A Polish tongue twister

November 23, 2021 • 9:45 am

In my perambulations across the Internet, I came upon a list of international tongue twisters, and looked up the Polish ones. I thought they’d be interesting because Polish, with its notable absence of vowels and presence of many cases, is a very hard language for English speakers to learn, much less pronounce.  I’ve been sending these tongue twisters to Malgorzata each morning and then Skyping her to hear her read them in Polish. And oy! are they hard!

I also discovered that Polish poets often write poems as tongue twisters, the way Anglophones write limericks—as a form of amusement.  So I will present the latest Polish tongue twister and you can try to pronounce it. You will fail.  It’s part of a poem by Czeskaw Jryszewski:

Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie,
W szczękach chrząszcza trzeszczy miąższ,
Czcza szczypawka czka w Szczecinie,
Chrząszcza szczudłem przechrzcił wąż,
Strząsa skrzydła z dżdżu,
A trzmiel w puszczy, tuż przy Pszczynie,
Straszny wszczyna szum…

If you heard it pronounced by a Polish person, it is indeed a tongue twister, and doesn’t sound all that much like the words above. So it goes.

Malgorzata also translated it into English:

A beetle sounds in reeds in Szczebrzeszyn [name of a town],
In the beetle’s jaws pulp is creaking,
A meaningless earwig is hiccuping in Szczecin [name of a town],
A snake bashed the beetle with a crutch,
It shakes rain off its wings,
And a bumblebee in the forest close to Pszczyna [name of a town],
Started horrendous noise.

14 thoughts on “A Polish tongue twister

    1. Actually, if one searches for “polish tongue twister” on YouTube, there are quite a few hits. Perhaps it is there already. Perhaps all we need is a Polish speaker to curate.

        1. There are different versions of this poem. Have yet to find a recording of Jerry’s full version. Need to stop looking and get on with the day, For your entertainment, some of the foreign players for the football club, Legia Warszawa take a shot at it:

  1. Polish (and other Slavic languages) look like a flock of consonants in search of their vowels.

    It helps to note that in a number of Slavic languages, the standalone phoneme /r/ is +syllabic, meaning that it can act as a vowel. There is a tongue twister in Czech (don’t ask me what it is; I ran across it a long time ago) that, to English speakers, appears to have no vowels because each word has a syllabic /r/.

    A phoneme with the property +syllabic can define a syllable, whereas a -syllabic phoneme can only appear at a syllable boundary.

    Polish also contains many digraphs, which is a single sound spelled with two letters. English has ch, sh and th. Polish has dz, dź, dż, rz, sz, cz and ch. This contributes to the apparent proliferation of consonants.

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