Today, I started the Norwegian part of my Scandinavian language challenge. I am using Norwegian in Three Months (1989), published by Dorling Kindersley under the Hugo imprint. This book contains an introduction preface, a guide to pronunciation (and spelling), 12 chapters, a key to the exercises, an appendix on Norwegian spelling, a mini-dictionary and an index. It is laid out clearly and attractively, with plenty of white space.
The book has 177 pages, so it contains a little less material than the Danish (237 pages) and Swedish equivalents (254 pages).
Bokmål and Nynorsk
As I discussed on The Scandinavian languages – Language Miscellany, there are two forms of Norwegian:
- Bokmål (book language), developed from a norwegianised form of Danish, and used by some 80%-90% of the population.
- Nynorsk (new Norwegian), a codified form of western Norwegian dialects close to Old Norse.
The course teaches ‘a moderate norm of Bokmål acceptable to most Norwegians’.
The Norwegian alphabet contains the same 29 letters as Danish: the 26 letters of the English alphabet plus å, æ and ø. (Swedish uses ä instead of æ and ö instead of ø, see day 2 of this challenge.)
The following points struck me about the description of the vowels:
- Before r, long e is pronounced like in English glad (example: her = here), and long e like in English mat (example: berg = mountain).
- æ is pronounced the same ways as e before r (see above). Examples: long være = to be, short vært = been.
- o is usually pronounced like English oo but with more rounded lips: long o like English moon (example: bok = book), short o like English took (example: kost = brush)
- in some words, long o is pronounced like English saw (fortrekke = depart) and short o like English stop (stoppe = stop)
- u is pronounced like o but with more rounded lips (examples: long: hus = house, short: bus = bus).
- Long å is pronounced like English aw as in saw, eg båt (boat)
- Short å is pronounced like English o as in got, eg åtte (eight).
- The diphthong ei can also be spelled eg. Examples: nei = no, meg = me, stein = stone.
- The diphthong øy can also be spelled øg. Examples: øy = island, døgn = 24 hours, røyk = smoke.
(some English place names end in -ey, which descends from the Old Norse form of øj = island.)
The following consonants require attention:
- silent consonants:
- d is silent after r (examples: fjord; bord = table), l or n (examples: kvelde = evening, holde = hold), long vowels (example: glad = glad; god = good; but the d is pronounced in Gud = God).
- g is silent before j (examples: gjøre = do; igejn = again), in words ending in -ig (example: ferdig = ready) and in some other words (examples: morgen = morning; følge = follow)
- h is silent before l and v (examples: hjelp = help; hvor = where)
- t is silent in the definite form of neuter nouns (example: landet = the country) and in det = it.
- v is usually silent after l at the end of a word (examples: halv = half; tolv = twelve; selv = self; sølv = silver. But the v is pronounced in elv = river.
- the kj sound is like German ch in ich. It can be written:
- kj (examples: kjær = dear; kjære = drive)
- k before ei, i and y (examples: keivhendt = left-handed); kilo; ksyt = coast)
- tj (examples: tjern = small lake; tjære = tar).
- the sj sound is like in English shall. This sound can be written:
- as sj (examples: sjelden = seldom; sjø = sea), skjegg = beard; skjorte = shirt) or before e, i, y as sk (examples: skeie ut = go to the bad; skip = ship; sky = cloud)
- in foreign words, as sch (schæfer = alsatian dog), sh (sherry), ch (champion), g (giro), j (journalist).
- ng is always pronounced as ng in English sing, not as in English finger.
- j is generally like English y.
- r is ‘rolled, like a Scots ‘r’ and similarly to an Italian one, but less trilled’.
The main stress generally falls on the first syllable of the word, but often on the last syllable in words borrowed from foreign languages.
Prefixes and suffixes:
- Prefixes of foreign origin, such as be-, er-, ge are usually unstressed (examples: betale = to pay; erklære = to explain; gevær = gun).
- Other prefixes (mainly prepositions, such as av-, fra-, mot-, opp-, ned-) are stressed (examples: avgjøre = decide; frata = deprive of; motstand = resistance; nedtrykt = depressed)
- Suffixes often transfer the stress to the syllable preceding the suffix (examples: tillatelse = permission; underholdning = entertainment, alvorlig – serious)
Long vowels are much longer than in English. A stressed vowel is long if it:
- comes at the end of a one syllable word, eg: tre (three), gå (walk); or
- is followed by only a single consonant., eg bil (car), båt (boat). But the vowel is short is common in many common words ending in m or r, eg rum (room), hon (she).
Unstressed vowels are always short.
All stressed syllables must contain either a long vowel or a long consonant (double consonant or sequence of two consonants). A stressed final vowel is always long.
A distinctive feature of Norwegian (and, indeed, Swedish, but not Danish) pronunciation is tone. I won’t try to describe that complexity.
A short appendix summarises important spelling rules:
- a long vowel is usually followed by a single consonant and a short vowel by a double consonant
- but, many common words with a single syllable are written with a single letter (examples: at = that; hvis = if, nok = enoughh; vel = well and the present tense of the modal auxiliaries skal, kan, bør, vil
- double m never appears at the end of a word (example: dum = foolish)
- before inflections ending with a consonant, a double consonant is written as a single one (example: spille = play; spilte = played, sann = true, sant = true (neuter))
- before the derivational endings -ne, -ning, -sel, ling, sk), a double consonant is written as a single one (examples: lett = light; lettne = lighten; bygge = build; byggning = building; brenne = burn; brensel = fuel; aett= family; aetling = descendant; troll = troll; trolsk = magic, bewitching)
- but in some words, the double letter is retained before the inflection (examples: fullt = full (neuter); spisst = pointed (neuter); visste = knew, visst = known)
- nouns and adjectives ending in -el or -er drop the -e before inflections beginning with -e, and the same change occurs for adjectives ending in -en.