Norwegian phonology

The sound system of Norwegian resembles that of Swedish. There is considerable variation among the dialects, and all pronunciations are considered by official policy to be equally correct - there is no official spoken standard, although it can be said that Bokmål has an unofficial spoken standard, called Standard Eastern Norwegian (Norwegian: Standard Østnorsk), loosely based on the speech of the literate classes of the Oslo area. This variant is the most common one taught to foreign students.[1]

Despite there being no official standard variety of Norwegian, Standard Eastern Norwegian has traditionally been used in public venues such as theatre and TV, although today local dialects are used extensively in spoken and visual media.[2]

The background for this lack of agreement is that after the dissolution of Denmark-Norway in 1814, the upper classes would speak in what was perceived as the Danish language, which with the rise of Norwegian romantic nationalism gradually fell out of favour. In addition, Bergen, not Oslo, was the larger and more influential city in Norway until the 19th century. See the article on the Norwegian language conflict for further information.

Unless noted otherwise, this article describes the phonology of Standard Eastern Norwegian.


The map shows the extent of palatalization of long dental/alveolar consonants in Norway.
  palatalization only in stressed syllables
  palatalization both in stressed and unstressed syllables
  no palatalization
Consonant phonemes of Standard Eastern Norwegian
Labial Dental/
Retroflex Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ ç h
Approximant ʋ l j
Flap ɾ ɽ

Most of the retroflex (and postalveolar) consonants are mutations of [ɾ]+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, Central and Northern Norway use the retroflex consonants. Most Southern and Western dialects do not have these retroflex sounds, because in these areas a guttural realization of the /r/ phoneme is commonplace, and seems to be expanding. Depending on phonetic context voiceless ([χ]) or voiced uvular fricatives ([ʁ]) are used. (See map at right.) Other possible pronunciations include a uvular approximant [ʁ̞] or, more rarely, a uvular trill [ʀ]. There is, however, a small number of dialects that use both the uvular /r/ and the retroflex allophones.

The retroflex flap, [ɽ], colloquially known to Norwegians as tjukk l ('thick l'), is a Central Scandinavian innovation that exists in Eastern Norwegian (including Trøndersk), the southmost Northern dialects, and the most eastern Western Norwegian dialects. It is supposedly non-existent in most Western and Northern dialects. Today there is doubtlessly distinctive opposition between /ɽ/ and /l/ in the dialects that do have /ɽ/, e.g. gard /ɡɑːɽ/ 'farm' and gal /ɡɑːl/ 'crazy' in many Eastern Norwegian dialects. Although traditionally an Eastern Norwegian dialect phenomenon, it was considered vulgar, and for a long time it was avoided. Nowadays it is considered standard in the Eastern and Central Norwegian dialects,[15] but is still clearly avoided in high-prestige sociolects or standardized speech. This avoidance calls into question the status of /ɽ/ as a phoneme in certain sociolects.

According to the Danish phonetician Nina Grønnum, tjukk l in Trøndersk is actually a postalveolar lateral flap [ɺ̠].[16]



Monophthongs of Standard Eastern Norwegian on an auditory vowel chart, from Vanvik (1979:13). Note that modern sources tend to describe /ɑ, ɑː/ as back [ɑ, ɑː], rather than central [ɑ̈, ɑ̈ː].
Monophthongs of Standard Eastern Norwegian on a formant vowel chart, from Kristoffersen (2000:16–17)
Monophthong phonemes[17]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close j ʏ ʉ ʉː ʊ
Mid ɛ œ øː ə ɔ
Open æ æː ɑ ɑː

The following sections describe each monophthong in detail.

Symbols (IPA)

Symbols (non-IPA)

Some writings[32] use a set of symbols that is much more based on the Norwegian alphabet, so that:

This type of transcription may even appear in works[38] that use the IPA transcription for other languages.

Phonetic realization of the close vowels

Phonetic realization of the mid vowels

Phonetic realization of the open vowels


Diphthongs of Standard Eastern Norwegian on an auditory vowel chart, from Vanvik (1979:22). Neither /ʉɪ/ nor /ɛɪ/ are shown.
Diphthongs of Standard Eastern Norwegian on a formant vowel chart, from Kristoffersen (2000:16–17)

Norwegian diphthong phonemes are /œʏ, æɪ, æʉ/.[19] Marginal diphthongs are /ʉɪ, ɛɪ, ɔʏ, ɑɪ/.[19] Their starting and ending points have very similar quality to the short vowels transcribed the same way.[93][94][95]

Kristoffersen (2000) analyses Norwegian diphthongs as sequences of a short vowels and a semivowel /j/ (which is allophonically rounded after rounded vowels) or /w/ (which corresponds to central /ʉ/, not back /ʊ/).[96] On the other hand, both Vanvik (1979) and Strandskogen (1979) analyze them as diphthongs.


Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns. They are used to differentiate polysyllabic words with otherwise identical pronunciation. Although difference in spelling occasionally allows the words to be distinguished in the written language (such as bønner/bønder), in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike. For example, in most Norwegian dialects, the word uttale ('pronounce') is pronounced using tone 1 ([ˈʉːttɑːlə]), while uttale ('pronunciation') uses tone 2 ([²ʉːttɑːlə]).

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 fall to utterance-final low pitch that is so common in most languages[97] 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 /ɑ̀/ for accent 1 and /ɑ̂/ 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 'boat', bilen, 'car'), whereas (T2)-en denotes either determinate form of a masculine bisyllabic noun or an adjectivised noun/verb (moden 'mature'). Similarly, the ending (T1)—a denotes feminine singular determinate monosyllabic nouns (boka 'book', rota 'root') or neuter plural determinate nouns (husa 'houses', lysa 'lights'), whereas the ending (T2)—a denotes the preterite of weak verbs (rota 'made a mess', husa 'housed'), feminine singular determinate bisyllabic nouns (bøtta 'bucket', ruta 'square').

In Eastern Norwegian the tone difference may also be applied to groups of words, with different meaning as a result. Gro igjen for example, means 'grow anew' when pronounced with tone 1 [ˈɡɾùː‿ɪjə́n], but 'grow over' when pronounced with tone 2 [ˈɡɾûː‿ɪjə́n]. In other parts of Norway, this difference is achieved instead by the shift of stress (gro igjen [ˈɡɾuː ɪjən] vs. gro igjen [ɡɾuː ˈɪjən]).

In compound words

In a compound word, the pitch accent is lost on one of the elements of the compound (the one with weaker or secondary stress), but the erstwhile tonic syllable retains the full length (long vowel or geminate consonant) of a stressed syllable.[98]

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. Danish (apart from some southern dialects) and Finland Swedish also have no tonal opposition.

Pulmonic ingressive

The word ja ('yes') is sometimes pronounced with inhaled breath (pulmonic ingressive) in Norwegian—and this can be rather confusing for foreigners. The same phenomenon occurs across the other Scandinavian languages, and can also be found in German, French, Finnish and Japanese, to name a few.


The sample text is a reading of The North Wind and the Sun by a 47-year-old professor from Oslo's Nordstrand district.[99]

Phonemic transcription

/²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ɔ ˈsuːlən ²kɾɑŋlət ɔm ʋɛm ɑː dɛm səm ˈʋɑːɾ dən ²stæɾkəstə || ˌdɑː ˈkɔm deː ən ˈmɑn ˌɡoːənə meː ən ˈʋɑɾm ˈfɾɑk pɔ ˌsæ || diː bleː ²eːnjə ɔm ɑt ˈdɛn səm ˈfœʂt ˌkʉnə fɔ ˈmɑnən tɔ ²tɑː ɑː sæ ˈfɾɑkən ˌskʉlə ²jɛlə fɔɾ dən ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˌdɛm || ˈsoː ²bloːstə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ɑː ˈɑl sɪn ˈmɑkt | mɛn ju ˈmeːɾ han ²bloːstə | ju ²tɛtəɾə ˌtɾɑk ˈmɑnən ˈfɾɑkən ˈɾʉnt sæ | ɔ tə ˈsɪst ˌmɔtə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ²jiː ˌɔp || ˌdɑː ²ʂɪntə ˈsuːlən ˈfɾɛm ˌsoː ˈɡɔt ɔ ˈʋɑɾmt ɑt ˈmɑnən ˈstɾɑks ˌmɔtə ²tɑː ɑː sæ ˈfɾɑkən || ɔ ˈsoː ˌmɔtə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnən ˈɪnˌɾœmə ɑt ˈsuːlən ˈʋɑːɾ ən ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˈdɛm/

Phonetic transcription

[²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ɔ ˈsuːln̩ ²kɾɑŋlət ɔm ʋɛm ɑ dɛm sɱ̍ ˈʋɑː ɖɳ̍ ²stæɾ̥kəstə || ˌdɑˑ ˈkʰɔmː dɛ n ˈmɑnː ˌɡoˑənə mɛ n ˈʋɑɾm ˈfɾɑkː pɔ ˌsæ || di blɛ ²eːnjə ɔm ɑt ˈdɛnː sɱ̍ ˈfœʂt̠ ˌkʰʉnˑə fɔ ˈmɑnːn̩ tɔ ²tʰɑː ɑ sæ ˈfɾɑkːən ˌskʉlˑə ²jɛlːə fɔ ɖɳ̍ ²stæɾkəstə ɑː ˌdɛmˑ || ˈsoː ²bloːstə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnːn̩ ɑ ˈʔɑlː sɪn ˈmɑkʰtʰ | mɛn ju ˈmeːɾ ɦam ²bloːstə | ju ²tʰɛtːəɾə ˌtɾɑkˑ ˈmɑnːn̩ ˈfɾɑkːən ˈɾʉnt sæ | ɔ tə ˈsɪst ˌmɔtˑə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ²jiː ˌɔpʰ || ˌdɑː ²ʂɪntə ˈsuːln̩ ˈfɾɛm ˌsoˑ ˈɡɔtʰː ɔ ˈʋɑɾmtʰ ɑt̚ ˈmɑnːən ˈstɾɑks ˌmɔtˑə ²tɑː ɑ sæ ˈfɾɑkːən || ɔ ˈsoː ˌmɔtˑə ²nuːɾɑˌʋɪnˑn̩ ˈɪnːˌɾœmˑə ɑt ˈsuːln̩ ˈʋɑːɾ n̩ ²stæɾ̥kəstə ʔɑ ˈdɛmː][100]

Orthographic version

Nordavinden og solen kranglet om hvem av dem som var den sterkeste. Da kom det en mann gående med en varm frakk på seg. De blei enige om at den som først kunne få mannen til å ta av seg frakken skulle gjelde for den sterkeste av dem. Så blåste nordavinden av all si makt, men jo mer han blåste, jo tettere trakk mannen frakken rundt seg, og til sist måtte nordavinden gi opp. Da skinte solen fram så godt og varmt at mannen straks måtte ta av seg frakken. Og så måtte nordavinden innrømme at solen var den sterkeste av dem.

See also


  1. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 6–7.
  2. Kristoffersen (2000), p. 7.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 22.
  4. Skaug (2003), pp. 130–131.
  5. Popperwell (2010), p. 58.
  6. Vanvik (1979), p. 40.
  7. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 75–76, 79.
  8. 1 2 3 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 74.
  9. 1 2 3 Vanvik (1979), p. 41.
  10. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 24–25.
  11. Endresen (1990:177), cited in Kristoffersen (2000:25)
  12. 1 2 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 24.
  13. Kristoffersen (2000), p. 23.
  14. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 22–23.
  15. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 6–11.
  16. Grønnum (2005), p. 155.
  17. Kristoffersen (2000), p. 13.
  18. Kristoffersen (2000) also considers these a valid transcription.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 19.
  20. Vanvik (1979), pp. 14, 17, 19-20.
  21. Strandskogen (1979), p. 16.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Haugen (1974).
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Vanvik (1979).
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Kristoffersen (2000).
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Skaug (2003).
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Kvifte & Gude-Husken (2005).
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Krech et al. (2009).
  28. 1 2 Used by Kristoffersen (2000), for example.
  29. Used by Krech et al. (2009), for example.
  30. 1 2 Such as Haugen (1974).
  31. 1 2 Such as Vanvik (1979).
  32. Such as Berulfsen (1969), Strandskogen (1979) and Popperwell (2010)
  33. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Berulfsen (1969).
  34. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Strandskogen (1979).
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Popperwell (2010).
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Lexin". Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  37. Vanvik (1979), pp. 20–21.
  38. Such as Popperwell (2010).
  39. 1 2 3 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13-14.
  40. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 18.
  41. 1 2 3 4 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15-16.
  42. Popperwell (2010), p. 18.
  43. 1 2 Popperwell (2010), p. 16.
  44. 1 2 3 4 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 20.
  45. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15, 23.
  46. 1 2 Popperwell (2010), pp. 32, 34.
  47. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Haugen (1974), p. 40.
  48. 1 2 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 15.
  49. 1 2 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 19.
  50. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 32.
  51. Popperwell (2010), p. 32.
  52. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15, 21.
  53. 1 2 3 4 Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 15–16.
  54. Popperwell (2010), pp. 29, 31.
  55. 1 2 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 18.
  56. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 29.
  57. Popperwell (2010), p. 29.
  58. 1 2 Popperwell (2010), pp. 27-28.
  59. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15, 20.
  60. 1 2 Kristoffersen (2000), p. 16.
  61. 1 2 3 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 17.
  62. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 27.
  63. Popperwell (2010), p. 27.
  64. 1 2 Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 15.
  65. Popperwell (2010), p. 20.
  66. Popperwell (2010), pp. 19-20.
  67. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 19.
  68. Popperwell (2010), p. 19.
  69. 1 2 Popperwell (2010), pp. 35-36.
  70. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), p. 23.
  71. 1 2 Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17.
  72. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17, 33–35, 37, 343.
  73. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 35.
  74. Popperwell (2010), p. 35.
  75. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 31–32.
  76. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 20-21.
  77. Popperwell (2010), pp. 31–32.
  78. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15, 19.
  79. Popperwell (2010), p. 26.
  80. Popperwell (2010), pp. 25–26.
  81. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 25.
  82. Popperwell (2010), p. 25.
  83. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 21–22.
  84. 1 2 Strandskogen (1979), pp. 15, 18.
  85. Popperwell (2010), pp. 21–22.
  86. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 14, 106.
  87. Berulfsen (1969), p. 10.
  88. Skaug (2003), pp. 15–19.
  89. Popperwell (2010), pp. 16, 23–24.
  90. Popperwell (2010), pp. 23–24.
  91. Vanvik (1979), pp. 13, 15–16.
  92. Vanvik (1979), p. 16.
  93. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 16–17, 25.
  94. Vanvik (1979), p. 22.
  95. Strandskogen (1979), pp. 25–26.
  96. Kristoffersen (2000), pp. 19, 25.
  97. Gussenhoven (2004), p. 89.
  98. Kristoffersen (2000), p. 184.
  99. "Nordavinden og sola: Opptak og transkripsjoner av norske dialekter".
  100. Source of the phonetic transcription: "Nordavinden og sola: Opptak og transkripsjoner av norske dialekter". Some symbols were changed to fit the ones used in this article.


  • Berulfsen, Bjarne (1969), Norsk Uttaleordbok, Oslo: H. Aschehoug & Co (W Nygaard) 
  • Endresen, Rolf Theil (1990), "Svar på anmeldelser av Fonetikk. Ei elementær innføring.", Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, Oslo: Novus forlag: 169–192 
  • Grønnum, Nina (2005), Fonetik og fonologi, Almen og Dansk (3rd ed.), Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, ISBN 87-500-3865-6 
  • Gussenhoven, Carlos (2004), The Phonology of Tone and Intonation, Cambridge University Press 
  • Haugen, Einar (1974) [1965], Norwegian-English Dictionary, The University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0-299-03874-2 
  • Krech, Eva Maria; Stock, Eberhard; Hirschfeld, Ursula; Anders, Lutz-Christian (2009), "7.3.10 Norwegisch", Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-018202-6 
  • Kristoffersen, Gjert (2000), The Phonology of Norwegian, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-823765-5 
  • Kvifte, Bjørn; Gude-Husken, Verena (2005) [First published 1997], Praktische Grammatik der norwegischen Sprache (3rd ed.), Gottfried Egert Verlag, ISBN 3-926972-54-8 
  • Popperwell, Ronald G. (2010) [First published 1963], Pronunciation of Norwegian, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-15742-1 
  • Riad, Tomas (2014), The Phonology of Swedish, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-954357-1 
  • Skaug, Ingebjørg (2003) [First published 1996], Norsk språklydlære med øvelser (3rd ed.), Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag AS, ISBN 82-456-0178-0 
  • Strandskogen, Åse-Berit (1979), Norsk fonetikk for utlendinger, Oslo: Gyldendal, ISBN 82-05-10107-8 
  • Vanvik, Arne (1979), Norsk fonetikk, Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, ISBN 82-990584-0-6 

Further reading

  • Endresen, Rolf Theil (1977), "An Alternative Theory of Stress and Tonemes in Eastern Norwegian", Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, 31: 21–46 
  • Lundskær-Nielsen, Tom; Barnes, Michael; Lindskog, Annika (2005), Introduction to Scandinavian phonetics: Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, Alfabeta, ISBN 978-8763600095 
  • Torp, Arne (2001), "Retroflex consonants and dorsal /r/: mutually excluding innovations? On the diffusion of dorsal /r/ in Scandinavian", in van de Velde, Hans; van Hout, Roeland, 'r-atics, Brussels: Etudes & Travaux, pp. 75–90, ISSN 0777-3692 
  • Vanvik, Arne (1985), Norsk Uttaleordbok: A Norwegian pronouncing dictionary, Oslo: Fonetisk institutt, Universitetet i Oslo, ISBN 978-8299058414 
  • Wetterlin, Allison (2010), Tonal Accents in Norwegian: Phonology, morphology and lexical specification, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-023438-1 
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