This website aims at giving people who are interested in the Scandinavian languages an overview of the workings of the characteristic speech melody of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The presentation represents a basic-level, popular science introduction. The material will give you an idea of how speech melody arises, and as you go along, it will equip you with the terminology and knowledge needed to describe and try out intonation.
Our target groups are schoolteachers and upper secondary school teachers teaching the respective native language subject in the Scandinavian countries. The language curriculum often includes an introduction to other Scandinavian languages, but textbooks tend to rely mainly on written speech samples without supporting audio material.
The target group also includes second and foreign language teachers of the Scandinavian languages and their pupils. Last, but not least, there are all the people with an interest in languages who want to learn more about speech melody.
The speech melody is thus a salient and immediate difference between the Scandinavian languages. All of us react instantly to unfamiliar intonation. If we are in a favorable mood, we may react to new things, such as unaccustomed speech melodies, with curiosity. If we are in less good mood, we may react by blocking: “this is not a language I feel comfortable with, I don’t get it”. But regardless of our emotional reaction, it requires an effort to become more aware of and familiar with the intonation of another language. One goal of this material is thus to give you the opportunity to listen to and familiarize yourself with the sound of the neighboring Scandinavian languages.
The varieties in this material
In the map below, we have marked where the speakers in our material come from:
Norway: six speakers
| Southeast Norwegian
Two speakers live in Oslo.
Trondheim and Herøy
Denmark: seven speakers
| Copenhagen Danish
Four speakers live in Copenhagen.
Sweden: five speakers
|Figure 1. Map showing the geographic origin of the speakers in the material.
| Central Swedish
Two speakers live in Gothenburg.
At the time of the recording, the two “South-East Norwegian” speakers both lived in Oslo. They speak in a way that can be considered representative of South-East Norwegian pronunciation, which is a variety with high status and by many Norwegian it is thought of as the standard pronunciation in official communication. The two “South Norwegian” speakers grew up and lived in Vennesla in the very South of Norway. The “Trondheim Norwegian” speaker speaks the local variety spoken in Trondheim, and the speaker from Herøy speaks a variety known as Sunnmore Norwegian (sunnmøre).
The four “Copenhagen Danish” speakers grew up in Copenhagen and still lived there at the time of the recording. Their speech represents the unofficial Danish pronunciation norm (rigsmål). The two “Jutland Danish” speakers lived in Kolding at the time of recording, but Female 1 grew up in Esbjerg (West-Coast Jutland) and Female 2 in Randers (Northern Jutland). The “Funen Danish” speaker grew up close to Svendborg.
The two “Central Swedish” speakers are the speakers closest to rikssvenska, the unofficial Swedish pronunciation norm (rikssvenska). At the time of the recording, they lived in Gothenburg. Female 1 grew up in Uddevalla, rather close to Gothenburg. The variety spoken both in Uddevalla and Gothenbrug belong to the Central Swedish Götaland speech region. Female 2 originally come from Sundsvall, where a variety of Northern Swedish (norrländska mål) is spoken. However, at the time of the recording she had lived in Gothenburg for many years, and her pronunciation sounds representative of Central Swedish. The three “Scania Swedish” speakers all grew up in the Southeast corner of the region called Skåne (Scania). At the time of the recording, the two male speakers still lived there. Scania Swedish belongs to the group of Southern Swedish varieties (sydsvenska mål).
In what ways do regional varieties differ from each other?
As explained in the text Which Danish, Norwegian and Swedish should you choose, regional varieties are mainly characterized by pronunciation differences. In Denmark and Sweden, speakers to a large extent use the established, standardized vocabulary and grammar for speaking, but have characteristic ways of pronouncing individual speech sounds and use characteristic intonation. In Norway, speakers to a higher degree also use regional, or even local, words, or use the same word but with different meanings. They also have greater variation in inflection and grammar.
Let us give an example of a well-known regional speech sound variation: in Swedish and Norwegian, there are two different ways to pronounce the r-sound. From Middle Sweden up to North Sweden, r is usually pronounced using of the tip of the tongue (often called rullande r (“rolling r”)). In contrast, in South Swedish to Middle Sweden, the tongue root r dominates (skorrande r (“burring r”); phonetic term: uvular r). In Norwegian, skarre-r is used in the Southernmost regions, whereas rulle-r is used in the rest of Norway. In Denmark, the last generation using the tip of the tongue r was born around 1900, and thus this sound is practically extinct today.
Intonation has proven to a more resistant pronunciation feature than the individual speech sounds, which can be exemplified by Danish. Danish speakers show a steadily increasing orientation to the Copenhagen way of speaking, and the Copenhagen-based rigsmål is today the unofficial standard variety.
The spreading of the spreading of Copenhagen pronunciation features in other parts of Denmark has been going on for centuries, but from the 18th century, it started booming. However, not all features spread equally fast: stress, speech melody and stød were affected last, and the reason is that these are unconscious speech features. (Stød is a glottal stop or creaky voice feature used in Danish.)
Today, the most striking remaining difference between Danish regional varieties is thus intonation (but there are also some differences in speech sounds and vocabulary): small, regionally distinct intonation contours, which are frequently repeated, form the basis of the Danish spoken language, and by these contours the Danish recognize each other as coming from different parts of Denmark, for example Copenhagen, Funen, Southern Jutland, Bornholm etc. However, the younger speakers of younger generations show less and less regional characteristics of intonation. In our own language sample, it can be noted that the intonation of the intonation of the two Jutland speakers is very similar to that of the Copenhagen speakers most of the time. Only with the Funen speaker you can hear clearer differences in intonation compared to the Copenhagen speakers.
In Sweden, regional varieties display both characteristic speech sounds and intonation.
The different r-sounds were discussed above. Here are some other examples: In Standard Swedish, vowel sounds are always monophthongs; in Southern Swedish, long vowels are diphthongized; and in Gotlandic, Old Norse diphthongs have been preserved. In Northern Sweden, a thick l-sound is used. In South to Middle Sweden, but not in Stockholm, there is a “thin” sj-sound, etc. There are also differences in intonation, which includes two regionally varied tone accents (for tone accents, see Accents: highlighting words by changing the tone).
In Norwegian, there are big differences in the pronunciation between different regions both with regard to the individual speech sounds and intonation. For example, while all dialects have [n] and [l], they are pronounced in different ways in the south than in the other regions of Norway. In addition, the same word can be pronounced with different speech sounds due to the development of the dialects in time, for example the question word where can be pronounced like vor (written hvor) or vs. kor (written kvor). There is also semantic variation, which means that the same word can have different meanings in different dialects, such as snål “clever”/”strange”/”fun” (an addition, in Swedish the same word snål means “cheap”, as in “not wanting to spend money”).
Brink, Lars. 2019. “Pronunciation.” In: Hjorth, Ebba (Ed.). Danish Language History. Vol. 3 Bending and Building , pp. 235-356.
Today's Language. 2010-03-19. "A scarring sound". https://dagenssprak.blogg.se/2010/march/kuriosa-11-ett-arrande-ljud.html (accessed January 19, 2022)
Parkvall, Mikael. 2007. “R.” In: Språktidningen 2007-08-20. https://spraktidningen.se/2007/08/r/ (accessedJanuary 19, 2022)