v49: kön

This week, some words on pronounciation. Generally, the pronounciation of Swedish consonants is not too different from English. (Vowels are another matter: standard Swedish is said to have a 17-vowel inventory, compared to 10 for standard Australian, my reference language.)

One trick about consonants is the different pronounciations of g, k, and sk (and variant spellings). They are soft before e, i, y, ä and ö, and hard before a, o, u and å:

g k sk
before e, i, y, ä, ö: /j/ /ɕ/ /ɧ/
before a, o, u, å: /g/ /k/ /sk/

/ɧ/ is the infamous voiceless palatal-velar fricative, or sje-sound (sje-ljud), which occurs in many common words and is pronounced differently in different parts of Sweden. /ɕ/ is its close relation, the voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative, or tje-sound.

The sje-sound occurs at the start of common words like skinka (ham), skön (beautiful), skär (pink), sju (seven), and stjärna (star), while the tje-sound begins köpa (buy), kyrka (church), kjol (skirt), and tjugo (twenty).

But like every good rule, this one has exceptions. The exceptions are in the pronounciation of loanwords. But how do you know if a word is a loanword and thus a possible exception to the rule? They are not always obvious, and what’s worse, there are some loanwords that are identical to Swedish words, for example:

kön (soft /ɕ/) sex, gender

kön (hard /k/) the queue (loanword from French)

kör (soft /ɕ/) drive

kör (hard /k/) choir (from French again)

So do learn those, because you don’t want to mix them up, as this example shows, where Google Translate (GT) has a go at a report on MSN about the Christmas windows in the Stockholm department store NK (Nordiska Kompaniet):

MSN said: Kön med barn som ville lämna sin önskelista till tomten ringlade lång.

GT said: Sex with children who wanted to leave his wish list to Santa wound long.

I hope no-one told Santa about this!

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a little clip I found at Resume. It’s not a flashmob, it’s an ad for Radiotjänst, but it’s still fun to watch. You can even learn a useful Swedish phrase:

Tack för att du betalar din tv-avgift.
Thankyou for paying your TV licence fee.

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Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 14:33  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. thanks for posting this, especially the flash mob. So funny! I FB’d it!

  2. I have a sj- bitch-fest at least once a day. Where I find an unsuspecting Swede, complain to them for an hour about how hard sj is to pronounce and how inconsiderate it is of the Swedes to have a sound that nobody in the rest of the world can pronounce, and how perhaps they should consider improving their language by removing it.

  3. […] I’ve heard a number of times that Swedish is a difficult language because of the sje-sound (/ɧ/). I find this a little unfair: I think it’s relatively straightforward to learn how to […]


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