Norwegian phonology: Wikis


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Pronunciation /nɔʂk/
Spoken in
 United States,
 Sweden (Jämtland County)
Total speakers 5,033,469
Ranking 111
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Latin (Norwegian variant)
Official status
Official language in Norway
Nordic Council
Regulated by Norwegian Language Council
Language codes
ISO 639-1 no – Norwegian
ISO 639-2 nor – Norwegian
ISO 639-3 variously:
nor – Norwegian
nob – Bokmål
nno – Nynorsk
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The sound system of Norwegian is similar to that of Swedish. There is considerable variation among the dialects, but the variant generally taught to foreign students is Standard Østnorsk (“Standard Eastern Norwegian”), which is the one this article describes.




Consonant phonemes of Eastern Norwegian
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ ŋ
Plosive p b t d ʈ ɖ k ɡ
Fricative f s ʂ ʃ ç h
Approximant ʋ l ɭ j
Flap ɾ ɽ

Most of the retroflex (and postalveolar) consonants are mutations of [ɾ] or [l]+any other alveolar/dental consonant; rn /ɾn/ > [ɳ], rt /ɾt/ > [ʈ], rl /ɾl/ > [ɭ], rs /ɾs/ > [ʂ], etc. /ɾd/ 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 and central Norway use the retroflex consonants. Most western and northern dialects do not have these retroflex sounds.

The retroflex flap, [ɽ], known to Norwegians as tjukk l ("thick l"), is not an independent phoneme, but an allophone of /l/. Traditionally it has not been used in Standard Østnorsk, and still many (especially the higher classes in Oslo) consider it vulgar and don't use it, but in several words it must now be considered standard.[1] Many children and youths (especially in Bergen and Oslo) don't master/use the palatal fricative, and is merged with the postalveolar fricative /ʃ/.

In Southern and Western Norwegian more guttural realizations of the /r/-phoneme, known in Norwegian as skarring have become more commonplace in the last century. Depending on phonetic context voiceless ([χ]) or voiced uvular fricatives ([ʁ]) are used. The unvoiced stops are regularly aspirated.

Some loanwords and onomatopoeia are pronounced with external sounds, not used in proper Norwegian words: gin [dʒin], wow! [wau] and bzzzzz! [bzːːː] (imitation of the sound of a bee).


Vowel phonemes of Standard Østnorsk
Orthography IPA Description
a /ɑ/ Open back unrounded
ai /ɑɪ/
au /æʉ/
e (short) /ɛ/, /æ/ open mid front unrounded
e (long) /e/, /æ/ close-mid front unrounded
e (weak) /ə/ schwa (mid central unrounded)
ei /æɪ/, /ɛɪ/
i (short) /ɪ/ close front unrounded
i (long) /i/ close front unrounded
o /u, o, ɔ/ close back rounded
oi /ɔʏ/
u /ʉ/, /u/ close central rounded (close central extra rounded)
y (short) /ʏ/ close front rounded (close front less rounded)
y (long) /y/ close front rounded (close front less rounded)
æ /æ/, /ɛ/ near open front unrounded
ø /ø/ close-mid front rounded
øy /øʏ/
å /ɔ/ open-mid back rounded

There are many variations in vowel pronunciation in different dialects and idiolects of Norwegian, as in other Germanic languages. The above vowel chart is meant to be fairly representative of Standard Østnorsk.

Many don't consider the e (weak)/schwa to be a distinct vowel phoneme — but just an allophone of the e (short) in weak positions.


Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns. They are used to differentiate two-syllable words with otherwise identical pronunciation. For example in most Norwegian dialects, the word "bønder" (farmers) is pronounced using tone 1, while "bønner" (beans or prayers) uses tone 2. Though the difference in spelling occasionally allow the words to be distinguished in written language, in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike, since written Norwegian has no explicit accent marks.

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 utterance-final fall 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 /à/ for accent 1 and /â/ for accent 2; the modern reading of the IPA (low and falling) corresponds to eastern Norway, whereas an older tradition of using diacritics to represent the shape of the pitch trace (falling and rising-falling) corresponds to western Norway.

The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a "singing" quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.

Tonal accents and morphology

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, bilen, (den store) skjelven), whereas (T2)-en denotes either determinate form of a masculine bisyllabic noun or an adjectivised noun/verb ((han var) skjelven, moden). Similarly, the ending (T1)—a denotes feminine singular determinate monosyllabic nouns (boka, rota) or neutrum plural determinate nouns (husa, lysa), whereas the ending (T2)—a denotes the preterite of weak verbs (rota, husa), feminine singular determinate bisyllabic nouns (bøtta, ruta, jenta).

Monosyllabic tonal accents

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: [hɑ̀ːniɲː] ('the rooster') vs. [hɑ̀ːnîɲː] ('get him inside'); [brŷɲːa] ('in the well') vs. [brŷɲːâ] ('her well'); [læ̂nsmɑɲː] ('sheriff') vs. [læ̂nsmɑ̂ɲː] ('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.

Loss of tonal accents

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.

Pulmonic ingressive

The word ja "yes" is sometimes pronounced with inhaled breath (pulmonic ingressive) in Norwegian — and this can be rather confusing for foreigners.


  1. ^ Kristoffersen, Gjert (2000). The Phonology of Norwegian. Oxford University Press. pp. 6–11. ISBN 9780198237655.  


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