12 Pronunciation

12 Pronunciation

Initial unstressed syllables

In many cases an utterance will start with one or more unstressed syllables, that means light syllables that occur before the first stressed one. These syllables, which constitute an anacrusis, behave in the same way as the unstressed ones within a foot: They are rapidly spoken and are delivered with a rather flat tone:

det er
det er en
det er
er det et  e- 
HUSet mitt

In general, there are up to four or five unstressed syllables before the first stressed one, and as we said earlier: In principle they are pronounced in the same way as unstressed syllables following a stressed syllable.


What is required in order to pronounce Norwegian in a satisfactory way? You need to master the central parts of the different levels of speech. You do if you are able to:

  • master the different speech sounds
  • pronounce short and long vowels (which only occur in stressed syllables)
  • master phenomena related to rapid speech (assimilation, reduction)
  • link words together to make the clause sound like one chain
  • pronounce stressed syllables in an adequate way, that is to stress the heavy syllable sufficiently
  • maintain equal intervals between stressed syllables
  • compress unstressed syllables and pronounce them with a flat tone

If you do this, your pronunciation of Norwegian most likely will be good enough. You will probably have an accent, but in general all Norwegians will understand what you are saying.

One last hint

Norwegian speech rhythm is quite similar to the speech rhythm of English, German or Dutch. This means that students with these languages as their mother tongue can rely on their own rhythmical patterns when speaking Norwegian. However, sound systems and intonation are different, so students will have to refine their pronunciation.

Some languages, for example Polish and Spanish, have a different speech rhythm than Norwegian. Often the syllables are of equal duration, and if this is transferred to Norwegian, the speech will be perceived as staccato as there is no compression of unstressed syllables.