Upper Sorbian phonology

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 the 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 [, r͇ʲ] 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][example needed]
  • 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 assimilationEdit

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. ^ a b c d e f Stone (2002), p. 600.
  2. ^ a b Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 20.
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ a b c Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 32.
  7. ^ a b Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 33.
  8. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 601, 606–607.
  9. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 31.
  10. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 46.
  11. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 35–37, 41, 46.
  12. ^ a b c Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 41.
  13. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984:36–37, 41, 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, 46.
  17. ^ Zygis (2003), pp. 190–191.
  18. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 37, 39, 46.
  19. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 39, 46.
  20. ^ a b Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 38.
  21. ^ a b Zygis (2003), p. 191.
  22. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 40–41.
  23. ^ Zygis (2003), pp. 180–181, 190–191.
  24. ^ Zygis (2003), p. 180.
  25. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 600, 602.
  26. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 42–44, 46.
  27. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 26–27, 42–43.
  28. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), p. 43.
  29. ^ Stone (2002), p. 602.
  30. ^ Stone (2002), pp. 600, 605.
  31. ^ Šewc-Schuster (1984), pp. 43, 46.
  32. ^ a b 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
  • 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
  • Zygis, Marzena (2003), "Phonetic and Phonological Aspects of Slavic Sibilant Fricatives" (PDF), ZAS Papers in Linguistics, 3: 175–213, doi:10.21248/zaspil.32.2003.191

Further readingEdit