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              
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, 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              
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                 
OSlo              
OSlo og        
OSlo og så   
OSlo og kanskje
OSlo og så kanskje

NES                          
BERgen                   
BERgen og              
BERgen og så         
BERgen og kanskje
BERgen og så kanskje

BØ                             
HAmar                      
HAmar og                
HAmar og så           
HAmar og kanskje
HAmar og så kanskje

DAL
BOdø
BOdø
BOdø
BOdø
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.

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
det er
det er en
det er
er det et  e-

BIL
ANN
BUSS
HUSet mitt
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.