Danish Alphabet and Sounds
Hello hopeful students!
In this post I'm going to talk a bit about the Danish alphabets, what sounds the different letters might produce, and some general guidelines to pronunciation.
The Danish alphabet has 29 letters. The 26 you already know from English, along with three extra vowels tagged onto the end. Sing with me:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z æ ø å
Uppercase of the three extra vowels: Æ Ø Å.<h1>Vowels</h1>
The vowels are: a e i o u y æ ø å.
You might think, hey, this is a bunch of vowels! And you'd be right. But in fact there are even more. Sorry! These vowel letters represent 2-4 distinguishable sounds each, leaving Danish with a flourishing 30-odd vowel sounds --- and that's without counting dialects.
Please do not despair at the immensity of vowel sounds! Depending on which language you come from, it might take you a bit of effort to learn to pronounce (and hear) these sounds, but it is definitely possible. I've personally watched my fiancée learn to do it :) She's Italian, a language which has around 6 vowel sounds. So if an Italian can do it, you can too!
The upside to the high number of vowels is that Danish in general has very short words. And you do not need to learn to pronounce these vowels perfectly, or even near perfect, to be understood -- people will understand from the context.
Notice that Y is a vowel in Danish, not a consonant! Excepted from this are, of course, any loan words that have kept their foreign spelling, such as the ever present and highly delicious yoghurt.
Another important point about vowels in Danish is that they're "true" or "flat" vowels, which means that they have a single sound only. This is different from English, where vowels "glide" into another sound. Think of the English vowel a: To a Dane, this sounds like a+i. An example of a true vowel in English is the ee of see -- To a Dane, this sound is simply that of i.
A would love to give you an overview of the sounds of the vowels, but it is simply not possible to describe most of them using English vowels as examples. Instead, there is a short series about Danish pronunciation, in which the first two videos deal with vowels:
- How To Speak Danish | Pronunciation 1: Vowel Sounds
- How To Speak Danish | Pronunciation 2: Vowel Sounds
Another video comes from a great series about how to pronounce Danish, which is unfortunately in Danish. See if it won't be of use anyway:
- A double consonant or two consonants after a vowel (in the same syllable) makes the preceding vowel short. Otherwise the vowel is long.
- An R after a vowel (in the same syllable) is not pronounced, but instead serves to open up the vowel. See videos about vowels above.
Stød or Glottal Stop
Danish has the feature called "stød", which is really hard to describe. It is the difference between, for instance, mor (mother) and mord (murder). Wikipedia has an article on stød.
Having scoured Youtube for pronunciation examples, I can only seem to find these two, which are in Danish. See them as advanced training, maybe :)
- Introduction to the glottal stop in Danish - Part 1
- Introduction to the glottal stop in Danish - Part 2
Although stød is sometimes referred to as glottal stop, it is not the same as the glottal stop found in, say, a downtown London accent or Scottish English. Depending on your language of origin, this might be a tough one to get down -- again, be comforted by the fact that most often the context will let people understand you in any case.<h1>Consonants</h1>
Rejoice! Consonants in Danish are mostly the same as in English. A few notes:
- R is pronounced in the throat. Sort of like in French, or like J in Spanish. You'll have fun learning this one. Imagine you have something stuck in your throat, but try not to overdo it. It's rather subtle :) Remember that it is not pronounced if it occurs after a vowel, in the same syllable.
- The combination ng works the same as in English. Think of sing in English.
- T is very aired in Danish, meaning you blow out more air while saying it.
- D can be soft or hard. As a rule of thumb, it is hard (like do) before vowels and soft (like the) immediately after vowels. It can be a bit complicated to decide whether a d inside a word is "before" or "after" a vowel: You have to divide the word into syllables. If it follows another consonant like l or n it shortens the preceding vowel and generally introduces stød (if that vowel is the first in the word). See below. After a g it is generally not pronounced.
- J is pronounced like the English consonant-Y (as in yogurt). Except in loan words.
- The combination dj makes the English j sound (as in juice).
- The combination tj makes the English ch sound (as in chess).
- G can be soft (like Danish J) or hard (like English geese). Like D, it is most often soft after vowels and hard before vowels.
- H is silent before other consonants
- F after A makes a diphthong similar to
awin awful (but with a slightly different a). In the word af (of) it is simply not pronounced.
- Two Ks in a row sound the same as two Gs in a row (less aired than single K).
- Two Ts in a row sound the same as two hard Ds in a row (less aired than single T).
Take a look at the third part of the series from above, which is about consonants: How To Speak Danish | Pronunciation 3: Consonants
The consonants Q, W, X, and Z are not really used at all, except for loan words. In these they retain their original sound, although Z is pronounced the same as S and W might be pronounced as V (such as in weekend, pronounced like English but with a v at the start). C is the same, except it occurs in many personal names, too. It can be pronounced as either an S (often before a vowel) or a K (often before another consonant)<h1>Pronunciation Exceptions</h1>
-etat the end of a word is pronounced with a soft-d sound instead of the t.
- Forvo - Search for a word and listen to a native speaker say it.
- Wiktionary (the English version) has most Danish words with IPA pronunciation, etymology, conjugations, and often a translation too.
- IVONA This is the TTS voice we're using. Select Danish -> Mads (for male) or Naja (for female) and input any text you want to listen to again.
- Google Translate Can read out in Danish too.
- Dansk Udtale on YouTube has videos on different areas of the pronunciation (explained in Danish, though).
Thanks for this post, because the pronunciation had me baffled. After watching the Danish stød video, I came upon this video http://youtu.be/dr7hU_iP0dw. Here, the Danish vowels are explained without referring to similar English sounds, making it perhaps easier for people whose first language isn't English.
Thanks a lot for this post, this helped my understand some of the pronunciation thingy ;) (although it is still hard!). But there's one thing i didn't understand...and its this:
F becomes an (English) oo sound after A.
Can you give me an example?
Edit: Is the danish 'R' similar to the German\Hebrew R?
Yes, sorry, that one is a bit unclear.
- Take the word afgang, departure. The syllables are
gang, so the f is either silent or makes a diphthong. The pronunciation becomes something like [ahw-gang].
- In the word af (of) it is simply not pronounced, so one says [a] instead (flat, short, closed vowel).
Does that clear it up a bit?
Do you have an example of the GermanHebrew R being pronounced? Then I can tell you right away :)
The exception of "-et" at the end of a word being pronounced with a soft d sound is generally true, at least in most dialects. But there's an exception to the exception, which is that if the "-et" ending is preceded by a soft d, the ending is actually prounounced with a "t" sound as it is spelled, to avoid the clash of two soft d sounds so close to each other. For instance, the word "bladet" (the leaf/the magazine) is pronounced with a "t" sound at the end.
I can't seem to hear the difference between the soft D sound and something like a dark L (maybe a dark L as heard in Russian?). Currently I'm getting it in the second half of the word "skildpadde", but I've noticed it elsewhere, too. I think I'm replicating the sound from the audio, but the shape of my mouth isn't anywhere near a "th". Any advice?
Ah! That unblocked my mental block! I was putting the tip of my tongue behind my bottom teeth, but also the middle of my tongue touching the roof of my mouth. Some combination of my languages made that seem natural, I guess. I still sort of hear the dark L, but I get how to properly make the sound now. Thanks!
I'm fairly sure we don't have dark Ls in Danish, at least not my understanding of them :)
One technique I know of, for learning to pronounce impossible words, is to start from the end of the word: Pronounce fx just the soft-d, then add on the a sound, and so on working towards the beginning.
There are some native pronunciations on Forvo that might help you:
- Ad -- yuck, but consists of a + soft-d. The sound is more drawn out in skildpadde because of the ending e.
- Padde -- amphibian, the last half of skildpadde)
I just tried listening to the TTS saying skildpadde and I don't hear a dark L. But of course I know what to expect! Maybe try with the male voice (Danish - Mads) on IVONA.
Hope that helps a bit!
Ok, I am having trouble with the letter R in the middle of a word, for example in the word "fungere." Can you explain where the tongue should be placed? And why is it pronounced differently in "hvordan" if in both cases it is after a vowel? Is it because in "fungere" a vowel follows the R? In "hvordan," it sounds like it is pronounced more like an English "R" sound (at least it does to me), but in "fungere," it doesn't.
The trick is to divide it into syllables. I don't really know how to explain how to do this though, but for the two words you mentioned:
re. So the R is before a vowel. It is very very subtle though, at least in my pronounciation, almost just a glotal stop. Also the last E is pronounced (by my generation) as if it was followed by another R (so more open, towards A). This is why it's so hard for (some) Danish people to remember to spell the present tense correctly for verbs ending in
-e, because fungere (to function) is pronounced the same as fungerer (functions). At least for people of my generation, in the Copenhagen-area.
dan. Here the R is after a vowel, modifying the vowel but not being pronounced itself.
The case of fungere applies to all verbs ending in
-ere, which are the ones imported from Romance languages. There might be some exceptions to this, but as a general rule, it holds.
super useful resource is den danske ordbog, which gives a modified version of IPA for every danish word:
there is a table that gives an overview of the dictionary's transcription vis-à-vis IPA:
cannot recommend this resource more highly!
It would be nice if people looked through the thread before providing a link. Now there are 4 person that have provided the link (5 with this comment) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jsf-VIaQoc.
It is a great video that I can recommend, but it doesn't get any better by being linked to several times.
Last time i followed the link , youtube suggested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjdEQklFV-0 which is also a good video and maybe even better for some.
In addition to giving examples of the different vowel qualities (long, short and stød) it also shows that there is no direct relation between the spelling and the wovel quality. It gives 2 examples: gul - guld, and mor - mord.
For the first pair the word WITHOUT d has the stød, whereas for the second pair it is the word WITH d that has the stød.
I will recommend that you see the entire series as it covers the other difficult parts of the pronounciation of danish words.
(1/6) mensions the t->d, p->b, and k->g pronunciation. That it is a tendency, rather than a rule. Mostly the context clarifies the meaning even if this tendency is followed.