncing it "kasha", as she told me to. Now some Poles laugh at me saying that I call her "cereal" or "groats".
So how should I pronounce it.

Regards

Luis

Answer
Dear Luis,

This is a really hard point about the Polish pronunciation.

Polish has two sounds which for some practical reasons could be rendered as corresponding to English "sh". In fact, none of them is like English "sh", as English "sh" is pronounced half way between them.

We have a hard, postalveolar "sz" and we have a soft, palatal "ś".
The hard sound is pronounced more or less like the English "sh" if followed by a back vowel, say "o" or "a", like in shop, shut, should. It is very similar to German "sch".

The soft sound is pronounced more or less like the English "sh" if followed by a front vowel, say "ee" or "i", like in she, shield, sure. It's as if a very short "y" (of "yard") entered between the "sh" sound and the following vowel. It somehow resembles the German "ich-Laut", or Chinese "x", or Norwegian "kj".

The hard "sz" is in most cases written "sz", like in: mysz, szafa, sztorm, wszystko.
sometimes it is written as "rz" when this digraph follows one of the following: k, p, t, ch, like in krzyk, oprze, trzeba, chrzan.

The soft "ś" is written
- as ś (s with an acute sign), if it appears in the final position or before a consonant, like in: ktoś, śnieg, świetny,
- as si, if it appears before a vowel, like in: siano, siebie, Zosiu, siorbie,
- as s, if it appears before the vowel "i" (otherwise, it is the second situation, only the "i" is not written double), like in: sina, kosi, posiwiał.

So in "Kasia" (a girl's first name) we have the soft sound, and in "kasza" (cereal) we have the hard sound. We have many such pairs and for us distinguishing them is very easy, yet I believe it might be hard for an unaccustomed English speaking person.

Try pronouncing "Kasia" as if you were pronouncing the word "acacia", only without the initial "a".

All the best

MAciej

PS. To tell you more, we have a similar situation with two sounds resembling English "ch" (hard "cz" and soft "ć/ci"), English "j" (hard "dż" and soft "dź/dzi") and English "zh", or the "s" of "leisure" - or voiced counterpart of the "sh" (hard "ż" and "rz"; soft "ź/zi").  

Polish Language

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Maciej St. Zięba

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I am native Polish and from time to time I teach Polish to foreigners. I know (passively of actively) more than 15 other languages - so I can answer many questions concerning Polish grammar, pronounciation, spelling, etymology and usage - as compared to English, French, German, Russian, Dutch, Esperanto or Norwegian. Also questions concerning other Slavic languages, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, or general linguistics, especially scripts (writing systems and transcriptions) - are welcome.

Experience

Teaching English, French, and Esperanto to Poles, Polish to foreigners, teaching Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese, Classical Chinese and Tibetan. Tour Guide in English, French, Russian and German. Former President of the Regional Examination Committee for Tourist Guides (English and French)(1999-2005).

Organizations
Polish Oriental Society (since 1979); International Association of Buddhist Studies (since 1986); Klingon Language Institute (since 1986); Learned Society of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (since 1989); Polish Philosophical Association (since 1997); Universala Esperanto-Asocio (since 1978).

Publications
Books: "Origin of the World According to Rigveda" (Montreal 1996); "Our River Bug. Creating Conditions for Development of the Border Areas of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus through Enhancement and Preservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage" (Lublin 2008); "Migration - a Challenge to the 21st century" (Lublin 2008); "Migracja zarobkowa do Woch" (Job migration to Italy) (Lublin 2008); more than 100 articles in "Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii" (Universal Encyclopedia od Philosophy) vol. 1-10 (Lublin 2000-2009); many more in Polish, some of them available online, see: here and here (a list up to 2012.

Education/Credentials
Studying philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) 1976-81; PhD in Philosophy (1989). Having learned languages in Gdansk and Gdynia (Russian, Esperanto, Latin, English - International Bacalaureate), Lublin (KUL - French, German, Dutch, Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek; UMCS - Chinese, Japanese; elsewhere - Esperanto, Spanish, Italian), Paris (IIAP - French; INALCO - Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese; Sorbonne - Sanskrit), Asker (Norwegian, while working in a kindergarten!), Montreal (McGill - Chinese); Rome and Venice (Italian); Taichung, Taiwan (Chinese), Shimla, India (sanskrit). Self-taught: Slavic languages (other than Polish and Russian), Hungarian, Korean, Vietnamese, Klingon and several other.

Awards and Honors
2012 Golden Medal of Civil Service of Poland; 2012-13 Taiwan Fellowship - Tunghai University (Taichung)

Past/Present Clients
AllExperts users (since 12/03/2003); Wikipedia readers in many languages (since 2004); students learning languages (since 1979).

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