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The sound system of Norwegian resembles that of Swedish. There is considerable variation among the dialects, and all pronunciations are considered by official policy to be equally correct. The variant generally taught to foreign students is the so-called Standard Eastern Norwegian (Norwegian: Standard Østnorsk), loosely based on the speech of the literate classes of the Oslo area. Despite there being no official standard variety of Norwegian, Standard Østnorsk has traditionally been used in public venues such as theatre and TV, although today local dialects are used extensively in spoken and visual media.
Unless noted otherwise, this article describes the phonology of Standard Eastern Norwegian.
- 1 Consonants
- 2 Vowels
- 3 Accent
- 4 Sample
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- /n, t, d/ are laminal [n̻, t̻, d̻], either alveolar [n, t, d] or denti-alveolar [n̪, t̪, d̪].
- /p, t, k/ are aspirated fully voiceless [pʰ, tʰ, kʰ], whereas /b, d, ɡ/ are unaspirated, either fully voiceless [p˭, t˭, k˭] or partially voiced [b̥˭, d̥˭, ɡ̊˭]. After /s/ within the same syllable, only unaspirated voiceless stops occur.
- /s/ is dentalized laminal alveolar [s̪] or (uncommonly) non-retracted apical alveolar [s̺].
- /ʂ/ is pronounced with protruded lips [ʂʷ]. The degree of protrusion depends on the rounding of the following vowel.
- /h/ is a (usually voiceless) fricative. The friction is normally glottal [h], but sometimes it is dorsal: palatal [ç] when near front vowels, velar [x] near back vowels. It can be voiced [ɦ ~ ʝ ~ ɣ] between two voiced sounds.
- /ʋ, l, j, ɾ/ are partially voiced or fully voiceless [f, l̥, ç, ɾ̥] when they occur after /p, t, k, f/ (but not when /s/ precedes within the same syllable). The flap /ɾ/ is also partially voiced or fully voiceless when it occurs postvocalically before /p, k, f/.
- The approximants /ʋ, j/ may be realized as fricatives [v, ʝ]:
- /ʋ/ is sometimes a fricative, especially before a pause and in emphatic pronunciation.
- There is not an agreement about the frequency of occurrence of the fricative allophone of /j/:
- /l/ is in process of changing from laminal denti-alveolar [l̪] to apical alveolar [l̺], which leads to neutralization with the retroflex allophone [ɭ]. Laminal realization is still possible before vowels, after front and close vowels and after consonants that are not coronal, and is obligatory after coronal stops. A velarized laminal [ɫ̪] occurs after mid back and open back vowels, sometimes also after /u/. However, Endresen (1990) states that at least in Oslo, the laminal variant is not velarized, and the difference is only between an apical and a laminal realization.
- /ɾ/ is an voiced apical alveolar flap [ɾ̺]. It is occasionally trilled [r], e.g. in emphatic speech.
- Retroflex allophones [ɳ, ʈ, ɖ] have been variously described as apical alveolar [n̺, t̺, d̺] and apical postalveolar [ɳ̺, ʈ̺, ɖ̺].
- /ɽ/ alternates with /ɾ/ in many words, but there is a small number of words in which only /ɽ/ occurs.
- /n, k, ɡ/ are velar, whereas /j/ is palatal.
- /ç/ may be palatal [ç], but is often alveolo-palatal [ɕ] instead. It is unstable in many dialects, and younger speakers in Bergen, Stavanger and Oslo merge /ç/ with /ʂ/ into [ʂ].
- Glottal stop [ʔ] may be inserted before word-initial vowels. In very emphatic speech, it can also be inserted word-medially in stressed syllables beginning with a vowel.
Most of the retroflex (and postalveolar) consonants are mutations of [ɾ]+any other alveolar/dental consonant; rn /ɾn/ > [ɳ], rt /ɾt/ > [ʈ], rl /ɾl/ > [ɭ], rs /ɾs/ > [ʂ], etc. /ɾd/ across word boundaries (sandhi), in loanwords and in a group of primarily literary words may be pronounced [ɾd], e.g., verden [ˈʋæɾdn̩], but it may also be pronounced [ɖ] in some dialects. Most of the dialects in Eastern, Central and Northern Norway use the retroflex consonants. Most Southern and Western dialects do not have these retroflex sounds, because in these areas a guttural realization of the /r/ phoneme is commonplace, and seems to be expanding. Depending on phonetic context voiceless ([χ]) or voiced uvular fricatives ([ʁ]) are used. (See map at right.) Other possible pronunciations include a uvular approximant [ʁ̞] or, more rarely, a uvular trill [ʀ]. There is, however, a small number of dialects that use both the uvular /r/ and the retroflex allophones.
The retroflex flap, [ɽ], colloquially known to Norwegians as tjukk l ('thick l'), is a Central Scandinavian innovation that exists in Eastern Norwegian (including Trøndersk), the southmost Northern dialects, and the most eastern Western Norwegian dialects. It is supposedly non-existent in most Western and Northern dialects. Today there is doubtlessly distinctive opposition between /ɽ/ and /l/ in the dialects that do have /ɽ/, e.g. gard /ɡɑːɽ/ 'farm' and gal /ɡɑːl/ 'crazy' in many Eastern Norwegian dialects. Although traditionally an Eastern Norwegian dialect phenomenon, it was considered vulgar, and for a long time it was avoided. Nowadays it is considered standard in the Eastern and Central Norwegian dialects, but is still clearly avoided in high-prestige sociolects or standardized speech. This avoidance calls into question the status of /ɽ/ as a phoneme in certain sociolects.
- Unless preceding another vowel within the same word, all unstressed vowels are short.
- The long vowels /iː, yː, uː, eː, øː/ and /oː/ (but never /ʉː, æː/ and /ɑː/) can be realized as centering diphthongs [iə, yə, uə, eə, øə] and [oə]. This happens frequently with the mid front vowels /eː/ and /øː/, but is a mere possibility for /iː, yː, uː/ and /oː/.
The following sections describe each monophthong in detail.
- /ɪ/ has been variously described as near-close front unrounded [ɪ̟] and close front unrounded [i]. It is pronounced with spread lips, although somewhat less spread than in /iː/.
- /iː/ is close front unrounded [iː]. It is pronounced with spread lips.
- /ʏ/ has been variously described as near-close front rounded [ʏ̟] and near-close near-front rounded [ʏ]. Its rounding is protruded [ɪʷ].
- /yː/ has been variously described as close front rounded [yː] and near-close near-front rounded [ʏː]. Its rounding is protruded [iʷː].
- /ʉ/ has been variously described as near-close near-front rounded [ʏ] and close central rounded [ʉ]. Its rounding has been variously described as compressed [ɨᵝ] and somewhat protruded [ɨʷ].
- /ʉː/ has been variously described as close near-front rounded [ʉ̟ː] and close central rounded [ʉː]. Its rounding has been variously described as compressed [ɨᵝː] and somewhat protruded [ɨʷː].
- /ʊ/ has been variously described as near-close near-back rounded [ʊ] and close back rounded [u]. Its rounding has been most often described as compressed [ʊᵝ], but at least one source describes it as protruded [ʊʷ].
- /uː/ is close back rounded [uː]. Its rounding has been most often described as compressed [ɯᵝː], but at least one source describes it as protruded [ɯʷː].
- /ɛ/ is mid front unrounded [ɛ̝].
- /eː/ has been variously described as close-mid front unrounded [eː] and mid front unrounded [e̞ː]. It is pronounced with spread lips.
- /œ/ has been variously described as open-mid near-front weakly rounded [œ̠] and ranging from mid near-front rounded [œ̽] to open-mid near-front rounded [œ̠]. Its rounding is protruded [ɛʷ].
- /øː/ has been variously described as close-mid central rounded [ɵː], close-mid near-front rounded [ø̠ː], mid near-front rounded [ø̽ː] and ranging from mid near-front rounded [ø̽ː] to open-mid near-front rounded [œ̠ː]. Its rounding is protruded [eʷː].
- /ə/ is mid central unrounded [ə]. It occurs only in unstressed syllables.
- /ɔ/ has been variously described as near-open near-back rounded [ɒ̽], open-mid near-back rounded [ɔ̟] and open-mid back rounded [ɔ]. Its rounding is protruded [ʌʷ].
- /oː/ is mid back rounded [o̞ː]. Its rounding is protruded [ɤʷː].
- /æ, æː/ are near-open front unrounded [æ, æː]. Kristoffersen (2000) reports somewhat centralized realizations, i.e. closer to [ɐ, ɐː].
- The phonemic status of [æ] and [æː] in Standard Eastern Norwegian is unclear since these pattern as allophones of, respectively, /ɛ/ and /eː/ before the flaps /ɾ/ and /ɽ/. However, there also are words in which /eː/ is realized as [eː] despite the following flap, such as Per [peːɾ] 'Peter'. [æ] also occurs in the diphthongs /æɪ/ and /æʉ/, which can be analyzed as /ej/ and /ew/. There also are minimal pairs like hacke [ˈhækə] ('to hack', from English) vs. hekke [ˈhɛkə] ('to nest').
- /ɑ, ɑː/ are open somewhat advanced back unrounded [ɑ, ɑː]. Some older sources describe them as central [ä, äː]. Vanvik (1979) states that the central variant of /ɑ/ may be somewhat fronted (closer to [a]) or retracted (closer to [ɑ]). For older speakers they can be front [a, aː]. These are pronounced with neutral lips.
Norwegian diphthong phonemes are /œʏ, æɪ, æʉ/. Marginal diphthongs are /ʉʏ, ɛɪ, ɔʏ, ɑɪ/. Their starting and ending points have very similar quality to the short vowels transcribed the same way.
- /ʉʏ/ appears only in the word hui.
- /ɛɪ, ɔʏ, ɑɪ/ appear only in loanwords.
- /ɛɪ/ is used only by some younger speakers, who contrast it with /æɪ/. Speakers who do not have /ɛɪ/ in their diphthong inventory replace it with /æɪ/.
- The ending point /ɪ/ may be realized as [j], especially in emphatic pronunciation.
- The offset of /æʉ/ is often realized as a labiodental approximant, which turns this diphthong into a sequence [æʋ].
Kristoffersen (2000) analyses Norwegian diphthongs as sequences of a short vowels and a semivowel /j/ (which is allophonically rounded after rounded vowels) or /w/ (which corresponds to central /ʉ/, not back /ʊ/). On the other hand, both Vanvik (1979) and Strandskogen (1979) analyze them as diphthongs.
Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns. They are used to differentiate polysyllabic words with otherwise identical pronunciation. Although difference in spelling occasionally allows the words to be distinguished in the written language (such as bønner/bønder), in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike. For example in most Norwegian dialects, the word uttale ('pronounce') is pronounced using tone 1, while uttale ('pronunciation') uses tone 2.
There are significant variations in the realization of the pitch accent between dialects. In most of Eastern Norway, including the capital Oslo, the so-called low pitch dialects are spoken. In these dialects, accent 1 uses a low flat pitch in the first syllable, while accent 2 uses a high, sharply falling pitch in the first syllable and a low pitch in the beginning of the second syllable. In both accents, these pitch movements are followed by a rise of intonational nature (phrase accent), the size (and presence) of which signals emphasis/focus and which corresponds in function to the normal accent in languages that lack lexical tone, such as English. That rise culminates in the final syllable of an accentual phrase, while the fall to utterance-final low pitch that is so common in most languages is either very small or absent.
On the other hand, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary. The two tones can be transcribed on the first vowel as /à/ for accent 1 and /â/ for accent 2; the modern reading of the IPA (low and falling) corresponds to eastern Norway, whereas an older tradition of using diacritics to represent the shape of the pitch trace (falling and rising-falling) corresponds to western Norway.
The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a "singing" quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.
Tonal accents and morphology
In many dialects, the accents take on a significant role in marking grammatical categories. Thus, the ending (T1)—en implies determinate form of a masculine monosyllabic noun (båten 'boat', bilen, 'car'), whereas (T2)-en denotes either determinate form of a masculine bisyllabic noun or an adjectivised noun/verb (moden 'mature'). Similarly, the ending (T1)—a denotes feminine singular determinate monosyllabic nouns (boka 'book', rota 'root') or neuter plural determinate nouns (husa 'houses', lysa 'lights'), whereas the ending (T2)—a denotes the preterite of weak verbs (rota 'messy', husa 'housed'), feminine singular determinate bisyllabic nouns (bøtta 'bucket', ruta 'square').
In Eastern Norwegian the tone difference may also be applied to groups of words, with different meaning as a result. Gro igjen for example, means 'grow anew' when pronounced with tone 1 [ˈɡɾùː‿ɪjə́n], but 'grow over' when pronounced with tone 2 [ˈɡɾûː‿ɪjə́n]. In other parts of Norway, this difference is achieved instead by the shift of stress (gro igjen [ˈɡɾuː ɪjən] vs. gro igjen [ɡɾuː ɪˈjən]).
In compound words
In a compound word, the pitch accent is lost on one of the elements of the compound (the one with weaker or secondary stress), but the erstwhile tonic syllable retains the full length (long vowel or geminate consonant) of a stressed syllable.
Monosyllabic tonal accents
In some dialects of Norwegian, mainly those from Nordmøre and Trøndelag to Lofoten, there may also be tonal opposition in monosyllables, as in [bîːl] ('car') vs. [bìːl] ('axe'). In a few dialects, mainly in and near Nordmøre, the monosyllabic tonal opposition is also represented in final syllables with secondary stress, as well as double tone designated to single syllables of primary stress in polysyllabic words. In practice, this means that one gets minimal pairs like: [hɑ̀ːniɲː] ('the rooster') vs. [hɑ̀ːnîɲː] ('get him inside'); [brŷɲːa] ('in the well') vs. [brŷɲːâ] ('her well'); [læ̂nsmɑɲː] ('sheriff') vs. [læ̂nsmɑ̂ɲː] ('the sheriff'). Amongst the various views on how to interpret this situation, the most promising one may be that the words displaying these complex tones have an extra mora. This mora may have little or no effect on duration and dynamic stress, but is represented as a tonal dip.
Other dialects with tonal opposition in monosyllabic words have done away with vowel length opposition. Thus, the words [vɔ̀ːɡ] ('dare') vs. [vɔ̀ɡː] ('cradle') have merged into [vɔ̀ːɡ] in the dialect of Oppdal.
Loss of tonal accents
Some forms of Norwegian have lost the tonal accent opposition. This includes mainly parts of the area around (but not including) Bergen; the Brønnøysund area; to some extent, the dialect of Bodø; and, also to various degrees, many dialects between Tromsø and the Russian border. Faroese and Icelandic, which have their main historical origin in Old Norse, also show no tonal opposition. It is, however, not clear whether these languages lost the tonal accent or whether the tonal accent was not yet there when these languages started their separate development. Danish (apart from some southern dialects) and Finland Swedish also have no tonal opposition.
The word ja ('yes') is sometimes pronounced with inhaled breath (pulmonic ingressive) in Norwegian—and this can be rather confusing for foreigners. The same phenomenon occurs across the other Scandinavian languages, and can also be found in German, French, Finnish and Japanese, to name a few.
/²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ɔ ˈsuːlən ²kɾɑŋlət ɔm ʋɛm ɑː dɛm səm ˈʋɑːɾ dən ²stæɾkəstə || ˌdɑː ˈkɔm deː ən ˈmɑn ˌɡoːənə meː ən ˈʋɑɾm ˈfɾɑk pɔ ˌsæ || diː bleː ²eːnjə ɔm ɑt ˈdɛn səm ˈfœʂt ˌkʉnə fɔ ˈmɑnən tɔ ²tɑː ɑː sæ ˈfɾɑkən ˌskʉlə ²jɛlə fɔɾ dən ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˌdɛm || ˈsoː ²bloːstə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ɑː ˈɑl sɪn ˈmɑkt | mɛn ju ˈmeːɾ han ²bloːstə | ju ²tɛtəɾə ˌtɾɑk ˈmɑnən ˈfɾɑkən ˈɾʉnt sæ | ɔ tə ˈsɪst ˌmɔtə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ²jiː ˌɔp || ˌdɑː ²ʂɪntə ˈsuːlən ˈfɾɛm ˌsoː ˈɡɔt ɔ ˈʋɑɾmt ɑt ˈmɑnən ˈstɾɑks ˌmɔtə ²tɑː ɑː sæ ˈfɾɑkən || ɔ ˈsoː ˌmɔtə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ˈɪnˌɾœmə ɑt ˈsuːlən ˈʋɑːɾ ən ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˈdɛm/
[²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ɔ ˈsuːln̩ ²kɾɑŋlət ɔm ʋɛm ɑ dɛm sɱ̍ ˈʋɑː ɖɳ̩ ²stæɾ̥kəstə || ˌdɑˑ ˈkʰɔmː de n ˈmɑnː ˌɡoˑənə me n ˈʋɑɾm ˈfɾɑkː pɔ ˌsæ || di ble ²eːnjə ɔm ɑt ˈdɛnː sɱ̍ ˈfœʂt̠ ˌkʰʉnˑə fɔ ˈmɑnːn̩ tɔ ²tʰɑː ɑ sæ ˈfɾɑkːən ˌskʉlˑə ²jɛlːə fɔ ɖɳ̩ ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˌdɛmˑ || ˈsoː ²bloːstə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnːn̩ ɑ ˈʔɑlː sɪn ˈmɑkʰtʰ | mɛn ju ˈmeːɾ ɦam ²bloːstə | ju ²tʰɛtːəɾə ˌtɾɑkˑ ˈmɑnːn̩ ˈfɾɑkːən ˈɾʉnt sæ | ɔ tə ˈsɪst ˌmɔtˑə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ²jiː ˌɔpʰ || ˌdɑː ²ʂɪntə ˈsuːln̩ ˈfɾɛm ˌsoˑ ˈɡɔtʰː ɔ ˈʋɑɾmtʰ ɑt̚ ˈmɑnːən ˈstɾɑks ˌmɔtˑə ²tɑː ɑ sæ ˈfɾɑkːən || ɔ ˈsoː ˌmɔtˑə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ˈɪnːˌɾœmˑə ɑt ˈsuːln̩ ˈʋɑːɾ n̩ ²stæɾ̥kəstə ʔɑ ˈdɛmː]
Nordavinden og solen kranglet om hvem av dem som var den sterkeste. Da kom det en mann gående med en varm frakk på seg. De blei enige om at den som først kunne få mannen til å ta av seg frakken skulle gjelde for den sterkeste av dem. Så blåste nordavinden av all si makt, men jo mer han blåste, jo tettere trakk mannen frakken rundt seg, og til sist måtte nordavinden gi opp. Da skinte solen fram så godt og varmt at mannen straks måtte ta av seg frakken. Og så måtte nordavinden innrømme at solen var den sterkeste av dem.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 6.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 7.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 22.
- Skaug (2003), pp. 130–131.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 58.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 40.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 75–76 and 79.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 74.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 41.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 24–25.
- Endresen (1990:177), cited in Kristoffersen (2000:25)
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 24.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 23.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 22–23.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 6–11.
- Grønnum (2005), p. 155.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 13.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 19.
- Vanvik (1979), pp. 14, 17 and 19-20.
- Strandskogen (1979), p. 16.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 13.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 18.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15-16.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 16.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15 and 23.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 15.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 20.
- Strandskogen (1979), p. 23.
- Skaug (2003), p. 29.
- Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pp. 291-292 and 295.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 19.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 32.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15 and 21.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 15–16.
- Strandskogen (1979), p. 22.
- Skaug (2003), p. 41.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 18.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15 and 20.
- Strandskogen (1979), p. 20.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 16.
- Skaug (2003), p. 35.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 29.
- Popperwell (2010), pp. 16 and 27.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 27.
- Popperwell (2010), pp. 16 and 19.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 20.
- Skaug (2003), p. 58.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 20-21.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15 and 19.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 26.
- Skaug (2003), p. 63.
- Popperwell (2010), pp. 16 and 25.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 25.
- Popperwell (2010), pp. 16 and 21–22.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15 and 18.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 14 and 106.
- Popperwell (2010), pp. 16 and 23–24.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 16.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 15-16.
- Popperwell (2010), p. 23.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17, 25.
- Vanvik (1979), p. 22.
- Strandskogen (1979), pp. 25–26.
- Vanvik (1979), pp. 22–23.
- Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 19, 25.
- Gussenhoven (2004), p. 89.
- Kristoffersen (2000), p. 184.
- "Nordavinden og sola: Opptak og transkripsjoner av norske dialekter".
- Source of the phonetic transcription: "Nordavinden og sola: Opptak og transkripsjoner av norske dialekter". Some symbols were changed to fit the ones used in this article.
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