The Scandinavian languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are so closely related that you could call them dialects instead of languages: “Much of the Nordic Region is bound together by languages so closely related that, with a little effort, most people understand each other” (Nordic Council). Because of their close relatedness and the intertwined history of the Scandinavian countries, Scandinavian languages are rather viewed as “neighbouring languages” than as “foreign languages” within Scandinavia, reflecting a definition of neighbouring languages as being spontaneously comprehensible (Lindgren, writing for the Swedish Agency of Education) whereas foreign languages need to be taught and learnt (Bacquin & Zola Cristensen 2013).
We aim to enhance inter-Scandinavian language comprehension by giving Scandinavian speakers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the sound of the other Scandinavian languages. We have chosen to work with intonation, i.e. the characteristic speech melody of different languages and regions. Intonation has been found to play a major role in language comprehension: getting the rhythm, the speech melody and the syllable structure right is more important for listening comprehension than the articulation of the individual speech sounds because the stress and melodies form the frame around those speech sounds (Grønnum 2007: 16).
In this project, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and from Gothenburg University work together to develop a tool that will be able to visualize intonation patterns in the Scandinavian languages, as well as provide learners with online feedback on the intonation of their own attempts, thus enhancing mutual comprehension between speakers of Scandinavian languages. The tool will be free to download, and alongside the speech technology involved, we will develop target descriptions for Danish and Swedish and exercises for students at upper secondary school and university level to practice their understanding of the intonation patterns of the target language.
The project is funded by Nordplus – a programme promoting lifelong learning funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.