Three different ways an English speaker might make the borrowed Polish place name Szczebrzeszynie fit within English phonotactics?


2 Answers 2


Before you can broach the phonotactics question, you first need to deal with the phonetics. Phonetically, Polish Szczebrzeszynie (which is the locative case of Szczebrzeszyn) is approximately IPA [ʂtʂɛ.bʐɛˈʂɨ̃.ɲɛ]; English doesn't have [ʂ] [tʂ] [ʐ] [ɨ̃] [ɲ]. Best you can do in English is substitute [ʃ] [ʧ] [ʒ] [ɪ~ij] [nj]. The shibilants won't be far off.

Phonotactically, the main problem is the first onset [ʂtʂ]/[ʃʧ] which is forbidden in English. Maybe just substitute [ʃ]? There is also a problem with [bʐ]/[bʒ], but you can get rid of that by moving the syllable boundary from before the [b] to after it.

This results in something like "sheb-zhe-SHIN-yeah" [ʃɛb.ʒɛˈʃɪn.jɛ] which Poles would understand well enough. If you want the nominative case, [ʃɛbˈʒɛ.ʃɪn].

For what it's worth, in Yiddish the city is called Shebreshin (שעברעשין) which fits English phonotactics quite nicely.

NB: In the original tongue-twister:

W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie

The preposition w [f] forms part of the onset of the word Szczebrzeszynie, resulting in [fʂtʂɛ.bʐɛˈʂɨ̃.ɲɛ]. This is one of Polish's famous consonant clusters that will not fit neatly into English phonotactics, I fear.

  • I honestly was so troubled figuring this out. This will be of great help.
    – user24344
    Apr 11, 2019 at 19:53

Before you deal with the phonetic question, you have to deal with the input question: what stimulus would even cause an English speaker to respond with such a word? Is the speaker encountering spoken [ʂtʂɛbʐɛˈʂɨ̃ɲɛ] uttered by a native speaker, or are they seeing "Szczebrzeszynie" written down? English speaker strategies for interpreting foreign spelling are quite variable, but are likely to result in [sɛbrəˈzini].

  • It is just a hypothetical case. So I just wanted to know the probable ways in which that could be done.
    – user24344
    Apr 11, 2019 at 19:54
  • 4
    Right, and it depends on how the person encounters the name -- written or spoken.
    – user6726
    Apr 11, 2019 at 20:10

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