S and sz in Polish and Hungarian

It is easy to be confused by the opposing spelling conventions used in Polish and Hungarian for the sounds /s/ and /ʃ/:

  • Polish uses the symbol <s> for the sound /s/ and the digraph (letter sequence) <sz> for the sound /ʃ/.
  • conversely, Hungarian uses the digraph <sz> for the sound /s/ and the symbol <s> for the sound /ʃ/.

/ʃ/ is the first consonant in English ship /ʃip/. English spelling often uses the digraph <sh> for this sound, but sometimes uses other letters or sequences of letters for it.

Here are examples in these two languages of words each containing one of these two sounds.

/sɛr/ ( ‘cheese’)
/ʃarɨ/ (‘grey’)
/soː/ (‘word’)
/ʃok/ (‘much, a lot’)

Another sibilant in Polish

/s/ and /ʃ/ are both sibilants. Polish also has another sibilant pronounced /ʂ/ and written <ś> (except before <i>, when it is written <s>). I will write more about Polish sibilants in a future post.

An Italian spelling convention

As I have written before, the Italian word bruschetta contains the digraph <ch> to show that it is pronounced /bruskɛtə/. But many people in the UK now pronounce it /bruʃɛtə/, reflecting English (or perhaps German) spelling conventions, not Italian spelling conventions. Romance languages: pronouncing C and G – Language Miscellany

The Italian convention:

  • writes the sequence /sk/ as <sch> before the font vowels /i/ and /e/, but as just <sc> before other vowels. Examples: bruschetta (/bruskɛtə/); scacco (/skakko/, ‘chess piece’).
  • writes the sibilant /ʃ/ as <sc> before /i/ and /e/, but as <sci> before other vowels. Examples: scegliere (/ʃeʎʎere/, ‘to choose’); sciacquare (/ʃakkware/, ‘to rinse’)

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