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  5. Is Norwegian a tonal language?


Is Norwegian a tonal language?

according to this map: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/WALS_Tone.png (see also: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_BQZhD9a_3yw/Sy4tx6PKScI/AAAAAAAAAP4/ghtNF7ATlaw/s400/WorldMapOfToneLanguages.jpg) there are only two areas in Europe where tonal languages are spoken, one is Norway, the other one is in the Baltic zone (you cannot really tell exactly from the map).

so, the answer to my question may seem obvious ("yes, as you can see, the map says so!"), but i would like to hear from native speakers whether they clearly perceive their language as a tonal language and as such opposed to other European tongues and also if there are cases where two words in Norwegian can only be told apart thanks to the tone.

November 22, 2015



I think the pitch accent is something we learn to imitate as babies and seldom pay much mind as adults.
It just feels natural to us.

It's definitely an aspect of the language that can be tricky for language learners to adopt, but the good news is that you'll usually be understood regardless. It's just that final touch that makes you sound more native, not something that's going to hold you back.

The standard example for tones in Norwegian is "bønder" (farmers) vs. "bønner" (beans/prayers), which in many dialects sound identical except for the difference in tone. I'm by no means an expert on this, but you can read more about it here.

  • 1483

Hello Deliciae, you forgot a third word "bønner" (prayers)! I suggest that it often is a question of the dialect too? With the "bønder" (= farmers) I would put some "pressure" on the "ø", or maybe also mark the "d". With the beans, i would load the "ø" and the "e" equally? Is that correct? My dialect is influed of "Bergen". Tusen takk for henvisningen "here", det var interessant!


Yes, though "bønner" and "bønner" use the same tone. :)

The Bergen dialect is apparently one of the few dialects without a tonal accent, so it would make sense to stress the words differently instead. I would stress the 'ø' more as well, but I have a different dialect. Whether the 'd' is silent or not is also dialect dependent, so what's "correct" and not will vary.

If you wish to cultivate a certain dialect, or further refine the one you already have, then I would find someone to imitate. Either someone you know, or some kind of public figure. It's not really a skill one can acquire by reading, and even if it were there aren't many written dialect guides around.


FWIW, linguistically there's a significant difference between tone systems and pitch accents, and the latter is usually much easier for learners to deal with than the former. :) The map agenda is kind of misleading: a "simple tone system" would be a tone system with few tones, not a pitch accent system. (And also, it's difficult to see at this resolution, but I think it's inaccurate to a degree... Tibetan seems to be marked as a simple tone system?)

Note also that there are other European languages (Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, and I think Swedish, at least) which have pitch accent too, they just don't seem to be represented on the map. And I believe the Danish stød (a creaky voice feature) is their equivalent to the Norwegian/Swedish system.

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