Monday, July 1, 2019

Alfabet Polski: Not Sure I'm Ready Yet

In puzzling over the Polish surnames I'm encountering in tracing my DNA matches—and the many ways they seem to be misspelled—I wondered whether the cause for such abundant variety might be the fault of the average anglophone's ear. After all, considering the diacritical marks abundant in the Polish language, just how would those sounds be represented in the English language? More to the point, how can I deconstruct the surnames I'm finding among those supposed DNA matches in the Milwaukee Michalski line and recreate them in their original Polish appearance?

The one name I have in question right now has been rendered different ways in American records. It is either Czechorska. Or Czechowska. Knowing how the letter "w" in Polish can represent a sound more like the English "v," I sometimes wonder whether the true pronunciation might more likely be a melding of the two possibilities into Czechorvska.

The suffix -ska, of course, means we are talking about a woman with that surname. For those in America who didn't know that Polish custom, the surname sometimes showed up in our records ending in the masculine, as in Czechowski. That did not concern me as much as the other issue: how to handle what the true spelling might have been in Polish—or whatever eastern European dialect was originally used by this Michalski family.

That was what inspired me to go looking for a quick way to learn Polish phonics. And I found a couple resources—but don't be too sure I've arrived at my answer. Not just yet.

There is, thankfully, a Polish Alphabet website for English-speaking neophytes—hence, lesson number one: "Polish Alphabet" in Polish is "Alfabet Polski."

Perhaps this leap into foreign languages won't go so badly, after all.

I thought.

Then I got into the diacritical marks. While that will prove useful in finally being able to pronounce the region where my paternal grandmother once lived (Poznań), and the town where she was born (Żerków), it still will take plenty of practice to convince my brain to properly pronounce such words. While the Polish Alphabet site was accommodating for those who prefer listening to recordings of the sounds, I found a second online entry to be helpful in that it provides a written description of the sounds.

That still doesn't explain why so many record-keepers wrote the surname with either a "w" or an "r."  Were both sounds audible, yet somehow the combination stumped the Americans? More important, how would a Polish person write that pronunciation, whatever it was?

The real reason I'm looking at this question reaches beyond mere pronunciation, though. It's the identity of that woman named Czechorska—or Czechowska—that I'm wondering about. You see, while that was her maiden name—and thus the surname she got from her father—her mother's maiden name happened to be Zegarska. A name precipitously close to my Anna's possible maiden name of Zegar.

Could it be...?


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