Upper Sorbian phonology

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This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Upper Sorbian language.


The vowel inventory of Upper Sorbian is exactly the same as that of Lower Sorbian.[1] It is also very similar to the vowel inventory of Slovene.

Vowel phonemes[1][2]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
  • Word-initial vowels are rare, and are often preceded by a non-phonemic glottal stop [ʔ], or sometimes /ɦ/. /e, o/ never appear in word-initial position, whereas /i, u, ɛ, ɔ/ appear in word-initial position only in recent borrowings.[3]
  • /i/ is mid-centralized to [ɪ] after hard consonants.[4]
  • /e, o/ are diphthongized to [i̯ɛ, u̯ɔ] in slow speech.[1][5]
  • /ɛ/ has three allophones:
    • Open-mid [ɛ] between hard consonants and after a hard consonant;[6]
    • Mid [ɛ̝] between soft consonants and after a soft consonant (excluding /j/ in both cases);[6]
    • Diphthong with a mid onset [ɛ̝i̯] before /j/.[6]
  • /ɔ/ has two allophones:
    • Diphthong with a mid onset [ɔ̝u̯] before labial consonants;[7]
    • Open-mid [ɔ] in all other cases.[7]
  • The /e–ɛ/ and /o–ɔ/ distinctions are weakened or lost in unstressed syllables.[8]
  • /a/ is phonetically central [ä].[1][2] It is somewhat higher [ɐ] after soft consonants.[9]


Consonant phonemes[1][10]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar/
hard soft hard soft soft hard soft hard
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s (t͡sʲ) t͡ʃ
voiced (d͡z) d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x
voiced (v) z ʒ ɦ
Trill ʀ ʀʲ
Approximant β ɥ l j
  • /m, mʲ, p, pʲ, b, bʲ, β, ɥ/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.[11]
    • /mʲ, pʲ, bʲ/ are strongly palatalized.[12]
    • /β/ is a somewhat velarized bilabial approximant [β̞ˠ], whereas /ɥ/ (the soft counterpart of /β/) is a strongly palatalized bilabial approximant [ɥ].[13]
    • /v/ is very rare. Apart from loanwords, it occurs only in two Slavonic words: zełharny /ˈzɛvaʀni/ 'deceitful' and zełharnosć /ˈzɛvaʀnɔst͡ʃ/ 'deceitfulness', both of which are derivatives of łhać /ˈfat͡ʃ/ 'to lie'. Usage of these words is typically restricted to the Bautzen dialect, as speakers of the Catholic dialect use łžeć /ˈbʒɛt͡ʃ/ and its derivatives.[14][15]
  • /n, l/ are alveolar [, ], /ɲ/ is alveolo-palatal [ɲ̟], whereas /t, d, t͡s, d͡z, t͡sʲ, s, z, zʲ/ are dental [, , t̪͡s̪, d̪͡z̪, t̪͡s̪ʲ, , , z̪ʲ].[1][16][17]
    • /t, d, l/ before /i/ (in case of /l/ also before /e, ɛ/) are weakly palatalized [tʲ, dʲ, lʲ]. Šewc-Schuster (1984) also reports palatalized allophones of /f, v, k, ɡ, x, ɦ/, but without specifying the vowels before which they occur.[18] Among these, the palatalized [fʲ, vʲ] are extremely rare.[3]
    • /n, nʲ/ are velar [ŋ, ŋʲ] in front of velar consonants.[19]
    • /d͡z/ is very rare. In many cases, it merges with /z/ into [z].[20][21]
    • /t͡sʲ, zʲ/ are very rare.[20][21] According to Stone (2002), the phonemic status of /t͡sʲ/ is controversial.[3]
  • In most dialects, /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ, ʃ, ʒ/ are palato-alveolar. This is unlike Lower Sorbian, where these consonants are laminal retroflex (flat postalveolar) [t͡ʂ, ʂ, ʐ] (Lower Sorbian /t͡ʂ/ does not have a voiced counterpart).[22][23] Laminal retroflex realizations of /ʃ, ʒ/[what about the affricates /t͡ʃ, d͡ʒ/?] also occur in Upper Sorbian dialects spoken in some villages north of Hoyerswerda.[12][24]
  • /k, ɡ, x/ are velar, whereas /ʀ, ʀʲ/ are uvular.[25][26]
    • An aspirated [kʰ] is a morpheme-initial allophone of /x/ in some cases, as well as a possible word-initial allophone of /k/.[27]
    • /x/ does not occur word-initially, whereas /ɦ/ does not occur word-finally.[28]
    • The alveolar realization [, r̳ʲ] of /ʀ, ʀʲ/ is archaic.[29]
    • Soft /ʀʲ/ is strongly palatalized.[12]
  • /ɦ/ is voiced [ɦ], unlike Lower Sorbian where it is voiceless [h].[30][31]
  • An epenthetic /j/ is inserted before a post-vocalic soft consonant, yielding a diphthong. If the soft consonant occurs before /ɛ/ or /e/, it is often realized as hard, and /e/ is lowered to [ɛ].[3]
  • In literary language, the contrast between hard and soft consonants is neutralized in word-final position. Word-finally, the letter ⟨ń⟩ represents a post-vocalic sequence /jn/, as in dźeń /ˈd͡ʒɛjn/ 'day'.[3]

Final devoicing and assimilation

Upper Sorbian has both final devoicing and regressive voicing assimilation, both word-internal and across word boundaries.[3][32] In the latter context, /x/ is voiced to [ɣ]. Regressive voicing assimilation does not occur before sonorants and /ɦ/.[32]


  • Words consisting of up to three syllables are stressed on the first syllable.[33]
  • Foreign words, such as student /stuˈdɛnt/ 'student', preserve their original accent.[34]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Stone (2002), p. 600.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 20.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Stone (2002), p. 604.
  4. Šewc-Schuster (1984:34). The author states that [ɪ] is less front and somewhat lower than [i], but unlike Russian [ɨ], it is front, not central.
  5. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 32–33.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 32.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 33.
  8. Stone (2002), pp. 601 and 606–607.
  9. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 31.
  10. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 46.
  11. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 35–37, 41 and 46.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 41.
  13. Šewc-Schuster (1984:36–37, 41 and 46). On page 36, the author states that Upper Sorbian /β/ is less velar than Polish /w/. The weakness of the velarization is confirmed by the corresponding image on page 37.
  14. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 36.
  15. Stone (2002), pp. 603–604.
  16. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 37–41 and 46.
  17. Zygis (2003), pp. 190–191.
  18. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 37, 39 and 46.
  19. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 39 and 46.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 38.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Zygis (2003), p. 191.
  22. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 40–41.
  23. Zygis (2003), pp. 180–181 and 190–191.
  24. Zygis (2003), p. 180.
  25. Stone (2002), pp. 600 and 602.
  26. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 42–44 and 46.
  27. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 26–27 and 42–43.
  28. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 43.
  29. Stone (2002), p. 602.
  30. Stone (2002), pp. 600 and 605.
  31. Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 43 and 46.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 26.
  33. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 27.
  34. Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 28.


  • Šewc-Schuster, Hinc (1984), Gramatika hornjo-serbskeje rěče, Budyšin: Ludowe nakładnistwo Domowina<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Stone, Gerald (2002), "Sorbian (Upper and Lower)", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G. (eds.), The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 593–685, ISBN 9780415280785<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zygis, Marzena (2003), "Phonetic and Phonological Aspects of Slavic Sibilant Fricatives" (PDF), ZAS Papers in Linguistics, 3: 175–213<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>