Polish Language

For specific information on Poland including maps, history, population and demographics within the USA, and general resources please link to the Poland page.

Speech and Language Information

**Most charts and graphs on this page have been modified from Wikipedia. For more information on the Polish language, including Polish orthography and phonology, please link to:

   Wikipedia-Polish Language; Wikipedia-Polish Phonology; Wikipedia-Polish Orthography

Dialectal Variations

Due primarily to universal education that began in the second half of the 20th century and internal migration westward within Poland during WWII, the Polish language is known to be one of the most homogenous languages spoken. “Standard Polish” does exhibit several slight dialectical variations; however, the majority of dialects reflect regional differences, much like regional dialects present within the United States. Great Polish, commonly spoken in the western part of the country, Lesser Polish spoken in the south and southeast regions, Mazovian in central and eastern Poland, and Silesian spoken in southwest Poland are the most common regional dialectical variations. It should be noted that many of the city dialects such as the Warsaw dialect, which was common after WWII, have been assimilated with standard Polish and have essentially disappeared except in very specific locations. The following is a list of some additional dialectical differences taken from Wikipedia. For a more complete list, please refer to Wikipedia-Polish Language.
    1.    Góralski dialect is also known as “highlander” dialectical variation
    2.    Those individuals living in Lithuania, Belarus, and the northeast of Poland typically speak a more musical dialect of Polish often referred to as eastern “Kresy”
    3.    Kashubian is closely related to Polish and was once considered a dialectical variation. However, Kashubian is now considered its own language due to significant differences between the two. Additionally, unless written the Kashubian language is not understood by individuals speaking standard Polish.


Polish orthography originated from the Latin alphabet unlike the majority of the other Slavic languages that developed out of the Czech Alphabet. The Polish language is primarily phonetic in pronunciation—every letter encountered is pronounced. The majority of letters have a one-to-one sound correspondence, including vowels.
Diacritics are used in Polish including kropka (dotaccent or dot above), kreska (similar to an acute stress, but written smaller), ogonek (Polish diminutive), and Kreska ukośna. The Kreska ukośna diacritic is produced by making a stroke across the letter. In Polish, the only letter that has this diacritic in written orthography is the [l]. This stroke across the [l] creates a sound similar to the [w] sound in English. It is depicted as Ł or ł.



The Polish language has six oral vowels and two nasal vowels. All vowels are monophthongs. Vowel diphthongs common in English (e.g. [OI] “oy” as in “boy”) do not exist in Polish. The following charts show the orthographic depiction for each of the vowels, as well as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol and general description of placement and lip rounding.

Note: In Polish, nasal vowels are never allowed in word initial position.

Polish vowels are often depicted on an inverted triangle, similar to the Vowel Quadrilateral commonly used when discussing English vowels. Polish has two front oral vowels (high: [i] and mid: [e]) and one front nasal vowel (mid: [E]), two central oral vowels (high: represented by an [i] with a slash through the middle and low: [a]), two back oral vowels (high: [u] and mid: “ah” represented with a backwards “c” in IPA), and one back nasal vowel (represented with a backwards “c” with nasalization in IPA). There are no mid-central vowels as in the English pronunciation of “er”, [^], or [ə]

Vowels in Polish are not typically placed on the same type/shape of chart as commonly used in English, but for the purposes of teaching, comparing, and contrasting a combined Polish-English vowel chart has proved helpful. In an effort to visually compare and contrast the differences between Polish and English vowels when working on Accent Reduction with clients, I created a modified IPA English Vowel chart which overlays the Polish IPA and English IPA Vowels onto the same chart.


It is important to note that unlike English, Polish vowel length is not phonemic. Explicit training in the application of vowel length rules (e.g., Tense vowels [i] “beet” and [u] “boot” will be longer than their respective lax counterparts [I] “bit” and [U] “book”) will be critical for working with clients, especially when working on accent reduction. Furthermore, it is crucial to explain vowel length variation rules (Sikorski, L. D. (1991) Mastering Effective English Communication: The Vowel System of American English. Santa Ana, CA: American ESL Publishers.)):

    1.    The vowel is held longer and said more precisely in a stressed syllable or word.
    2.    The vowel in the stressed syllable is held longer before a voiced consonant than before a voiceless consonant (e.g., grieve vs. grief; cab vs. cap)


There are several differences between English and Polish consonants as well as rules for pronunciation. Some of them have been listed below:
  • The phonemes /t/ and /d/ are produced dentally in Polish; this production may result in slight distortions, especially when combined with voicing and aspiration differences between English and Polish.
  • It is important to note that the Polish [r] is always trilled. The amount of trilling may differ with placement (e.g. initial, medial, final), but is always trilled. This may appear to distort the English [r].
  • The voiced and voiceless “th” interdental fricatives (/ð/ and /Ө/) as in “them” and “think” respectively do not exist in Polish.
  • Voice is phonemic in Polish as it is in English; however, it is important to note that in Polish, when a voiced consonant follows a voiceless sound, the voiced sound is commonly devoiced. This may result in distortions when English pronunciation is attempted.
  • Aspiration is not phonemic in Polish so words that are distinguished by aspiration (e.g., rules for the voiceless stops /p/, /t/, and /k/ are aspirated at the beginnings of words (tomato) and at the beginnings of word-internal stressed syllables (potato).  may also show signs of distortion. It may be important to teach rules related to aspiration and voicing explicitly:
    • Word-terminal voiceless plosives may be unreleased or accompanied by a glottal stop in some dialects— examples: tap [ tʰæp], sack [ sæk]. 
    • Word-terminal voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects— examples: sad [ sæd], bag [ bæɡ̊]. In other dialects they are fully voiced in final position, but only partially voiced in initial position
  • In Polish, when the same two consonants are written sequentially (e.g. “zza” meaning “from behind”), each letter is produced. For instance in the above example, zza would be produced by repeating each [z] as such “z-za” instead of as a prolonged continuant as in English. This phenomenon occurs with Polish words as well as words borrowed from other languages such as “lasso”. “Lasso” would be produced as “las-so” in Polish.
    • This difference in pronunciation rules needs to be explicitly addressed when working with individuals on accent reduction.


Complex Gender System

  • Masculine
    • Personal masculine
    • Animate masculine
    • Inanimate masculine
  • Feminine
  • Neutral

Each of these genders is further based upon adjective-noun agreement. Verbs are also inflected according to gender as well as person and number. Applying inflection is the process of changing the form of a word to give the word additional meaning. For instance, the sentence “I need an apple” uses the singular inflected morpheme where as “I need apples” uses the plural inflected morpheme.

Additional meanings may be used with:

  • Number 
  • Person 
  • Case 
  • Gender 
  • Tense 
  • Mood 
  • Aspect 
  • Politeness (as in the Japanese language)

The term Poglish may be encountered by clinicians. It refers to the combination of Polish and English (similar to “Spanglish”) and is the result of mixing Polish and English components of language such as morphemes, and grammatical structures from both languages.

Word Order

The common word order for Polish is Subject-Verb-Object. However, words can be easily rearranged without losing the initial meaning of the phrase or sentence. For instance the sentence “Today, we went to the grocery store to buy fruit” can be reordered to say something similar to “to buy fruit, today we went to the grocery store”, or “we went today to buy fruit the grocery store” without having an impact on the native listener’s comprehension of the sentence. Another example comes from Wikipedia describes how a sentence can be rearranged and maintain the same basic meaning:

  • “These sentences mean more or less the same (“Alice has a cat”), but different shades of meaning are emphasized by selecting different word orders. In increasing order of markedness:

    1.    Ala ma kota - Alice has a cat
    2.    Ala kota ma - Alice does have (own) a cat (and has not borrowed it)
    3.    Kota ma Ala - The/a cat is owned by Alice
    4.    Ma Ala kota - Alice really does have a cat
    5.    Kota Ala ma - It is just the cat that Alice really has
    6.    Ma kota Ala - The relationship of Alice to the cat is one of ownership (and not temporary possession)
    •    It is important to note that word order does not change when the sentence is changed into a question as it would in English. If a question mark is added to any of the above sentences, the sentence changes to mean, “Does Alice have a cat?” without modifying the sentence in any other manner.

Additionally, Polish is a pro-drop language, meaning that subjects are not necessary when the verb has been inflected. If objects and verbs are obvious based on the context of the phrase/sentence/conversation, they may also be dropped. Polish also does not place emphasis on using pronouns because the meaning is retained in the conjugation (similar to Spanish: “I speak” can be denoted by “yo hablo” or “hablo” alone), as they can be dropped in conversation much like the subject, object, and verbs mentioned above. Due to characteristics of being a pro-drop language and because of the gender rules used in Polish, native speakers may also have trouble using pronouns in English when speaking about animals or inanimate objects. Please see Polish Grammar for a greater understanding of the complex gender system used in Polish. Furthermore, it is important to note that the Polish language does not have or use articles. As a result, Polish speakers may fail to use articles when speaking English.

Word Stress

Word stress usually falls on the penultimate (second to last) syllable in Polish, but several exceptions to the rule do exist. The term “last but (#)” may be encountered when reading about placement of stress; it indicates the number of syllables removed from the end of the word. For instance, “last but two” refers to the penultimate or second-to-last syllable in the word, “last but three” would refer to the third-to-last syllable in the word.

Implications for the SLP

The Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) should take several speech and language characteristics into account when working with Polish speaking clients. The following is a list of areas that need to be considered during assessment, diagnosis, and treatment:

  • Articulation differences with Polish consonants including:
    • Aspiration differences
    • Voicing differences (e.g., final consonant devoicing)
    • Trilling of [r]
  • Polish grammar differences including:
    • Flexibility of word order in Polish
    • Pronoun and article usage differences (Polish word order)
    • Stress pattern differences (Polish word stress)

Wikipedia also has a summary of many grammatical and articulatory differences that may occur when working with Polish speaking individuals Non-Native Pronunciations of English


Original Contributor: Kate Kelso, 2007

References and Resources