Trips Off the Tongue: Pronunciation and Spelling

Q: Is there any actual difference in pronunciation between sounds spelt in two different ways, i.e. ó and u, rz and ż, ch and h? I heard a Polish course colleague say that if you make an effort, you can hear them out, is it true?

A: According to Polish language experts there are currently no differences in pronunciation, however, in some cases there used to be. Contemporary double spellings are an outcome of historical changes in the Polish language that took place in early Mediaeval times. Language reconstructions indicate that rz comes from ř (a softened r, sounding as “ree”), whereas ó used to sound like the German ö, and was marked in spelling as Ø, yet now both sound exactly the same. The same is valid for h and ch. The only recommendable method of learning not to fall into spelling traps would be to learn spelling mechanisms, as hearing the spelling out loud is rather impossible.

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