11 Pronunciation

11 Pronunciation

Speech rhythm

The pronunciation of Norwegian is characterized by a certain speech rhythm which often is labelled stress timing. The rhythm is related to the relation between stressed and unstressed syllables.

In general, one can say that in connected speech there is a tendency that stressed syllables occur with equal intervals. The letters ABCD constitute an utterance. The boxes into which the letters are put, indicate that they should be delivered with equal intervals.

Imagine that you are pronouncing the letters of the alphabet. Speak with a loud voice and deliver the letters as described above. (Here and below, capital letters indicate that the syllables are stressed).

If you for instance point at some coloured squares, you could say:

RØD  BLÅ  GUL  GRØNN 

Here, all words are stressed and pronounced with the same patterns as the letters.

You could try the same with numbers. Here we use < FIR' > which is a monosyllabic version of fire (four):

EN  TO  TRE  FIR' 

This goes for names as well:

ANN  TOR  LEIF  BRITT 

Or cities:

BONN  YORK  HULL  NICE 

Or music:

POP  JAZZ  ROCK  SWING 

Unstressed syllables

If there are unstressed syllables in the utterance, the pattern above is maintained. That means that unstressed syllables will be compressed in order to maintain equal intervals between the stressed syllables. The more unstressed syllables there are, the more compression will occur. The compression of syllables is achieved by speaking faster. Non-capital letters indicate unstressed syllables:

RØD
RØD og
RØD og så
RØD og så en
RØD og så er det 
BLÅ
BLÅ og
BLÅ og så
BLÅ og så en
BLÅ og så er det 
GUL
GUL og
GUL og så
GUL og så en
GUL og så er det 
GRØNN
GRØNN
GRØNN
GRØNN
GRØNN 

Consequently, one characteristic feature of spoken Norwegian is the change of speed while speaking. Sometimes the speed is slow (few syllables between two stressed syllables, sometimes it is high (several syllables between two stressed syllables).

Below you find possible answers to the question «Hva slags musikk liker du?» (What kind of music do you like?). You can answer:

POP
POP og
POP og så
POP og så litt 
JAZZ
JAZZ og
JAZZ og så
JAZZ og så litt 
ROCK
ROCK og
ROCK og så
ROCK og så litt 
SWING
SWING
SWING
SWING 

Rhythm unit: The foot

A foot  is a unit that starts with a stressed syllable and ends before the next stressed syllable. If one apply this concept on what is said above, one can say that in Norwegian there is a tendency that all feet should have equal duration independent of how many syllables there are in each foot.

The utterance «OS, NES, BØ, DAL» below could be a list of places along a railway line, or it could be the answer to questions like: «Name the municipalities in X county». The second, third and fourth could be answer to «Where did you go this summer?». The two last utterances could be the answer to «Where will you go next summer?».

FOOT FOOT FOOT FOOT
OS  NES  BØ  DAL 
OSlo  BERgen  HAmar  BOdø 
OSlo og  BERgen og  HAmar og  BOdø 
OSlo og så  BERgen og så  HAmar og så  BOdø 
OSlo og kanskje  BERgen og kanskje  HAmar og kanskje  BOdø 
OSlo og så kanskje  BERgen og så kanskje  HAmar og så kanskje  BOdø 

It is not so common to find utterances made up of feet with an equal number of syllables, like the ones above. You will most likely find this pattern in poems.

In everyday speech there is a variation when it comes to the number of syllables in the feet of an utterance. Minimally, there will be one syllable in a foot (which according to our definition must be stressed); maximally, there will be six or seven. In general, there are no more than four or maybe five. This implies that feet contain one stressed syllable and 3-4 unstressed ones.

KEN skal til (3)
ANNa kan (3)
LIKer du ikke (4)
VET du når (3) 
OSlo og (3)
SNAKKe (2)
KAFFe med (3)
BUSSen går til (4) 
BERgen (2)
ENGelsk (2)
SUKKer og (3)
BØ (1) 


MELK (1) 

Observe that feet may start in the middle of a word. This will occur when any syllable in the word except for the first is stressed:

Stavanger   →  staVANGer 
Paris   →  paRIS 
studere   →  stuDERe 
PETer
ANNa bor i pa
KEN og ma- 
REISer fra sta-
RIS
RIa stu- 
VANGer til

DERer 
OS

NORSK 

What is typical for unstressed syllables is that they are spoken with a rather flat tone. You will make the major tonal changes in the stressed syllables, and in the end of clauses.