The sound system of Norwegian resembles that of Swedish. There is considerable variation among the dialects, and all pronunciations are considered by official policy to be equally correct – there is no official spoken standard, although it can be said that Eastern Norwegian Bokmål speech (not Norwegian Bokmål in general) has an unofficial spoken standard, called Urban East Norwegian or Standard East Norwegian (Norwegian: standard østnorsk), loosely based on the speech of the literate classes of the Oslo area. This variant is the most common one taught to foreign students.
Despite there being no official standard variety of Norwegian, Urban East Norwegian has traditionally been used in public venues such as theatre and TV, although today local dialects are used extensively in spoken and visual media.
The background for this lack of agreement is that after the dissolution of Denmark–Norway in 1814, the upper classes would speak in what was perceived as the Danish language, which gradually fell out of favour with the rise of Norwegian romantic nationalism. In addition, Bergen, not Oslo, was the larger and more influential city in Norway until the 19th century. See the article on the Norwegian language conflict for further information.
Unless noted otherwise, this article describes the phonology of Urban East Norwegian. The spelling is always Bokmål.
Most of the retroflex (and postalveolar) consonants are mutations of [ɾ]+any other alveolar/dental consonant; rn /rn/ > [ɳ], rt /rt/ > [ʈ], rl /rl/ > [ɭ], rs /rs/ > [ʂ], etc. /rd/ across word boundaries (sandhi), in loanwords and in a group of primarily literary words may be pronounced [ɾd], e.g., verden [ˈʋæɾdn̩], but it may also be pronounced [ɖ] in some dialects. Most of the dialects in Eastern, Central and Northern Norway use the retroflex consonants. Most Southern and Western dialects do not have these retroflex sounds; in these areas a guttural realization of the /r/ phoneme is commonplace, and seems to be expanding. Depending on phonetic context voiceless ([χ]) or voiced uvular fricatives ([ʁ]) are used. (See map at right.) Other possible pronunciations include a uvular approximant [ʁ̞] or, more rarely, a uvular trill [ʀ]. There is, however, a small number of dialects that use both the uvular /r/ and the retroflex allophones.
The retroflex flap, [ɽ], colloquially known to Norwegians as tjukk/tykk l ('thick l'), is a Central Scandinavian innovation that exists in Eastern Norwegian (including Trøndersk), the southmost Northern dialects, and the most eastern Western Norwegian dialects. It is supposedly non-existent in most Western and Northern dialects. Today there is doubtlessly distinctive opposition between /ɽ/ and /l/ in the dialects that do have /ɽ/, e.g. gård /ɡɔːɽ/ 'farm' and gal /ɡɑːl/ 'crazy' in many Eastern Norwegian dialects. Although traditionally an Eastern Norwegian dialect phenomenon, it was considered vulgar, and for a long time it was avoided. Nowadays it is considered standard in the Eastern and Central Norwegian dialects, but is still clearly avoided in high-prestige sociolects or standardized speech. This avoidance calls into question the status of /ɽ/ as a phoneme in certain sociolects.
According to Nina Grønnum, tjukk l in Trøndersk is actually a postalveolar lateral flap [ɺ̠].
|Diphthongs||œʏ æɪ æʉ (ʉɪ ɛɪ ɔʏ ɑɪ)|
The following section describe each monophthong in detail.
Norwegian is a stress-accent language, but has elements of pitch accent, with two distinct pitch patterns. They are used to differentiate polysyllabic words with otherwise identical pronunciation. Although difference in spelling occasionally allows the words to be distinguished in the written language (such as bønner/bønder), in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike. For example, in most Norwegian dialects, the word uttale ('pronounce') is pronounced using tone 1 (/ˈʉ̀ːttɑːlə/), while uttale ('pronunciation') uses tone 2 (/ˈʉ̂ːttɑːlə/).
There are significant variations in the realization of the pitch accent between dialects. In most of Eastern Norway, including the capital Oslo, the so-called low pitch dialects are spoken. In these dialects, accent 1 uses a low flat pitch in the first syllable, while accent 2 uses a high, sharply falling pitch in the first syllable and a low pitch in the beginning of the second syllable. In both accents, these pitch movements are followed by a rise of intonational nature (phrase accent), the size (and presence) of which signals emphasis/focus and which corresponds in function to the normal accent in languages that lack lexical tone, such as English. That rise culminates in the final syllable of an accentual phrase, while the fall to utterance-final low pitch that is so common in most languages is either very small or absent. On the other hand, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary.
The two tones can be transcribed on the first vowel as ⟨ɑ̀⟩ for accent 1 and ⟨ɑ̂⟩ for accent 2; the modern reading of the IPA tone diacritics (low ⟨ɑ̀⟩ and falling ⟨ɑ̂⟩) corresponds to the pronunciation of eastern Norway, whereas an older tradition of using diacritics to represent the shape of the pitch trace (falling ⟨ɑ̀⟩ and rising-falling ⟨ɑ̂⟩) corresponds to the pronunciation of western Norway.
Accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.
In many dialects, the accents take on a significant role in marking grammatical categories. Thus, the ending (T1)—en implies determinate form of a masculine monosyllabic noun (båten /ˈbòːtən/ 'boat', bilen /ˈbìːlən/, 'car'), whereas (T2)-en denotes either determinate form of a masculine bisyllabic noun or an adjectivised noun/verb (moden /ˈmûːdən/ 'mature'). Similarly, the ending (T1)—a denotes feminine singular determinate monosyllabic nouns (boka /ˈbùːkɑ/ 'book', rota /ˈrùːtɑ/ 'root') or neuter plural determinate nouns (husa /ˈhʉ̀ːsɑ/ 'houses', lysa /ˈlỳːsɑ/ 'lights'), whereas the ending (T2)—a denotes the preterite of weak verbs (rota /ˈrûːtɑ/ 'made a mess', husa /ˈhʉ̂ːsɑ/ 'housed'), and feminine singular determinate bisyllabic nouns (bøtta /ˈbœ̂tːɑ/ 'bucket', ruta /ˈrʉ̂ːtɑ/ 'square').
In Eastern Norwegian the tone difference may also be applied to groups of words, with different meaning as a result. Gro igjen for example, means 'grow anew' when pronounced with tone 1 /ˈɡrùː‿ɪjən/, but 'grow over' when pronounced with tone 2 /ˈɡrûː‿ɪjən/. In other parts of Norway, this difference is achieved instead by the shift of stress (gro igjen /ˈɡruː ɪjən/ vs. gro igjen /ɡruː ɪˈjɛn/).
In a compound word, the pitch accent is lost on one of the elements of the compound (the one with weaker or secondary stress), but the erstwhile tonic syllable retains the full length (long vowel or geminate consonant) of a stressed syllable.
In some dialects of Norwegian, mainly those from Nordmøre and Trøndelag to Lofoten, there may also be tonal opposition in monosyllables, as in [bîːl] ('car') vs. [bìːl] ('axe'). In a few dialects, mainly in and near Nordmøre, the monosyllabic tonal opposition is also represented in final syllables with secondary stress, as well as double tone designated to single syllables of primary stress in polysyllabic words. In practice, this means that one gets minimal pairs like: [hɑ̀ːnɪɲː] ('the rooster') vs. [hɑ̀ːnɪ̂ɲː] ('get him inside'); [brʏ̂ɲːɑ] ('in the well') vs. [brʏ̂ɲːɑ̂] ('her well'); [læ̂nsmɑɲː] ('sheriff') vs. [læ̂nsmɑ̂ːɲː] ('the sheriff'). Amongst the various views on how to interpret this situation, the most promising one may be that the words displaying these complex tones have an extra mora. This mora may have little or no effect on duration and dynamic stress, but is represented as a tonal dip.
Other dialects with tonal opposition in monosyllabic words have done away with vowel length opposition. Thus, the words [vɔ̀ːɡ] ('dare') vs. [vɔ̀ɡː] ('cradle') have merged into [vɔ̀ːɡ] in the dialect of Oppdal.
Some forms of Norwegian have lost the tonal accent opposition. This includes mainly parts of the area around (but not including) Bergen; the Brønnøysund area; to some extent, the dialect of Bodø; and, also to various degrees, many dialects between Tromsø and the Russian border. Faroese and Icelandic, which have their main historical origin in Old Norse, also show no tonal opposition. It is, however, not clear whether these languages lost the tonal accent or whether the tonal accent was not yet there when these languages started their separate development. Standard Danish, Rigsdansk, replaces tonal accents with the stød, whilst some southern, insular dialects of Danish preserve the tonal accent to different degrees. The Finland Swedish dialects also lack a tonal accent; no such phenomenon exists in Finnish.
The words ja ('yes') and nei ('no') are sometimes pronounced with inhaled breath (pulmonic ingressive) in Norwegian. The same phenomenon occurs across the other Scandinavian languages, and can also be found in German, French, Finnish and Japanese, to name a few.
The sample text is a reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun by a 47-year-old professor from Oslo's Nordstrand borough.
[²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ɔ ˈsuːln̩ ²kɾɑŋlət ɔm ʋɛm ɑ dɛm sɱ̍ ˈʋɑː ɖɳ̍ ²stæɾ̥kəstə]
Nordavinden og solen kranglet om hvem av dem som var den sterkeste.