Diacritics: Iga Świątek

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"Iga Swiatek Teaches Everyone How To Say (Pronounce) Her Name Properly" 

Youtube (6/4/22)

From Stephen Jones: a blog (8/9/22):

Allow me to introduce Ogonek and Til, feisty yet (you guessed it) flawed protagonists of my forthcoming crime drama series, as they embark on the hazardous trail of a dastardly ring of international diacritic smugglers…


As an avid tennis fan, without being too perfectionist I’m not alone in musing gingerly over how to pronounce the surname of the magnificent Iga Świątek, currently sailing serenely (Serena-ly?) towards the final of the US Open.

So the lowly diacritic squiggle indicates that the a sound is both closed and nasal. It’s an ogonek (“little tail”)—which leads us to the mystical realms of Elfdalian, Kashubian, Lithuanian, and Navajo (see here, and here)! To think that I still rather resent having to go to all the faff of inputting grave and acute accents in French, and such non-national fripperies…

Which reminds me, in Portuguese (cf. my paltry dabblings here), I do feel we Brits might make a little more effort in adding a nasal quality at the end of the ão sound in São Paulo (the diacritic on ã being a til, for which English has adopted the Spanish word tilde)—as in

  • não (no)
  • mão (hand)
  • pão (bread)
  • cão (dog)
  • limão (lime, for that caipirinha party)
  • canção (song)
  • Japão (Japan)
  • João (“John”).

Plenty of material there for a couple of niche limericks, to join Myles’s tribute to Ezra £; Alan Watts on Salisbury/Sarum; The young man from Calcutta; The young man from Japan, and The old man from Peru [typical bias against the middle-aged woman—Ed.]. Something like this, perhaps:

There was a young man from Japão
Who fed his cão pão with limão
Waving a mão, he burst into canção
Until João came up and said “Não“.

Estêvão, Chiswick 2022.

Much more fun, including a limerick for Iga, in the original blog.


Selected readings


  1. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 3:26 pm

    I'm afraid Stephen Jones's description is off, as you can easily tell by listening to Świątek's own pronunciation. Ą stands for nasal /ɔ/, not /a/. (Well, you might argue that "closed and nasal" is supposed to mean just that, but it's a stretch.) But in front of a plosive, it stands for /ɔn/, /ɔm/ or /ɔŋ/, depending on the place of articulation of that plosive. So, the whole thing is /ˈɕfjɔntɛk/, or if you want an approximate English transliteration for the non-linguist, Sh-fyon-teck. (And actually only the first sh-like sound is foreign to English. Fyon-teck is something that any native English speaker is 100% capable of.)

  2. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 3:31 pm

    Oh OK, now that I've read the whole of his original post I can see that he recognises ą as on. But still.

  3. Francisco said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 3:42 pm

    João would more idiomatically burst in canto.

  4. Bloix said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 5:15 pm

    Ą is on as pronounced in French, e.g. bon.

  5. martin schwartz said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 6:01 pm

    The name appears to be an -ek diminutive from 'saint (holy)';
    the basis is a cognate or VERY early loan from the antecedent
    into Proto-Slavic)) of Proto-Iranian *swanta-, best translated as 'holy'. Speaking of ancient Iranian, the a-ogonek was taken over by Iranists to transliterate nasalized ā in Avestan. As to comparing French sounds,
    I think the vowel of Fr. bon has a tad more lipr-rounding
    than the Polish, while the a of Fr. santé is more open than that of
    the Polish, but a bilingual Polish-French linguist should weigh in on that. Etymologically, the Polish nasal is conservative, cognates in other Slavic languages not having the nasal.

  6. Peter B. Golden said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 6:21 pm

    Kaszubian, which some consider a dialect of Polish, others a separate and distinct West Slavic language, spoken in several dialects, has preserved (in some dialects) the Old Slavic nasals. Polish świąty is swiāty (pronounced svjonty, with a slight hint of ś) in Kaszubian.

  7. Bloix said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 7:28 pm

    Since we are talking about the pronuncation of the names of Slavic sports stars, it might be of interest that this summer cycling fans got to watch two great Slovenian cyclists
    suffer unexpected defeats in the course of two hotly contested and very exciting grand tours.

    One, Tadej Pogačar, was expected to win Tour de France for the third time. The other, Primož Roglič, who had crashed out of the Tour and was the favorite to win a fourth consecutive victory of the Vuelta a España, crashed again and had to withdraw.

    Pogačar says his name here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaDmEgrM3WQ

    And here's Roglič: https://www.google.com/search?q=roglic+pronunciation&oq=roglic+pro&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0i512j0i20i263i512j0i22i30l2j0i10i22i30j0i22i30l4.4455j0j15&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_XHweY_WdIvGuiLMP–e1iAc_18

    The Tour was won by the Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard, and the Vuelta by the Belgian Remco Evenepoel, also not the easiest names for English speakers (Vingegaard gave announcers a lot of trouble).

  8. Victor Mair said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 8:01 pm

    A Peace Corps buddy of mine was named Don Swantek.

  9. Bloix said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 8:26 pm

    I think people with Polish names in America have 4 choices:
    1) change the spelling
    2) put up with the mispronunciations
    3) spend your life correcting people
    4) live in Portage Park or Wallington and never go more than half a mile from home.

    My son, who was a pretty good fencer, used to go to USA Fencing competitions, where from time to time he got to fence a first-rate saberist named Aleks Ochocki. By his senior year in high school, the officials and refs had seen what he could do for years. And still, it was oh-CHOKE-y, oh-CHOKE-y, all the goddam time.

  10. Stephen Jones said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 3:21 am

    You linguists may like to compose your own limericks for Iga, to better mine (see my post):

    There was a young star named Świątek
    Whose talents spread way beyąd tech
    When it comes to the tennis, she sure is a menace—
    To play her it’s all hands ą deck.

    Sure, the stress-patterning doesn’t quite work: in line 2, it would be helped by an accent on beyond, though that requires knowledge of some spurious back-story whereby Iga has already been spotted as a promising software programmer; and there’s nothing to be done about the final line. But hey… I am proud to announce that my effort was runner-up in the prestigious 2022 Świątek Limerick Contest—in which I was the only entrant… But go on, why not join in too? Hours of harmless fun for all the family!

  11. David Marjanović said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 4:15 am

    Ą is on as pronounced in French, e.g. bon.

    No. The French on sound hasn't been pronounced [ɔ̃] since the 19th century, not even in Canada. It's [õ]; beau and bon are a minimal pair for nasality.

  12. Stephen Jones said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 7:15 am

    And I'm already honing my entry for next year's contest:

    To Iga's fine surname Świątek
    I once tried adding a "zee", ą spec
    But that could never work—I felt such a berk
    And now her name's in neą—Heck!

    For notes, see the post.

  13. Coby said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 12:08 pm

    To add to what David Marjanović wrote, not only is the vowel quality different between the French and the Polish sounds, but so is the nasality. The Polish one involves a lip closure that is absent in French.

  14. Coby said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 12:09 pm

    To add to what David Marjanović wrote, not only is the vowel quality different in Polish and French, but so is the nasality. The Polish one involves a lip closure that is absent in French.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 12, 2022 @ 3:59 pm

    It is rather disappointing that the second syllable of the lady's surname is apparently pronounced /tɛk/, just as an Anglophone might correctly guess from the spelling. All those complications piled into the first syllable, and then they just slacked off.

  16. martin schwartz said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 1:13 am

    Thanks to Stephen Jones for starting this discussion,
    for his limerick(s0, and for calling "berk" to my attention; it interested me as a longtime UC Berkeleyan. I'd have guessed that
    this word could be rhyming slang for "jerk", but a look at berk
    in Wiktionary, s.v., q.v., indicates that it allewds (sic) to something more intricate and interesting. Mr. Jones, I can share some limericks of mine with you, if you write me at .

  17. David Marjanović said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 2:53 am

    "Rhyming slang" means rhyming not with the intended word, but with a word that's associated in some way. "I fell down the apples" – apples & pears – stairs. Likewise with the Berkshire hunt.

  18. martin schwartz said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 5:07 am

    @David Marjanović: Yeah, bravo, agreed. And do be careful walking, be it on fruits, stairs, and likewise proceeding to that hunt.
    And yes, one should not lurch in the Jerkshires,
    from which you turned me aside.

  19. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 7:58 am

    @Martin Schwartz,

    If it's a loanword, it'll be into Balt-Slavic rather than "into Proto-Slavic". But is it? You could argue for either way, or for the position that it goes back to the Proto-language which happens to be preserved in Balto-Slavic and (Indo-)Iranian. This last is preferred by Wolfgang Hock et al, Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, ver. 1.1 (2019) and ver. 2 (online version https://alew.hu-berlin.de/dict ) s.v. šveñtas "heilig, geheiligt", saying "Die exakte Übereinstimmung zwischen Bsl. und Iran. sichert das grundsprachliche Alter der Bildung.".

  20. cliff arroyo said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 10:02 am

    "All those complications piled into the first syllable, and then they just slacked off."

    If it will make you feel better, the e of 'tek' disappears if you add an inflectional ending.

    In modern Polish the endings aren't added to a woman's last name ending in a consonant but her father's name "Tomasz Świątek" will have endings, acc. and gen. "Tomasza Świątka"
    dat. and loc. "Tomaszowi Świątkowi" instr. "Tomaszem Świątkiem" ….

  21. cliff arroyo said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 10:52 am

    "dat. and loc. "Tomaszowi Świątkowi""

    Oops! wrote too fast

    dat. "Tomaszowi Świątkowi" but loc. "o Tomaszu Świątku"

  22. Adrian Bailey said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 11:36 am

    At least diacritics hint at the fact that the letter has a weird pronunciation. Foreign names are generally a trap that Brits and Americans fall into willy-nilly. For example, most commentators will pronounce Ons Jabeur "how it looks"; there are some who will attempt something French-ish, and there are others who will try the Arabic. I'm actually not sure which would be best, but I'm not a commentator… Wouldn't it be nice if we could trust them to do their homework.

  23. Asuitablecase said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 3:14 pm

    @Adrian Bailey
    Wikipedia has a suggestion https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ons_Jabeur

  24. cliff arroyo said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 3:30 pm

    "Wikipedia has a suggestion"

    Is that a Tunisian pronunciation? I thought that in Tunisia ج isuaually like zh and not j.
    And wikipedia agrees…

  25. Terry K. said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 5:04 pm

    Wikipedia has two different pronunciations of Ons Jabeur. The IPA ([ʾuns dʒābir]) doesn't match the audiofile.

  26. martin schwartz said,

    September 13, 2022 @ 6:32 pm

    @Hiroshi Kumamoto: I agree with everything you say.
    I am aware of Lith. šveñtas, and indeed one must speak of Proto-Balto-Slavic (a concept which some have challenged). I wonder if W. Hock's "grundspracliche"can refer to a dialectal form of
    Proto-Indo-European which woukd account for the many
    special correspondences between Iranian and (Balto?-)Slavic.
    Perhaps my "(Balto-?) here begs the question, and then again, what
    of Indo-Aryan in all of this? I add that the vocalism of the
    Baltic and Slavic forms under discussion goes against a connection with Proto-Iranian as we know it. I think this is the tip of a very complicated matter, which, although I've often thought about it, is beyond my ability to say anything with conviction. @
    @David Marjanović: Upon reflection, I think my response re
    rhyming slang was flip and unhelpful. What DM says is true for
    one variety of Cockney slang, but even in Cockney (as elsewhere),
    there are examples where the rhyming IS with the intended word.
    Examples (e.g. "tea leaf" = 'thief') abound in the Wikipedia article "Rhyming Slang",which, despite criticisms of it, provides much interesting material.

  27. Stephen Jones said,

    September 14, 2022 @ 2:23 am

    @Martin Schwartz: always happy to see a well-crafted limerick!
    And (as in my post) I do recommend that readers bask in the Oulipean anagram tales of Nicolas Robertson, collected here

  28. David Marjanović said,

    September 14, 2022 @ 2:41 am

    I wonder if W. Hock's "grundsprac[h]liche"can refer to a dialectal form of Proto-Indo-European which woukd account for the many special correspondences between Iranian and (Balto?-)Slavic.

    I see no reason to assume Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic aren't sister-groups, i.e. there once was a "Proto-Core-Satəm" language; they do share things other than words. But it's also obvious that Iranian and especially Slavic were neighbors for millennia…

    there are examples where the rhyming IS with the intended word.

    Oh! Thanks.

  29. David Marjanović said,

    September 14, 2022 @ 4:11 am

    …and there are even a few reasons for assuming an Indo-Slavic supergroup (PDF of the slides of a conference presentation).

  30. Bob said,

    September 14, 2022 @ 9:17 am

    I knew a guy in New York with the last name Niedzwicki, which he himself pronounced [ niːdzwɪski ], exactly like "needs whiskey".

  31. Bloix said,

    September 14, 2022 @ 12:45 pm

    Bob- yes, one solution is to adopt a pronunciation that makes sense to an English-speaker in terms of sound and spelling. Your friend came up with a solution that maintains the sibilant C – most Americans with similar Polish last names wind up having to put up with "wicky."

    Swiatek herself proposes this option at :05 ("in English, Iga Svee-AH-tek, or – whatever.") But she clearly prefers something closer to the Polish.

    Often the inability of Americans to manage foreign names leads to odd spellings. There's a famous microbiologist named Leonard Hayflick, whose name, I suspect, is a misspelling of Havlik or something similar. And not only for Slavic languages – the name of the author Barbara Kingsolver was probably originally Gonsalves.

  32. Peter Grubtal said,

    September 15, 2022 @ 2:54 am

    Bloix :

    "…the inability of Americans to manage foreign names.." : there's no need for self-flagellation over this – non-English speakers (and many fluent English speakers) of non-anglophone countries have problems with our names.

    "…leads to odd spellings" : not half as odd as pinyin, which has made the geography of China a blank space on the mental map for many anglophones.

  33. john burke said,

    September 25, 2022 @ 12:55 am

    In 1977, Portuguese Communists in the city of Grandola showed me a pet crow in a local park, which had been taught to say mao (tilde over the a), meaning "bad." Given the state of Communist politics at the time they found it amusing when a visitor suggested the bird was reciting the entire political thought of Mao Zedong as promulgated during the Cultural Revolution.

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