7 Pronunciation

Retroflex sounds

Norwegian contains some speech sounds that are expressed by letter combinations. Here we will have a look at one group of five sounds that are articulated with the tip of the tongue curled upwards and a little bit backwards. The bottom part of the tip of the tongue is touching the ridge behind the upper front teeth. As the tongue is touching the rear part of the alveolar ridge - that is; the ridge in the roof of the mouth between the upper teeth and the hard palate - the sounds are called «retroflex» sounds (an alternative name is «postalveolar» sounds). In general these sound are written as combinations of the letter < r > and < t, d, n, l , s >. In phonetic writing the sounds are represented with special letters as shown below.

Letter sequence Pronunciation of letter sequence
< rt > as in «fort»  quick, fast /r/ + /t/ /ʈ/ 
< rd > as in «ferdig»  finished /r/ + /d/ /ɖ/
< rn > as in «barn» children /r/ + /n/ /ɳ/
< rl > as in «farlig»  dangerous /r/ + /l/ /ɭ/
< rs > as in «mars» March /r/ + /s/ /ʃ/

The examples above are shown with the sound occurring inside words. The same effect will be observed when /r/ is the last sound of one word and /t, d, n, l, s/ is the first sound in the following word. The two sounds melt together and create a new sound. This process, the coalescence of two sounds into one, is often referred to as assimilation.

/ t, d, n, l, s / / ʈ , ɖ , ɳ , ɭ , ʃ /
må ta /mo 1tɑ:/ must take har tatt /hɑ 1ʈɑt/ has taken
må dra /mo 1drɑ:/ must leave har dratt /hɑ 1ɖrɑt/ has gone
må nå /mo 1no:/ must reach har nådd /hɑ 1ɳod/  has reached
må lese /mo 2le:se/ must read har lest /hɑ 1ɭe:st/  has read
må se /mo 1se:/ must see har sett /hɑ 1ʃet/  has seen

As a speaker of Norwegian you are used to listen for the /r/-sound in the end of a word, as it may signal present tense as in «leser, snakker, skriver, spiser». From the description above it follows that the r-sound of present tense will be absent if the following word in isolation is starting with /t, d, n, l, s/. This means that the only sign of present tense is the retroflex sound. Thus the listener has to analyze /ʈ , ɖ , ɳ , ɭ , ʃ/ as /r/+/t/, /r/+/d/ and so on.

As the plural indefinite form of nouns also ends in «-r» («jenter, gutter, biler, busser»), the phenomenon described above is valid here as well.