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Human-Robot Interaction Lab Sønderborg

Getting The Idea: What is intonation?

Warm-up: Match utterance with speech melody

Do you recognize this: You hear somebody speak. You can not really make out the words, but you are still able to tell (at least approximately) what language you heard.

What you based our judgement on was probably a combination of some characteristic speech sounds in combination with the intonation of that language. Intonation is also called speech melody.

In the following example, three different speakers ask the same question in their respective native language: What education do you have? (1a-c).

In the audiofiles (1E-G), we have extracted the intonation in a form without speech sounds. Try to match the original utterances with the wordless melodies. (You will find the answer at the bottom of this page.)


  1. Example: Match the intonation.
    Try to match the utterances in files a-c with the corresponding wordless intonation in file E-G below. Write your guess below in front of its corresponding language. (See answers at the bottom of the page.)

a) Danish

b) Norwegian

c) Swedish




In this teaching material, we use utterances from native speakers of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish to illustrate the sound of the three languages.

We concentrate on intonation because

  • it plays an important role in packaging information and highlighting the important parts for the listener
  • it is often skipped in language class because it is to a large extent unconscious and has unclear, rather abstract meanings = it is rather difficult to teach
  • but you can learn to hear it

Experience the sound of Swedish/Norwegian/Danish

In this part of the teaching material, the focus is on having fun with the three languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

In all three countries, it is part of the curriculum to get a little acquainted with the neighboring languages.

The focus is on spontaneously experiencing and comparing the sound of the three Scandinavian languages. You will also get the opportunity to learn some frequent phrases that you can use when meeting one of your Scandinavian neighbors.


How old are you?

Listen and compare!

On your vacation in one of your neighbor countries, you have just engaged in conversation. How do they speak in comparison to your own mother tongue? Discuss!

  • Do they sound more melodic or more monotone than your own way of speaking?
  • Do they speak faster or slower than you?
  • Do you think they sound more slurred or clearer than you? etc.

  • Listen to the speakers. What do they sound like to you?

a. Central Swedish speaker: Hur gammal är du?

b. South Norwegian speaker: Å gammel æ du?

c. Copenhagen Danish speaker: Hvor gammel er du?

  • Now your new acquaintance wants to know where you were born:

a. Scania Swedish speaker: Var är du född?

b. Southeast Norwegian speaker: Og hvor er du født?

c. Copenhagen Danish speaker: Hvor er du født?

  • Now he/she wants to know what education you have:

a. Scania Swedish speaker: Vad har du för slags utbildning?

b. Southeast Norwegian speaker: Eh … andre bakgrunnsspørsmål:: eh hva slags utdanning er det du har?

c. Jutland Danish speaker: Hvilken studieretning går du på?



(Key to exercise 1a: 1F – 1b:1E – 1c:1G)

New acquaintances: What are they saying?

You have just started a conversation with some native Scandinavian speakers. You ask them how old they are. Do you understand the answers?


Say hello in Norwegian/Danish/Swedish!

Learn how to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “that’s great!” and a couple of other things in your neighboring languages!


Are you crazy?!

Listen to some examples and repeat the sentences.


How old are you?

How can we say this in different languages?


Last Updated 09.02.2023