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Accent groups = chunks of speech formed by accented melodies

In the section Accents: highlighting words by changing the tonewe introduced the concept of accents: In an utterance, some primary-stressed syllables are additionally marked with tonal movements, that is such primary-stressed syllables trigger a round of accent melody.

The accent melody starts with an accented syllable and ends with the last syllable before the next accented syllable. However, the accent melody is most often not done and over with in only one syllableIt accent melody encompasses the tones of a whole accent group (Danish trykgruppe; Norwegian aksentfrase; no tonally defined equivalent term in Swedish literature).

The accent group melody is maybe the easiest to demonstrate with a Danish example.


Accent groups: definition by Danish examples

Take a look at example (20). In Copenhagen Danish, the basic accent group pattern has a falling or low tone on the accented syllable, from which there is a tonal jump (not a glide, as is more common in accent melodies!) up on the first following unaccented syllable. This tonal jump seems sometimes to be more salient than the falling tone on the accented syllable. From the high tone on the first unaccented syllable, the tone falls again on the subsequent unaccented syllables of the accent group. Listen to the utterance and compare to the visualization.


(20) a. Synes du man skal bruge robotter i ældreplejen? 
       "Do you think you should use robots in elderlycare?"

                                  b. Each accented syllable starts a round of accent melody:

Danish utterances usually have some degree of declination. Declination means that accented syllables within the same utterance are pronounced with a lower tone for new each accent. If you draw a line through the stressed syllables in an utterance, that line will therefore form a downwards slope from the beginning to the end of the utterance, as is demonstrated in example (1b):

(21) a. Jeg startede i skolen da jeg var seks. 
"I started school when I was six."

b. The accented syllables form a declination:

Declination is also used in Swedish and Norwegian, and in many other languages; but in Danish, it is exploited for signaling special communicative functions with respect to the utterance as a whole, see section  Tonal movements with utterance functions.

 This is then the definition of “accent group”:

An accent group is a tonal unit starting with an accent and comprising all following unaccented syllables, if there are any.

At the beginning of utterances, there are often a couple of unaccented syllables before the first accented syllable, see example (22) below. Such syllables form a prelude. They do not belong to any accent group at all because accent groups and accent melodies always start with an accented syllable. These syllables do not form any special melody of their own but are usually spoken in a rather even, middle tone.

(22) a. Har du nogensinde set en robot? 
Have you ever seen a robot?"

b. The question begins with a prelude of two unaccented syllables: har du (“have you”).

We use the same definition for Norwegian and Swedish: unaccented syllables at the beginning of an utterance do not belong to any accent group.

Norwegian accent groups

In Norwegian, the tones of the accent melodies are usually distributed across the whole of the accent group, just like in Danish. The melody is made more complex than in Danish by the fact that there are two tone accents in Norwegian (Norwegian tonelag), called accent 1 and accent 2, and each of them has its own characteristical accent melody (for tone accents, see Accents: highlighting words by changing the tone). In addition, the rules for the distribution of the accent melody tones inside the accent group are more complicated than in Danish. Therefore, we will not go into fine details but only give an impression of how Norwegian accent groups can sound.

Example (23), you hear a Southeast Norwegian utterance. The variety around Oslo is a so-called the low-tone variety (see Accents: highlighting words by changing the tone), which means that the end of an accent group displays a characteristic high tone. The rise from the low tone to the high tone can be clearly heard at the end of  robo ter  and of  eldriomsor gen . To Swedish people, this is a well-known feature of Norwegian, which in Swedish ears make the speaker sound happy and  friendly.

(23) a. Så hva tenker du om…                     bruken av...      roboter...        i eldreomsorgen?
"So what do you think about       the use of           robots               in elderly care?"

       b. Listen to the rising tone at the end of the accent groups:

Swedish accent groups

In opposition to Danish and Norwegian, the important tonal movements of Swedish accent melodies are as a rule of thumb concentrated to the first two syllables of an accent group, even when more unaccented syllables follow. The rest of the accent group in principle just continues the last tone/tonal direction of the two first accent group syllables.

In example (24), you can hear and see how the whole middle part of the rather long accent group FRÅga hur det kommer sig att du känner continues approximately the same tone that was set after the second syllable of the word (FRÅ)-ga (“ask”).

(24) a. Får jag     fråga hur det kommer sig att du känner till    robotar? 
may I         ask how it comes that you know of                                  robots?
"May I ask where you know robots from?"

         b. Listen to the long, monotone stretch of syllables following the accented syllable FRÅ- ( ga ):

There is one exception to the concentration of Swedish accent melody movements to the beginning of the accent groups, and that is the so-called two-peak accents.

In Central Swedish, there is one case in which a noticeable tonal movement takes place on a non-accented syllable. This happens only in the case of big accent 2 melodies (for big accents, see  Accents: Important information and very important information):

  • The big accent 2 melody starts with a fall from a high tone in the accented syllable, which you can hear and see in the syllable ÄL- in the word äl dreomsorgen (“elderlycare”) in example (25) below.
  • Towards the end of the accent group elder care, there is a rise to a high tone, see and listen to the syllable -SOR- . This is traditionally called a “focus rise” in the Swedish literature; let's be consistent and call it a “big accent rise” here.
  • After the big accent rise, the tone falls again at the end of the accent group, but this is not part of the accent group melody. This fall is a case of end intonation, and that is the topic of the next section.

(25) a. Tycker du att robotar ska användas i äldreomsorgen? 
              "Do you think that robots should be used in elderly care?"

b. The last accent group ÄL-dreomsorgen contains a two-peak big accent 2 melody:


(The big accent rise actually takes place on the last secondary-stressed syllable of the same lexical word in which the accent-carrying syllable is located. The big accent rise may therefore in some cases take place on the syllable directly following the accented syllable; or there can be one or more syllables between the accented syllable and the focus rise, as in elder care . For an explanation of secondary stress, see  Stress: highlighting words by making syllables stand out.)



In this section, we have explained how speech is divided into chunks by the accent melody tones that start with an accented syllable. We have demonstrated how the same definition of tonal groups can be used for Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

In Danish, each regional variety has a basic accent group pattern of its own, and this basic accent group pattern is often repeated over and over with each new accent group. In Norwegian, two tone accents contribute with two different accent group melodies. The tones of the accent melodies can be distributed throughout the accent group. In Swedish, the important tonal movements are often finished at the beginning of the accent group, within the accented syllable or within the accented syllable and the first following unaccented syllable. An exception is the two-peak big accent 2 melody in Central Swedish.

These differences lead to different intonation (speech melody) in the three languages.



Alm, Maria, Abrahamsen, Jardar Eggesbø, Abelin, Åsa, Albertsen, Egil & Koreman, Jacques. (Forthcoming). “Parameters of tonal variation in and between three Scandinavian languages.” In: TAI 2021, The 1st International Conference on Tone and Intonation, Dec 6-9 2021, Sønderborg, Denmark.

Bruce, Gösta. 1998. Allmän och svensk prosodi. Praktisk Lingvistik 16. Lund: Institutionen för Lingvistik.

Grønnum, Nina. 2005. Fonetik og fonologi: Almen og dansk. Copenhagen: Akademisk forlag.

Sara & Riad, Tomas. 2015. “The prosodic hierarchy of Swedish.” In: Nordic Journal of Linguistics, suppl. Prosody in the Nordic Languages; Cambridge Vol. 38, Iss. 2: 115-147. DOI:10.1017/S0332586515000177

Trondheim Model of Intonation, developed by Thorstein Fretheim and Randi A. Nilsen. See Kristoffersen, Gjert. 2000. The Phonology of Norwegian. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, Ch. 10.

Last Updated 09.02.2023