10 Pronunciation

10 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).

A B C D


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 BLÅ GUL GRØNN
RØD og BLÅ og GUL og GRØNN
RØD og så BLÅ og så GUL og så GRØNN
RØD og så en BLÅ og så en GUL og så en GRØNN
RØD og så det BLÅ og så det GUL og så det 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, some times 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 JAZZ ROCK SWING
POP og JAZZ og ROCK og SWING
POP og så JAZZ og så ROCK og så SWING
POP og så litt JAZZ og så litt ROCK og så litt 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 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) OSlo og (3) BERgen (2)  
ANNa kan (3) SNAKKe (2) ENGelsk (2)  
LIKer du ikke (4) KAFFe med (3) SUKKer og (3) MELK (1)
VET du når (3) BUSSen går til (4) BØ (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 REISer fra sta- VANGer til OS
ANNa bor i pa RIS    
KEN og ma- RIa stu- DERer 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.

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:

ANACRUSIS FOOT FOOT
en BIL  
det er ANN  
det er en BUSS  
det er HUSet mitt  
er det et e- LEKtrisk TOG


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.


Summary

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.