As a Polish-American interested in genealogy, I quickly learned that pronunciation is the key to everything. How can you properly research a family if you can’t say the language correctly? I realized that there are American English pronunciations of Polish surnames and place names, and then there is the real way it is pronounced in Polish.
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the Polish language with its “different” letters and consonant combinations, and I can usually figure out how a word is pronounced. But sometimes…I get stumped. Just the other day I learned that my great-grandmother was born in a town near Warsaw called Przybyszew. Przybyszew? Where do I begin? I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat!
Fortunately, I discovered an awesome website thanks to Zenon Znamirowski from PolishOrigins.com that allows you to hear Polish words pronounced by Polish speakers! So, how do you say Przybyszew? Click on this link to hear it!
The site, Expressivo, is a text to speech program. To test it out, you can enter up to 200 characters of text here and listen to the results read by several voices: Eric (male US-English), Jennifer (female US-English), Carmen (female Romanian), Jacek (male Polish), or Ewa (female Polish). To hear Polish names or place names, I highly recommend using the two Polish voices to hear a true Polish pronunciation.
Here are several of my ancestors’ names and the towns they lived in – click the link to hear it in Polish:
- Jan Piątkowski, Warszawa
- Ludwik Pater, Żyrardów
- Elżbieta Müller, Żyrardów
- Józef Zawodny, Dobrosołowo
- Wacława Ślesińska, Wilczyn
- Franciszka Wojciechowska, Mszczonów
Many Americans may have seen these town names in Poland and thought they knew how to pronounce them. Try it, then click on the link and see if you were correct – you might be surprised!
You can tell that I had a lot of fun “playing” with this site, but other than it being cool to hear your ancestor’s name and hometown properly pronounced, why is it important? Because knowing the correct pronunciation in an immigrant’s native language can often help you find your ancestor in records that are not spelled correctly, but are written as English-speakers heard the foreign tongue pronounced. Obviously, this does not only apply to the Polish language, but any language other than American English.
[Submitted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Tips, Tricks, and Websites]