Saturday, February 09, 2002

I have been reminded of my dereliction in describing exactly how to pronounce all the fascinating and useful Swedish words and phrases posted here. This is the second time in six months, so I figured people must be dying to know exactly how to say all those strange words.

While an actual phonetic transcription might be interesting to linguists, it is undoubtedly useless to us native-English speaking masses.

So, here's how I would phonetically transcribe the language:

A - either the short ah before double consonants (long consonants), or long awh before short consonants (sure, you say, I know exactly what you mean by short and long consonants, and I really care that ah stands for the short A and awh for the long A, and I also understand why you have an h at the end of awh and that that means it is more or less a pure vowel and I also understand completely what you mean by pure vowel).

B - same as English.

C - Only found in words that come from other languages really, and like in English can be a K or an S sound.

D - same as English.

E - this one is all over the place, it can be the old schwa, it can be a dipthong (it's a lie, I think, that Swedish doesn't have dipthongs) sort of like ee´-ah-uh, it can be eh, definitely not hard to pronounce but nearly impossible to get right, the only way to really learn it is by hearing how it works in each word.

F - same as English.

G - same as English before an A, O, U or Å; but before an E, I, Y, Ä or Ö it is pronounced more or less like a y; it's like in English before consonants, except when at the end of words such as berg or borg, where it sort of disappears as you almost make a y sound but don't really; the other consonant exception is when it comes before an N, such as in barnvagn - baby carriage - the combination of gn becomes like ngn. Finally, it sometimes doesn't follow these rules at all.

H - same as English.

I - sounds like ee, sort of, but in Stockholm at least, some people say it very far back in the throat and it sounds, well, kind of gargly. I can't possibly describe this and I can only pronounce it this way in one word, musik. God only knows why I can give it that upper-class Stockholm gargle in that one word.

J - sounds mostly like a y, but sometimes more like an sh only with your lips more rounded and with a lot more h and blowing in it.

K - follows the G rules somewhat in that it's like the English K before A, O, U or Å, but before an E, I, Y, Ä or Ö it sounds like an sh; then there are all sorts of other horrible subtle variations on the sh when the K is in combination with J or S or SJ; I cannot possibly describe these subtle variations accurately, but suffice it to say that if you don't do them properly you are in great danger of not being understood. And finally, K often doesn't follow the rules - such as in the word människa - which means human or person - in which the K is like an sh instead of a hard K... this is because the word comes from the German word mensch and so they've kept the German pronunciation even though it breaks the normal rules of Swedish pronunciation. Or so I've been told when I asked why this was so damned hard to get these K's right.

L - same as English.

M - same as English.

N - same as English.

O - more or less like English, a long O is like oo in gooey and a short O like augh.

P - same as English.

Q - like an English K, usually paired with a V and pronounced like KV.

R - more or less like English, but usually softer and occasionally more rolling. The English R is probably the most difficult habit to get rid of if one happens to be a native English speaker.

S - like English when preceding a vowel, except in Stockholm at least (but not in Skåne, for example) it becomes an sh after an R - this can be in a word that contains the two letters, such as Lars or it can be in two separate words, such as jag tänker så här; but sometimes they don't do it, such as in vi för se - we shall see - and I've never figured out any kind of rule for when they do the sh and when they don't. Before certain consonants, S also sounds like the soft K - when it is paired with K or J, or TJ, or KJ - and it sounds slightly different with each and I can't possibly describe the differences. S in one of these combinations was the most difficult letter for me to pronounce, hands down.

T - same as English, only usually softer. Also a few strange exceptions. See S.

U - short U sounds more or less like oo in wood, long U is like the French U or the German Ü, an exaggerated ew.

V and W - the same V sound as in English, the letters are basically interchangeable; Swedes have trouble sometimes remembering which is which in English and can say wery instead of very, but they are very aware that they can make this mistake and usually correct themselves.

X - same as English.

Y - except for in a very few foreign words like Yankee or yogurt, Y is only a vowel and is more or less pronounced like a long U, except with even more rounded lips - I never get this right.

Z - like an English S.

Å - sort of like oah in Noah, except the ah is much less obvious, more of an afterthought.

Ä - basically follows the rules for E.

Ö - like the German Ö. Kind of like a schwa but with very rounded lips.

- by Francis S.

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