Hvordan uttale østnorsk
“How to pronounce Eastern Norwegian”
In this post I’ll explain how to pronounce Østnorsk, the Norwegian dialect spoken in Oslo, for example, using sounds found in English as a starting point. I’ll also introduce a simple alphabet that I use to transcribe Norwegian into a form I can read aloud in real time, with unambiguous pronunciation, which I’ve found quite handy when learning and talking about Norwegian pronunciations. If I write any word or phrase list posts in the future I’ll refer back to this alphabet.
Note that although the alphabet I use is objective (it’s derived from IPA), any examples I use will be in (Southern) British English, and may not translate perfectly to other dialects. Regardless, it’s important to listen carefully to a native’s pronunciations of each of these sounds to check that yours are correct.
Vowels in Norwegian can either be long or short. The general rule is that a vowel is short before a double consonant, but they can be short in other cases too. For example, a vowel is short if it is a part of an inflection suffix (see Grammatiske kjønn og bøyning) instead of being a part of the root word itself. Many irregular verbs also break this pattern.
|e||e||bed||ē||bared||ə||used for unstressed vowels.|
|o||o||ō||ɔ||often used for short vowels; see å.|
|y||y||ȳ||sound not in English.|
[ə] is the ‘neutral’ unstressed vowel, called a schwa, which occurs often in English, such as two places in “a speaker.”
[ō] is pronounced like ‘oo’ in ‘boot’, but with more tightly rounded lips. (This is actually exactly how I would pronounce ‘ough’ in ‘bought’, but apparently that is nonstandard.)
[ȳ] is pronounced like ‘ee’ in ‘been’, but with rounded lips. This is probably the vowel sound an English speaker will find the most difficult to pull off.
Just as in English, adjacent vowels are often ‘merged’ to form diphthongs.
|eg / ei||æi||as ‘ay’ in ‘say’, but starting with [æ].|
|oi||ɔy||as ‘oy’ in ‘toy’, but ending with [y].|
|øy||øy||like [ɔy], but starting with [ø].|
e in ‘er’ is often pronounced as [ǣ].
Most of the consonants are just as they are in English. I’ll be leaving out some letters — c, q, w, x, and z — because they only occur in foreign words, so normal pronunciation rules do not apply.
|g||g||guess||j||used before soft vowels.|
|k||k||kit||ç||used before soft vowels; see kj.|
|r||r||can occur in English when [t] is voiced.|
The pronunciations of g and k differ depending on whether the following vowel is hard or soft. a, o, u, and å are hard; e, i, y, æ, and ø are soft.
r is not pronounced the way it is in English; Norwegian uses what is sometimes called a “Scandinavian ‘r’.” This sound can occur in English when the speaker is speaking quickly and ‘voices’ [t]: better, normally pronounced [betə], may when spoken quickly become [berə]. It may sound somewhat like a ‘soft ‘d’’ to English speakers.
j is pronounced the same way we would pronounce ‘y’ in English — yes would be [jes].
Again, much like in English, clusters of multiple consonants yield different sounds than the letters on their own.
|kj||ç||can occur in English when stressing [hj].|
|rs / sj / skj||š||shin|
|sk||sk||skin||š||used before soft vowels; see sj.|
|rs||ʂ||retroflex [s]; between word boundaries.|
The consonant cluster kj is meant to be pronounced [ç]. This sound may occur in English when [hj] is stressed and the two consonants ‘merge’. For example, human is pronounced [hjūmən], but when the initial consonant is stressed may be pronounced [çūmən]. Some young people in Oslo nowadays use [š] to mean [ç], so you may hear that, but it is not strictly correct (and can lead to some unfortunate homophones, e.g. kjede / skjede (!)).
Retroflex consonants occur when an r collides with another consonant, in a way that would be awkward to say. As a result we combine the two into a single sound: the consonants, which are all pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, are altered by curling the tongue slightly back on itself, similar to an ‘r’ in rhotic West Country accents, but always combined with another consonant.
Note that rs appears in the above table twice. The reason for this is that within a word root the cluster is pronounced [š], but between word boundaries it is pronounced [ʂ]. For example, spørsmål is pronounced [spø̄ʂ'mɔ̄l], because it comprises the roots spør-s-mål. I use apostrophes to demarcate word boundaries, for readability.
Consonants are also sometimes silenced:
- d is silent in ‘ld’ and ‘nd’, and at the end of some syllables.
- g is silent in ‘gj’, and in adjectives ending with ‘-ig’.
- h is silent in ‘hj’ and ‘hv’.
- t is silent in the ‘-et’ suffix for definite neuter nouns, and in det.
- v is silent at the end of some words.
Note that each of these words is written in a ‘pure’ form, unaffected by the surrounding words. If you say the sentences at a speaking pace you might find that your word-final r’s collide with word-initial consonants, in which case you probably want to retroflex. For example, “Hvordan har du det?” is more properly pronounced [vōɖan hā' ɖū de], and “Vær så snill.” [vǣ' ʂɔ̄ snil].
|God dag.||gō dāg.|
|God morgen.||gō mɔ̄'əɳ.|
|God kveld.||gō kvel.|
|God natt.||gō nat.|
|Ha det bra.||hā de brā.|
|Hvordan har du det?||vōɖan hār dū de?|
|Bare bra.||bāre brā.|
|Hva heter du?||vā hēter dū?|
|Jeg heter…||jæi hēter…|
|Hyggelig å treffe deg.||hyggelī ɔ̄ treffe dæi.|
|Vær så snill.||vǣr sɔ̄ snil.|
|Tusen takk.||tūsən tak.|
|Bare hyggelig.||bāre hyggelī.|
|Jeg vil gjerne reise til Norge.||jæi vil jǣɳə ræisə til nɔrge.|
|Jeg snakker ikke norsk.||jæi snakker ikke nɔšk.|
|Snakker du engelsk?||snakker dū eŋelsk?|
|Hvor bør jeg kjøpe et halskjede?||vōr bø̄r jæi çø̄pe et hals'çēde?|
|Jeg vil møte deg på Akershus festning.||jæi vil mø̄te dæi pɔ̄ ākeʂ'hūs festniŋ.|
|Nordmenn er født med ski på beina.||nɔrmen ǣr føt mē šī pɔ̄ bæi'na.|
|De kan overleve på akevitt og lutefisk.||dī kan ɔ̄ve'ɭēve pɔ̄ akevit ɔ lūtəfisk.|