So there's a singsong, tonal aspect to Swedish, that much is evident even from the TTS. Having never studied a tonal language (except in third grade when a parent came into class to teach us Mandarin for a day), I have a bunch of questions.

A. Is there actually a tonal quality to Swedish, or do I just hear a sort of sing-song aspect because I'm still so unfamiliar with the language?

All the rest assume that A is true...

B. For Swedish, how much does the tone of a word (the voice gets higher or lower) change the meaning?

B1. If I spoke Swedish in a more monotone way like Spanish or English, will that sound like I'm just putting the syllable stress on the wrong way, or will it change what I'm saying?

C. In English and Spanish, there are rules to stressing syllables. Does Swedish have rules to the tone?

D. I'm taking notes as I go, and making up my pronunciation notes in a way that makes sense to me. But I haven't figured out how to denote tone. People who are learning a tonal language and take notes, how do you record tone?

E. I've been watching YouTube videos to get a better sense of phonics. Any good ones for the tone?, markup automatically renumbers my questions for me. Drat! Let's try this again with letters.

November 22, 2014


Hiya! I'm a native speaker of Swedish, I'll try to give you my perspective of this.

Swedish is not a tonal language. At least not in the way chinese languages or vietnamese are. BUT what we have is called "word accent", a quality dropped by most other IE languages. This is why foreigners might feel Swedish is kind of singing.

Word accent can be two things: high or low. It's the melody of the word. It's a thing you should try to learn, but you will be able to make yourself understood even if you sound funny. For almost all words, the meaning doesn't change depending on word accent.

Among the ones that DO change mening we have

Rutten = rotten OR the route

Tomten= Santa claus OR the yard (as in the plot surrounding a house)

Anden = The mallard OR the spirit

Thus, if you say it wrong, the holy spirit might sound like "the holy duck". :p

Swedes will understand you from context though, even if you make mistakes in this.

I think there's a good bit of info googlable on this. Perhaps you can find some clarity there?

Thanks, that was very helpful! You've given me things to google too. Have a lingot!


I looked around a little too, and wikipedia has an article on stress and pitch in Swedish:

Also found this list of ALL the words where it can make a difference. It's in Swedish though.

Let me just add this favorite of mine, which is not two words, but one word and one two-word combination, however it's still a minimal pair: rått kött (raw meat) and råttkött (rat meat). An important distinction! :D

Aye, that's a good one too. :D

Once when my dad was little, he heard "ett rått ägg" mentioned and was intrigued with learning rats lay eggs. Later he got disappointed learning it was just a plain regular chicken's egg.

På tal om inget, how do you do cursive script here?

Lol, hadn't thought of that one!

Asterisks around the word/phrase: one gives italics, two gives bold, three gives bold italics. Try it out!

Vinden is pronounced exactly the same in both of those cases? At least I pronounce it the same. Maybe I just have some weird Northern accent lol.

Come to think of it, you're right. Bad example. Tack!

Swedish has "pitch accent", like Norwegian, Lithuanian and Japanese. There are two accent types in Swedish: "acute accent"/"accent 1" and "grave accent"/"accent 2". They are distinguished in polysyllabic words (words with more than one syllable) and they are phonemic (the meaning can change depending on the accent). Thus "ánden" (the duck) and "ànden" (the spirit) are distinct to the majority of Swedish speakers (Finland Swedish has no pitch accent).

I'm on a train right now so I can't get too technical about the tonal patterns, but a friend of mine once suggested that accent 1 sounds like a "normal" word, while accent 2 sounds like you're stressing the second syllable once more; thus "ánden" would be "AN-den" while "ànden" would be "AN-DEN". I can't say how helpful this is when you only have it in writing though.

There are pattern regarding pitch accent, and many groups of words have predictable pitch (not predictable from the spelling, but from morphology, i.e. the forms of the word). For example, -ar verbs have accent 2, while -er verbs have accent 1; kàllar vs héter.

As for prosody, Swedish strongly stresses certain words in a sentence, more clearly so than many other languages. This is also part of why it sounds so sing-songy, because the unstressed words in a sentence tend to get shortened and "rushed through", while the stressed ones are very clear. There are rules and patterns to this too, but I'd rather not do a lecture on them right now. For example, though, pronounced are always unstressed (unless emphasized, of course) and tend to get weakened so that they sound more like prefixes and suffixes on the verb. "Jag äter" > "jaÄTER"; "Kommer han hem?" > "kommeran HEM". In the second example the verb would be unstressed too in normal speech.

Hope this helps you out :)

For your anden example, is this Forvo link "AN-den" and this one "an-DEN"??

Very very helpful, tack!

The first one says "änden" (the end) and the second one says "anden" twice, where the first one is AN-DEN (the spirit) and the second one is AN-den (the bird).

Just for fun I recorded myself saying "tomten" with both tone accents: The blue line is the tone.

Done using Praat.

Is the first one Santa Claus?

Ooh, I can see that clearly--just not quite connect it with a sound.

Which one corresponds to this pronunciation?

The first one. But he has a different accent than me, so his pronunciation differs a bit.

Thanks for the Praat link!

I would also like to know.

I don't think that Swedish is a tonal language, but I could be wrong. I study Mandarin Chinese (as you said before, a tonal language). Assuming that I'm wrong, and that Swedish is tonal, you could possibly use pinyin to denote tone.

This video is for chinese, but it will give you a sense of what pinyin is and what tones sound like:

A friend of mine just linked me to pinyin on Wikipedia which seems more accessible than I thought. So good thinking there!

I suspect Swedish isn't nearly as tonal as Mandarin, but it does seem to play with sound more than English does.

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