Ę (minuscule: ę; Polish: e z ogonkiem, "e with a little tail"; Lithuanian: e nosinė, "nasal e") is a letter in the Polish, Lithuanian and Dalecarlian alphabets. It is used in Navajo to represent the nasal vowel [ẽ]. In Latin, Irish, and Old Norse palaeography, it is known as e caudata ("tailed e").
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In Polish, ę comes after e in the alphabet. It is never at the start of a word, except for the word ęsi. It is most commonly pronounced as /ɛw̃/, /ɛn/, /ɛm/, or /ɛ/, depending on the context.
Unlike in French, a Polish nasal vowel is "asynchronous": pronounced as an oral vowel + a nasal semivowel [ɛw̃] or a nasal vowel + a nasal semivowel. For the sake of simplicity, it is sometimes transcribed [ɛ̃].
- język ("language", "tongue"), pronounced [ˈjɛw̃zɨk]
- mięso ("meat"), [ˈmʲɛw̃sɔ]
- ciężki ("heavy"), [ˈtɕɛw̃ʂki]
Before all stops and affricates, it can be pronounced as an oral vowel + nasal consonant, with /ɛn/ before most consonants, while /ɛm/ appears before p, b, w, or f; and /ɛɲ/ appears before palatal consonants ć, dź; before palatal sibilants ś and ź it is either /ɛɲ/ or (more frequently) [ɛj͂]. For example,
- więcej ("more"), pronounced [ˈvʲɛnt͡sɛj]
- sędzia ("judge", "referee"), [ˈsɛɲd͡ʑa], rarely (in dialects) also [ˈsɛnd͡ʑa]
- głęboki ("deep"), [ɡwɛmˈbɔki]
- więzi ("bonds"), [ˈvʲɛj͂ʑi], or [ˈvʲɛɲʑi]
If ę is the final letter of a word or followed by either l or ł, some Poles will pronounce it simply as [ɛ]. For example, będę ("I will (be)") can be either [ˈbɛndɛ] or [ˈbɛndɛ̃], and dziękuję ("thank you") can be either [dʑɛŋˈkujɛ] or [dʑɛŋˈkujɛ̃].
In dialects of some regions, ę in final position is also pronounced as /ɛm/ so robię is occasionally pronounced as [ˈrɔbjɛm]. That nonstandard form is used by the former Polish president Lech Wałęsa. Some of his sentences are respelled to reflect the pronunciation, e.g., "Nie chcem, ale muszem" (properly written "Nie chcę, ale muszę"; "I don't want to, but I have to") has entered popular language.
Origin of the symbol
In Old Polish, nasal vowels were either not indicated at all or indicated with digraphs including a nasal consonant; Ø was also used. During the first decades after the introduction of movable type to Poland (exclusively blackletter at the time) a need to standardize orthography developed, and in the early 16th century Stanisław Zaborowski, inspired by Old Czech orthography reform by Jan Hus, analyzed Polish phonology and in Orthographia seu modus recte scribendi et legendi Polonicum idioma quam utilissimus proposed to add diacritics to Polish, including to mark nasal vowels with strokes. In particular, he proposed to write /ɛ̃/ as a with semivirgula superior (the letter was used to spell the phoneme traditionally because it was the original medieval pronunciation, see below), which printers of the time found not very convenient, and instead, Hieronymus Vietor crossed the lower part of an e. Later, when Polish printers began to use antiqua in the late 16th-century, Jan Januszowski took E caudata from Latin lettercase so as not to cast a new letter.
History of the vowel
Polish ę evolved from the short nasal a of medieval Polish, which developed into a short nasal e in the modern language. The medieval vowel, along with its long counterpart, evolved in turn from the merged nasal *ę and *ǫ of Late Proto-Slavic:
|Early Proto-Slavic||*em/*en and *am/*an|
|Late Proto-Slavic||/ẽ/ and /õ/, transcribed by ⟨ę⟩ and ⟨ǫ⟩|
|Medieval Polish||short and long /ã/, written approximately ⟨ø⟩|
|Modern Polish||short /ã/ → /ɛw̃/, /ɛn/, /ɛm/, written ⟨ę⟩|
long /ã/ → /ɔw̃/, /ɔn/, /ɔm/, written ⟨ą⟩
It often alternates with ą:
- "husband": mąż → mężowie ("husbands"),
"error": błąd → błędy ("errors"),
"pigeon": gołąb → gołębie ("pigeons")
- "oak" in nominative: dąb → dębem (instrumental)
- "hands" in nominative: ręce → rąk (genitive)
- "five": pięć → piąty ("fifth")
For some forms of the noun, ę is used at the end of the word for the accusative case, as in eglę, accusative of eglė (spruce). It is also used to change past tense verb to the participle in the past, e.g., tempė to tempęs - somebody who has pulled.
Nasal en/em forms are now pronounced [eː], as in kęsti (to suffer) - kenčia (is suffering or suffers), so the ę is no longer nasal.
In some cases, ą, ę and į (but never ė) may be used for different forms, as in tąsa (extension) - tęsia (extends) - tįsoti (to lie extended). Finally, some verbs have the letter in the middle of the word only in the present tense, e.g., gęsta ([fire, light] is going off) but not užgeso (went off).
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER E WITH OGONEK||LATIN SMALL LETTER E WITH OGONEK|
|UTF-8||196 152||C4 98||196 153||C4 99|
|Numeric character reference||Ę
|Named character reference||Ę||ę|
|ISO 8859-2 / ISO 8859-4||202||CA||234||EA|