Monday, July 27, 2009

How Would Chopin Say It?

The most important thing about Polish pronunciation is that there is no hope of ever doing it right -- if you're not Polish. The Polish language was developed with but one objective in mind: for the Polish to correct non-Polish people who are trying to pronounce it.

Take something as simple as those wonderful cabbage rolls they always make in the church basement. Here in America, they call them "pigs in a blanket", probably based on their appearance, because they don't usually contain pork. A meat-loaf-y mixture of hamburger, spices, onions and rice is rolled up into a cabbage leaf, and the whole thing simmered or baked in tomato sauce. Nothing compares. Dare you to have one and not ask for another!

If the Germans would make a dish like cabbage rolls they would find a straightforward way of describing it, so they know what's for supper, or Abendessen, as they call it - the Germans have a practical way of hitching words together until the meaning is clear. They'd come up with something like "cabbage" = kohl, und "roll" = roll, so cabbage roll would be something on the order of "Kohlenrollen" or something equally melodic. What my Grandpa would say would be much more to the point. "EAT YOUR DINNER AND SHUT UP!" or, if it was something he really liked, he'd say "NOW, FRESS!" (feed). And we did.

But leave it to the Polish to argue about endlessly about how to say it until the food gets cold. They call it Golabki. But don't think from reading that word that you can talk about it with the Polish. Oh, no! They don't say "go LAB Key" or "Go LOPP key" Heavens no. It's pronounced "Ga WHUMP key", and if you don't say it right, they are willing to work with you until you get it right, and the Golabki is cold, and everybody else starting on dessert.

Their names are much worse. When they arrived to this great land on Ellis Island they were given perfectly good phonetic spellings for their names, by immigration clerks with infinite patience. But then, they must have changed the pronunciations just for the sake of being Polish, because they weren't used to words that you could sound out. "Zew" is now pronounced "SHEF". "sie" is sometimes spelled "zie" and it is pronounced SHAY.

If a Polish American were ever on "Wheel of Fortune" and Vanna asked if they wanted to buy a vowel, they'd say "Naw, what for?"

The Poles have an inborn LOVE of correcting people's pronunciation. "No, not WIZH-wah-TAY, it's WIZH-wah-TSEE!" -- and the word you're trying to pronounce is spelled C-G-Z-Y-X-P-R-Z.

I've worked with the Poles, and around them for almost ten years, now, and survived. I love them, actually, and adore their cooking. They have in turn accepted me as "pretty good for a German, but he must be a little hard of hearing."

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

1 comment:

Lydia said...

That's why I studied Russian!! :)