Overview of

the Danish sound system

Thomas Olander

 

version 0.5 · July 2018

 

dansk udgave

 

download the overview (v. 0.5) as a PDF file


Contents

introduction
vowels
consonants
stød
stress
special problems
distinct vs. normal speech
example text
literature


Introduction

The Overview of the Danish sound system is work in progress, but I hope that it may nevertheless be useful in the theoretical understanding of the Danish sound system and in the practical acquisition of the pronunciation of Danish.

“Danish” in this overview means Modern Standard Copenhagen Danish spoken distinctly by young people (appr. 30 years old). The overview is based on Grønnum 2005 and Basbøll 2005, but differs in several respects from the systems given in those publications.

In the overview Danish is referred to at two levels:

  • The phonetic level: the pronunciation of Danish speech sounds and words is presented in square brackets, e.g. [ˈsbʁɔʊ̯ˀ]
  • The orthographic level: the written representation of Danish speech sounds and words is presented in italics, e.g. sprog

All the example words and sentences given here are available as audio files at sproghistorie.dk/lydsystem/index-english.php.


Vowels

Danish has a rich vowel system with several distinct vowel qualities, most of which have both short and long counterparts. In stressed syllables we find the following short vowel qualities:

unrounded rounded

front [i] mit [y] nyt
[e] midt [ø] mødt
[ɛ] mæt [œ] søm
[æ] sav [ɶ] drøv
[a] mat

back [u] mut
[o] fod
[ɔ] ost
[ɒ] tov
[ʌ] tot
[ɑ] tak

Distribution of short stressed vowels

  • short [æ] is found only before [ðˀ] and [ʊ̯ˀ], where [a] is not found
  • short [ɒ] is found only before [ʊ̯], where [ʌ] is not found
  • short [ɶ] is found only after [ʁ], where [ø] is not found, and before [ɐ̯], where [œ] is not found

In stressed syllables we find the following long vowel qualities:

unrounded rounded

front [iː] mile [yː] syle
[eː] mele [øː] søle
[ɛː] mæle [œː] høne
[æː] male [ɶː] gøre

back [uː] mule
[oː] mole
[ɔː] måle
[ɒː] orne
[ʌː] høje
[ɑː] karpe

Distribution of long stressed vowels

  • long [ɶː] is found only before [ɐ], where [œː] is not found
  • long [ʌː] is found only before [ɪ], where [ɒː] is not found

Distribution of short and long vowels

In some positions vowel quantity is distinctive:

In other positions vowel quantity is predictable, i.e. non-distinctive:

Vowel chart

This chart shows the position of the Danish stressed vowels relative to each other according to place of articulation (adapted from Basbøll 2005: 48):

vokalskema

Unstressed vowels

The following short vowels are never found under stress:

vocoid contoid

[ɪ] leje [m̩] lappen
[ʊ] leve [n̩] katten
[ɐ] piger [ŋ̩] takken
[ə] fatte [l̩] cykel
[ð̩] fattet

 

The unstressed vowels [ɪ ʊ ɐ] are phonetically close to the stressed vowels [e o ʌ].


Consonants

The Danish consonant system is relatively simple compared to those of other languages. Consonants are always short except in compounds of the type [ˈhussalˀ] hussalg.

For the obstruents (comprising stops, fricatives and affricates) it is characteristic that the only difference between [pʰ tˢ kʰ] and [b d ɡ] is that the former stops are aspirated (or affricate) while the latter are unaspirated. Both the [pʰ tˢ kʰ] and the [b d ɡ] series are unvoiced and lenis.

The following obstruents are found in Danish:

syllable-initial syllable-final

stops [pʰ] pas
[tˢ] tak
[kʰ] kat
[b] bas lap
[d] das sat
[ɡ] gas tak

fricatives [f] fat luf
[s] sat pas
[ɕ] sjat hash
[h] hak

affricates [tɕ] tjans
[dɕ] jazz badge

The sonorants are divided into approximants, semivowels, nasals and laterals. Nasals and laterals behave similarly in many respects.

  syllable-initial syllable-final

approx. [j] ja
[v] vat
[ʁ] rat

semivowels [ɪ̯] hej
[ʊ̯] hav
[ɐ̯] mor
[ð] mad

nas. and lat. [m] mat ham (pron.)
[n] nat man
[ŋ] bon
[l] ladt tal

After [pʰ tˢ kʰ f] we find unvoiced [j ʁ l], e.g. [ˈpʰj̥ad ˈkʰʁ̥ɑd ˈkʰj̥oːlə] pjat, krat, kjole; unvoiced [l̥] is also found after [s], e.g. [ˈsleɡ] slik.


STØD

Danish stød, written [ˀ], consists of irregularities in the vibrations of the vocal chords, typically realised as creaky voice, but frequently as a full glottal closure, especially in careful speech. Occasionally an echo vowel is found after the stød, e.g. [ˈseːˀe] se. Stød is usually regarded a suprasegmental feature, not a segment.

The following structures may or may not have stød; in these structures stød is distinctive, although it is largely predictable on the basis of the morphological structure of the word:

  • a long vowel, e.g. [ˈhuːˀs ˈviːˀsɐ] hus, viser (vb. prs.) (cf., without stød, e.g. [ˈviːsɐ] viser (sb.))
  • a short vowel immediately followed by a voiced consonant, i.e. a sonorant, e.g. [ˈhalˀ ˈbalˀɐ] hal, baller, (cf., without stød, e.g. [ˈdɑɪ̯ ˈvɑɪ̯ɐ ˈhɑm ˈkɑmɐ ˈtˢal ˈbalɐ] dig, vejer, ham (pron.), kammer (vb.), tal (sb.), baller (pl. of balle))

The phonetic requirement for stød is referred to as “stød base”. Stød is excluded in syllables without stød base, i.e. syllables containing a short vowel not followed by sonorant, e.g. [ˈkhad ˈpʰas] kat, pas.


Stress

Danish stress, written [ˈ], is primarily characterised by a change in pitch. In modern standard Copenhagen Danish the pitch rises from the stressed syllable to the following syllable. Thus in a word like [ˈsbiːsə] spise the first syllable has lower pitch than the second.

At the sentence level a verb is often unstressed if it forms a syntactic unity with a following element. This phenomenon is referred to as enhedstryk or “unit stress”. The most important cases of unit stress are the following:

Several consecutive verbs may be subject to unit stress, e.g. 'Pia har kunnet stå på 'vandski.

When the verb is unstressed both quantity and stød disappear, e.g. [ˈnels ˈgɒːˀ pɔ ˈɡæːð̩n] 'Niels 'går på 'gaden).

Quantifiers except numerals are also unstressed, e.g. et ton 'stål.


Special problems for non-native speakers

The articulation of certain sounds presents special difficulties for non-native speakers. The degree and character of the difficulties obviously depend on the speaker’s first language, but special attention should be paid to the following sounds:


Distinct and normal speech

The basis of this overview is distinctly spoken Danish. Some points where normal speech may deviate from distinct speech are the following:


Example text

Distinct speech

[en ˈdæːˀ ble ˈsoːˀln̩ ʌ ˈvenˀn̩ uˈeːˀniːi ˈʌmˀ ˈvɛm dɑ vɑ ˈsdaɐ̯ɡəsd // ˈneːð̩ pʰɔ ˈjoːˀɐn ˈsɔːˀ di en ˈmanˀ dɑ vɑ pʰɔ ˈvɑi̯ˀ ˈɡɛmˀm̩ en ˈsɡɒʊ̯ˀ // ˈvenˀn̩ ˈsæːæ tˢe ˈsoːˀln̩ // kʰa du ˈseːˀ ˈdɛnˀ ˈmanˀ dɑ ˈɡɒːˀ ˈdeɐ̯ˀ ˈneːð̩ pʰɔ ˈsɡɒʊ̯vɑːˀɪn // la ʌs pʰʁœʊ ˈkʁɑfdɐ pʰɔ ˈhɑm // ˈdɛnˀ dɑ kʰa fɔ ˈfʁɑɡŋ̩ ˈa hɑm a dn̩ ˈsdaɐ̯ɡəsdə // ˈɔʊ̯ ˈkʰɛɪ̯ / ˈsvɑːð̩ð̩ ˈsoːˀln̩ / ˈdu ˈsdɑːdɐ // ˈsʌ beˈɡønˀdə ˈvenˀn̩ ʌ ˈblɛːsə ʌ ˈsdɒːmə // ˈsdoːɐ ˈtˢʁæːˀɐ vɛldð̩ð̩ ʌmˈkʰulˀ // ˈdyːˀɐnə i ˈsɡɒːˀʊn søɡdə lyːˀ i dæːɐs ˈhuːlɐ ʌ ˈsɡjuːˀl // ˈmɑŋə ˈfuːləʁæːðɐ ble blɛsd ˈneðˀ a ˈvenˀn̩ / mɛn ˈmanˀn̩ / dɑ ˈslɛd ˈeɡə fʌˈsdoðˀ a de vɑ ˈhɑm dɑ vɑ ˈɒːsæːˀ tˢe ˈsdɒːmvæːˀɐð / tˢʁɑɡ ˈfʁɑɡŋ̩ ˈtˢɛd ʌmˈkʁaŋˀ sɑ ʌ ˈsdʁaðˀ sɑ ˈfʁɑmˀ sʌ ˈɡʌd han nu ˈkʰunə]

Normal speech

[en ˈdæːˀ ble ˈsoːˀln̩ ʌ ˈvenˀn̩ uˈeːˀniːi ˈʌmˀ ˈvɛm dɑ vɑ ˈsdaɐ̯ɡəsd // ˈneːð̩ pʰɔ ˈjoːˀɐn ˈsɔːˀ di en ˈmanˀ dɑ vɑ pʰɔ ˈvɑi̯ˀ ˈɡɛmˀm̩ en ˈsɡɒʊ̯ˀ // ˈvenˀn̩ ˈsæːæ tˢe ˈsoːˀln̩ // kʰa du ˈseːˀ ˈdɛnˀ ˈmanˀ dɑ ˈɡɒːˀ ˈdeɐ̯ˀ ˈneːð̩ pʰɔ ˈsɡɒʊ̯vɑːˀɪn // la ʌs pʰʁœʊ ˈkʁɑfdɐ pʰɔ ˈhɑm // ˈdɛnˀ dɑ kʰa fɔ ˈfʁɑɡŋ̩ ˈa hɑm a dn̩ ˈsdaɐ̯ɡəsdə // ˈɔʊ̯ ˈkʰɛɪ̯ / ˈsvɑːð̩ ˈsoːˀln̩ / ˈdu ˈsdɑːdɐ // ˈsʌ beˈɡønˀd ˈvenˀn̩ ʌ ˈblɛːs ʌ ˈsdɒːm̩ // ˈsdoːɐ ˈtˢʁæːˀɐ vɛldð̩ ʌmˈkʰulˀ // ˈdyːˀɐnə i ˈsɡɒːˀʊn søɡd lyːˀ i daɐs ˈhuːlɐ ʌ ˈsɡjuːˀl // ˈmɑŋ̩ ˈfuːl̩ʁæːðɐ ble blɛsd ˈneðˀ a ˈvenˀn̩ / mɛn ˈmanˀn̩ / dɑ ˈslɛd ˈeɡ fʌˈsdoðˀ a de vɑ ˈhɑm dɑ vɑ ˈɒːsæːˀ tˢe ˈsdɒːmvæːˀɐð / tˢʁɑɡ ˈfʁɑɡŋ̩ ˈtˢɛd ʌmˈkʁaŋˀ sɑ ʌ ˈsdʁaðˀ sɑ ˈfʁɑmˀ sʌ ˈɡʌd han nu ˈkʰun̩]

Orthography

En dag blev solen og vinden uenige om hvem der var stærkest. Nede på jorden så de en mand der var på vej gennem en skov. Vinden sagde til Solen: »Kan du se den mand der går dernede på skovvejen? Lad os prøve kræfter på ham. Den der kan få frakken af ham, er den stærkeste.« – »Okay,« svarede Solen, »Du starter.« Så begyndte Vinden at blæse og storme. Store træer væltede omkuld. Dyrene i skoven søgte ly i deres huler og skjul. Mange fuglereder blev blæst ned af vinden, men manden, der slet ikke forstod at det var ham der var årsag til stormvejret, trak frakken tæt omkring sig og stred sig frem så godt han nu kunne.


Literature

Theoretical

Hans Basbøll, The phonology of Danish. Oxford / New York 2005.

Nina Grønnum, Fonetik og fonologi: almen og dansk (3. udg.). København 2005.

Nina Grønnum, Rødgrød med fløde: en lille bog om dansk fonetik. København 2007.

Applied

Lisbeth Thorborg, Dansk udtale: øvebog, med cd-rom. København 2003.

Lisbeth Thorborg, Dansk udtale i 49 tekster, med cd-rom (2. udg.). København 2003.

Lisbeth Thorborg, Dansk udtale for begyndere, med cd-rom (2. udg.). København 2005.

 

 

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