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Understanding Swedish prosody/pitch accent [Advanced]

I should preface this by saying that you'll find this link absolutely useless unless you're used to linguistics jargon, but... this article sort of changed my life, lol:



Cliff notes:

  1. Stress is the key to speaking great Swedish and it's all about syllable length (which is different from vowel length, t.ex. "TÌTTa" which has short vowel length but is a "long/stressed" syllable). Swedish words can have more than one stressed syllable in them.

  2. Unstressed vowels are far less important to pronounce clearly than stressed vowels, so L2 learners should focus on pronouncing stressed vowels properly (!!!)

  3. Kjellin describes tones in terms of "left (ò)", "right (ó)", or "unstressed/continuous", which are analogous to "Tone 2 (Grave)", "Tone 1 (Acute)", or "unstressed". The left tone goes down, the right tone goes up.

  4. The "right" tone is used when the stressed syllable is to the right of the first syllable: poLÍS, beTÁlar, universiTÉtet. Kjellin also says that all words have a stress (just in case they are the stressed word in an utterance), so all monosyllabic words have the "right" tone. (Reminds me of the Duo TTS when you click on the word "det"... such a simple word but the TTS pronounces it in a rising tone because it is in isolation.)

  5. Kjellin calls Tone 2 the "left" tone because it is used in two cases: A. when the first (leftmost) syllable is the only stressed syllable (barring clitics like -en and weird suffixes, among other things***???), for example: TÀlar, TÀlade, FLÌCkorna... and B. when there are two or more stressed syllables, Tone 2 is always the one furthest to the left: MÈDDÉla, ÙTFÓRska

  6. Swedish compound words can hypothetically have an unlimited number of vowels that should etymologically be considered "stressed" vowels, but in practice, only the first and last stressed syllables are stressed, and to make things super simple: the leftmost stressed syllable gets the "left" tone and the rightmost stressed syllable gets the "right" tone. He says, for example: gymNAsieLÄrarkompeTENsutVECklingskoordiNAtor should be read as: gymNÀsielärarkompetensutvecklingskoordiNÁtor, with everything in the middle being in an unstressed tone. A more realistic example: you would say ÀRBÉtar, but ÀRbetslösHÉT.


Jag skulle gärna vilja veta om de svensklärarna här håller med den här förklaringen. Även om det kanske inte är perfekt, blev det en riktig eureka moment för mig lol.

Det är nog för mycket att konsumera(?) utan några ljudexempel, men om någon gjorde en video som angår/förklarar den här artikeln (liknande det här: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXp7_Sjgm34), vore det väldigt användbart för alla elever~

Also if anyone bothered to read all that, I have questions to ask based on what I just learned, like, where loanwords fall into all this... what suffixes make words tone 1 instead of tone 2, etc.

Tack så mycket

December 2, 2015



I’m not really used to this type of terminology that you’re using here, but I have studied a fair amount of prosody within linguistics so I might be able to help you with your questions, albeit maybe not with Kjellin’s terminology.


Oh, sure. Well it's exactly as I have written in the second last paragraph. Mostly w.r.t. pitch accent:

  1. Where stress-final loanwords fall into all this? -- I hear "evenemàng" rather than "evenemáng", "accènt" rather than "accént"... right?

  2. What suffixes make words have an 'acute' accent rather than a 'grave' accent when the stressed syllable is the first syllable? Kjellin says a seemingly Tone 2 word might take Tone 1 due to "some factors, such as umlauting and certain suffixes" (e.g., längre, händer, kompis, kemisk). Was wondering if people in Sweden learn a finite list of what these particular exceptions are. (I don't mind if any links given are in Swedish.)

Also given that you studied prosody (presumably with Swedish in mind), do the patterns I'm describing sound familiar/accurate to you, regardless of the terminology? He just renamed Tone 1 and 2 to right and left to make their functions seem less arbitrary. They should still behave the same way as is taught in a Swedish class.

  1. Words with stress on the final syllable always have accent 1 / acute accent, just like monosyllabic words.

  2. I hadn’t really thought of that there are suffixes that would trigger accent 1. Since accent 1 is the ’normal’ pitch accent and accent 2 the marked one, examples are usually given for the latter. For example the plural -ar always yields accent 2 whereas the definite -en is neutral, and could be either accent 1 or accent 2 depending on the original accent of the indefinite noun. Tomas Riad mentions the one you mention like comparative -re, adjectival -isk and hypocoristic -is. He also mentions hypocoristic -o (pucko, miffo, Carro) and words on -y (dandy, bandy, Vicky). I think you might have a quite comprehensive list already.

I think I can mostly follow along but I don’t really understand this part:

The "right" tone is used when the stressed syllable is to the right of the first syllable: poLÍS, beTÁlar, universiTÉtet.

There are words with stress on the mid-syllable with both accent 1 and accent 2.


Awesome! Thanks for being so thorough. What's an example of an accent 2 word with a mid syllable stress?

Also I googled Tomas Riad and now have more things to read after work. Getting closer to demystifying the parts of Swedish that I find most... mysterious.


For example, kopia, väninna, Messias all have stress on the /i/ whereas betala and förklara have accent 1, presumably caused by the prefixes be- and för-.

You might want to check out ”Phonology of Swedish” by Tomas Riad, it’s quite comprehensive on the topic since he’s a prosodist.


@tjasonham Wonderful, thanks for sharing! I see that it teaches you some of the really good stuff about Swedish. For instance, words like järnspikslådeboxcontainertruckgaragedörr. Där kan ju engelskan slänga sig i väggen i jämförelse, as we'd say in Swedish ('English has nothing on Swedish there').


Haha that's what I found on my google search. Hope my office doesn't mind me printing 60 pages of his Svenskt Fonologikompendium:



Oh my gosh, thanks so much for this, everything makes sense now.

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