The phonology of Danish is similar to that of the other Scandinavian languages such as Swedish and Norwegian, but it also has distinct features setting it apart from the phonologies of its most closely related languages. For example Danish has a suprasegmental feature known as stød which is a kind of laryngeal phonation that is used phonemically. It also exhibits extensive lenition of plosives, which is noticeably more common than in the neighboring languages. Because of that and a few other things, spoken Danish is rather hard to understand for Norwegians and Swedes, although they can easily read it.
|in syllable onset||in syllable coda|
|/ɡ/||[ɡ̊]||[ɪ̯] after front vowels,
[ʊ̯] after back vowels
|/j/||[j], [ɕ] after [s] or [tˢ]||[ɪ̯]|
|/n/||[n]||[n], [ŋ] before /ɡ k/|
- /m, p, b/ are bilabial, /f, v/ are labiodental, whereas [ʊ̯] is labialized velar.
- /n, t, d, l/ have been variously described as apical alveolar [n̺, t̺ˢʰ, d̺˚, l̺] and laminal denti-alveolar [n̪, t̪ˢʰ, d̪˚, l̪].
- /p, t, k/ are aspirated (and, in the case of /t/, also strongly affricated) voiceless lenis in syllable onset: [b̥ʰ, d̥ˢʰ, ɡ̊ʰ] (hereafter transcribed as [pʰ, tˢ, kʰ] for simplicity). Aspiration is lost in syllable coda.
- For simplicity, the aspirated and affricated allophone of /t/ is often transcribed as [d̥ˢ]/[tˢ], i.e. as if it were just affricated.
- In some varieties of standard Danish (but not the Copenhagen dialect), /t/ is just aspirated, without the affrication.
- /b, d, ɡ/ are unaspirated voiceless lenis in syllable onset: [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊]. In syllable coda /d, ɡ/ and sometimes /b/ are opened: [ʊ̯ ð̞ˠ̠ ɪ̯/ʊ̯]. /ɡ/ becomes [ɪ̯] after front vowels and [ʊ̯] after back vowels.
- Final /b, d, ɡ/ may be realized as [pʰ, tˢʰ, kʰ], in particular in distinct speech. In case of the alveolar plosive, in this position it may be either aspirated and affricated [tˢʰ] or just aspirated [tʰ].
- According to Krech et al. (2009), all consonants are realized as lenis, not just the plosives.
- The exact place of articulation of /k, ɡ/ varies; it is more front (pre-velar) [k̟ʰ, ɡ̊˖] before front vowels, and more back (post-velar) [k̠ʰ, ɡ̊˗] before back vowels. Bornholmsk dialect features even stronger fronting of /k, ɡ/ before front vowels, i.e. to palatal [c, ɟ].
- Voiceless continuants /f, s, h/ and [ɕ] are fricatives.
- /s/ is an apical alveolar non-retracted sibilant [s̺], but some speakers realize it as dental [s̪]. It is always voiceless.
- /h/ is only weakly fricated. Between vowels, it is often voiced [ɦ].
- [ɕ] occurs only after /s/ or /t/. Since [j] doesn't occur after these phonemes, [ɕ] can be analyzed as /j/, which is devoiced after voiceless alveolar frication. This makes it unnecessary to postulate a /ɕ/-phoneme in Danish.
- Among voiced continuants, the lateral /l/ is an approximant, whereas /v, j, r/ and [ð] vary between being fricatives and approximants:
- /v/ is either a voiced fricative [v] or, most often, a voiced approximant [ʋ] which, according to Nina Grønnum, is more accurately described as a short voiced labiodental plosive [b̪̆].
- [ð] is a voiced velarized laminal alveolar approximant [ð̠˕ˠ]. It is weak, acoustically similar to the cardinal vowels [ɯ] and [ɤ]. Very rarely, [ð] can be realised as a voiced laminal alveolar non-sibilant fricative [ð̠].[is the fricative variant also velarized?]
- British phonetician John C. Wells commented on his blog about the quality of Danish [ð] that to him, it sounds "awfully like a lateral". A similar comment was made by Haberland (1994), who said that Danish [ð] is frequently mistaken for an [l] by second-language learners.
- An acoustically similar sound (but apical rather than laminal) has been reported to occur as an intervocalic allophone of /d̠/ in the Dahalo language spoken in Kenya.
- /j/ is an approximant, but when it occurs word-finally after /l/, it is articulated more strongly than usual, sometimes even as a fricative [ʝ].
- An additional voiced continuant, namely the voiced velar fricative [ɣ] occurred in older Standard Danish. Some older speakers still use it in high register, but most often as an approximant [ɰ]. It corresponds to three sounds in contemporary Standard Danish:
- /r/ has been variously described as:
- Voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] or approximant [ʁ̞]. Initial /r/ is most often an approximant. According to Nina Grønnum, the fricative variant is voiceless [χ].
- Voiced "supra-pharyngeal" approximant
- Voiced pharyngeal approximant [ʕ̞]
- When emphasising a word, word-initial /r/ may be realized as a voiced uvular trill fricative [ʀ̝].
- The alveolar realization [r] of /r/ is very rare:
- According to Torp (2001), it occurs in some varieties of Jutlandic dialect, and only for some speakers (mostly the elderly). The alveolar realization is considered non-standard, even in classical opera singing - it is probably the only European language in which this is the case.
- According to Basbøll (2005), it occurs (or used to occur until recently) in very old forms of certain conservative dialects in Northern Jutland and Bornholm.
- /l, j, r/ are voiceless [l̥, ʝ̊ ~ ɕ, ʁ̥] after aspirated /p, t, k/, where the aspiration is realized as devoicing of the following sonorant. Note, however, that the sequence /tj/ is normally realized as a voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate [t͡ɕ].
The Danish allophones can be analyzed into 15 distinctive consonant phonemes, /p t k b d ɡ m n f s h v j r l/, where /p t k d ɡ v j r/ have different pronunciation in syllable onset vs. syllable coda.
Instances of [ŋ] can be analyzed as /n/ as it only occurs before /ɡ/ or /k/ and does not contrast with [n]. This makes it unnecessary to postulate an /ŋ/-phoneme in Danish (assuming that a following /ɡ/ is sometimes deleted).
Modern Standard Danish has around 20 different vowel qualities. These vowels are shown here in a narrow transcription. In the rest of the article and in IPA transcriptions of Danish in Wikipedia the diacritics are usually omitted.
The following vowels are allophones. Phonemes are discussed below.
- Stressed close vowels
- [i] is close front unrounded [i]. John Wells's impression is that it is slightly centralized [ï].
- [y] is close near-front rounded [y̠].
- [u] is close back rounded [u].
- [e] is near-close front unrounded [e̝].
- Stressed mid vowels
- [ɛ] is close-mid front unrounded [e].
- [ø] is close-mid near-front rounded [ø̠].
- [o] has been variously described as close-mid back rounded [o] and near-close back rounded [o̝].
- [œ] is mid near-front rounded [œ̠˔].
- [ɔ] is mid near-back rounded [ɔ̝˖].
- [æ] is open-mid front unrounded [ɛ].
- [œ̞] is open-mid near-front rounded [œ̠]. Basbøll (2005) transcribes it with the symbol ⟨ɶ⟩, and writes that "Nina Grønnum uses two different symbols for the vowels in these and similar words: gøre she transcribes with [œ̞] (semi-narrow transcription) and [œ] (narrow transcription), and grøn she transcribes with [ɶ] (semi-narrow transcription) and [ɶ̝] (narrow transcription). Clearly, there is variation within Standard Danish on this point (...)." Elsewhere in this article, [œ̞, œ̞ː] are not distinguished from [ɶ, ɶː] and the former symbols are not used.
- Stressed open vowels
- [a] is near-open front unrounded [a̝].
- [ɶ] is near-open near-front rounded [ɶ̠˔]. Some speakers realize it as [œ̠] (i.e. the same as [œ̞]), and Basbøll (2005) transcribes both [ɶ] and [œ̞] with ⟨ɶ⟩.
- [ɑ] is open central unrounded [ɑ̈].
- [ʌ] is near-open near-back somewhat rounded [ʌ̹˕˖].
- [ɒ] has been variously described as open-mid back rounded [ɔ] and near-open back rounded [ɒ̝].
- Unstressed vowels
- [ɪ] is a lax, relatively close unrounded neutral front vowel. It is an assimilatory variant of [ɪ̯ə].
- [ʊ] is a lax, relatively close rounded neutral back vowel, which may be realized the same as short /o/. It is an assimilatory variant of [ʊ̯ə].
- [ə] is a mid central vowel with variable rounding ([ə̜ ~ ə̹]). For some speakers, it may be more consistently realized as rounded, albeit only in very distinct speech. In rapid speech, postvocalic [ə] tends to have the same quality as the preceding vowel, as in e.g. stue [ˈsd̥uːu] 'living room' or pige [ˈpʰiːi] 'girl'.
- [ɐ] may be any of the following: near-open central unrounded [ɐ], retracted mid central unrounded [ə̠], or simply the same as stressed [ʌ] (a near-open near-back somewhat rounded vowel [ʌ̹˕˖]), which is probably the usual pronunciation. Grønnum (1998) transcribes both [ʌ] and [ɐ] as [ʌ].
- Non-syllabic vowels
- [ɪ̯] is a non-syllabic, lax, relatively close unrounded neutral front vowel. Nina Grønnum transcribes it the same as [j].
- [ʊ̯] is a non-syllabic, lax, relatively close rounded neutral back vowel. Nina Grønnum transcribes it as [w].
- [ɐ̯] is a non-syllabic, central retracted neutral vowel (pharyngeal glide). Essentially, it is a non-syllabic equivalent of [ʌ]. Nina Grønnum transcribes it as [ʌ̯].
|default||before /r/||after /r/|
|/eː/||[eː]||[ɛː] ~ [æː]|
|/e/||[e]||[ɛ] ~ [æ]|
|/ɛː/||[ɛː]||[æː]||[æː] / [ɑ][a]|
|/ɛ/||[ɛ]||[æ] ~ [a]||[a] / [ɑ][b]|
|/a/||[a] ~ [æ] / [ɑ][c]||[ɑ]|
|/ø/||[ø]||[œ] / [ɶ][d]|
|/œː/||[œː] ~ [ɶː]||[œː]||N/A|
|/œ/||[œ]||[ɶ] ~ [ʌ]||[œ] ~ [ɶ]|
|/uː/||[uː]||[uː] ~ [oː]|
|/u/||[u]||[u] ~ [o]|
|/o/||[o][e] / [ɔ]||[o]||[o][e] / [ɔ]|
|/ɔ/||[ʌ] / [ɒ][d]||[ɒ]||[ʌ] / [ɒ][d]|
[ə] and [ɐ] occur only in unstressed syllables. With the exception of [a], [ʌ], [ə] and [ɐ] all vowels may be either long and short. Long vowels may have stød, thus making it possible to distinguish 30 different vowels in stressed syllables. However, vowel length and stød are most likely features of the syllable rather than features of the vowel.
These allophones can be analyzed into 11 distinctive vowels, where allophonic alternation mainly depends on whether the vowel occurs before or after /r/. The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables. All other phonemes may occur both stressed and unstressed.
The three way distinction in front rounded vowels /y ø œ/ is upheld only before nasals, e.g. /syns sønˀs sœns/ synes, synds, søns ('seems', 'sin's', 'son's'). Furthermore, there are only three words where /y/ occurs before a nasal in a stressed syllable: synes, brynje, hymne ('seems, armor, hymn').[not in citation given]
[a] and [ɑ] are largely in complementary distribution. However, a two-phoneme interpretation can be justified with reference to the unexpected vowel quality in words like andre [ˈɑndʁɐ] 'others' or anderledes [ˈɑnɐˌleːð̩s] 'different', and an increasing number of loanwords.
The vowel system is unstable, and according to at least one study, the contemporary spoken language might be experiencing a merger of several of these phonemes. The following vowel pairs may be merged by some speakers:
- [eː] with [ɛː]
- [e] with [ɛ]
- [ɛː] with [æː]
- [øː] with [œː]
- [ø] with [œ]
- [oː] with [ɔː]
- [o] with [ɔ]
Unlike the neighboring Mainland Scandinavian languages Swedish and Norwegian, the prosody of Danish does not have phonemic pitch. Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words like billigst [ˈb̥ilisd̥] ('cheapest') and bilist [b̥iˈlisd̥] ('car driver'). Verbs lose their stress (and stød, if any) in certain positions:
- With an object without a definite or indefinite article: e.g. ˈJens ˈspiser et ˈbrød [ˈjɛns ˈsb̥iːˀsɐ ed̥ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] ('Jens eats a loaf') ~ ˈJens spiser ˈbrød [ˈjɛns sb̥isɐ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] ('Jens eats bread').
- In names, only the surname is stressed, e.g. [johanə luiːsə ˈhɑɪ̯b̥æɐ̯ˀ] Johanne Luise Heiberg.
In a number of words with stress on the final syllable, long vowels and sonorants may exhibit a prosodic feature called stød ('thrust'). Acoustically, vowels with stød tend to be a little shorter and feature creaky voice. Historically, this feature operated as a redundant aspect of stress on monosyllabic words that had either a long vowel or final voiced consonant. Since the creation of new monosyllabic words, this association with monosyllables is no longer as strong. Some other tendencies include:
- Polysyllabic words with the nominal definite suffix -et may exhibit stød
- Polysyllabic loanwords with final stress on either a long vowel or a vowel with a final sonorant typically feature stød
Diphthongs with an underlying long vowel always have stød. These are [eɪ̯ˀ, ɛɪ̯ˀ, æɪ̯ˀ, øɪ̯ˀ, iʊ̯ˀ, eʊ̯ˀ, ɛʊ̯ˀ, æʊ̯ˀ, yʊ̯ˀ, øʊ̯ˀ, œʊ̯ˀ, oʊ̯ˀ, ɔʊ̯ˀ, iɐ̯ˀ, eɐ̯ˀ, æɐ̯ˀ, yɐ̯ˀ, øɐ̯ˀ, ɶɐ̯ˀ, uɐ̯ˀ, oɐ̯ˀ]. Out of these, all but [eɪ̯ˀ, ɛ��̯ˀ, æɪ̯ˀ, øɪ̯ˀ, æʊ̯ˀ, oʊ̯ˀ, ɔʊ̯ˀ] have a corresponding stødless variant, i.e. with an underlying short vowel. Conversely, there are diphthongs that appear only without stød, which are [ɑɪ̯, ʌɪ̯, uɪ̯, ɑʊ̯, ɒʊ̯]. This means that neither [ɑ] nor [ʌ] can start a diphthong with stød (in case of the latter vowel it is because it is inherently short), whereas [ɔ] cannot start a diphthong without stød. All of the diphthongs ending with [ɐ̯] appear both with and without stød.
The sample text is an indistinct reading of the first sentence of The North Wind and the Sun. [ɐ̯] is transcribed [ʌ̯], whereas the distinction between [ɐ] and [ʌ] is not made.
Nordenvinden og solen kom engang i strid om, hvem af dem der var den stærkeste.
Broad phonetic transcription
[ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ʌ ˈsoːˀl̩n kʰʌm eŋˈɡ̊ɑŋˀ i ˈsd̥ʁiðˀ ˈʌmˀ ˈvɛmˀ ˈa b̥m̩ d̥ɑ vɑ d̥n̩ ˈsd̥æʌ̯ɡ̊əsd̥ə]
- Basbøll (2005:60–63)
- Grønnum (2005:300)
- Thorborg (2003:64, 66, 68, 70, 78)
- Basbøll (2005:60–63, 131). The author states that /n, t, d, s, l/ are apical alveolar.
- Thorborg (2003:58, 73, 75). The author states that /n, t, d, l/ are pronounced with "the tip of the tongue behind upper teeth." This is confirmed by the accompanying images.
- Grønnum (2005:157)
- Basbøll (2005:126)
- Grønnum (2005:120)
- Grønnum (2005:303–305)
- Grønnum (2005:303)
- Grønnum (2005:316–318)
- Basbøll (2005:213)
- Krech et al. (2009:135)
- Grønnum (2005:123–124)
- Basbøll (2005:61–62)
- Thorborg (2003:80). The author states that /s/ is pronounced with "the tip of the tongue right behind upper teeth, but without touching them." This is confirmed by the accompanying image.
- Grønnum (2005:144). Only this author mentions both alveolar and dental realizations.
- Grønnum (2005:125)
- Grønnum (2005:305–306)
- Basbøll (2005:63)
- Basbøll (2005:27, 62, 66)
- Basbøll (2005:59, 63)
- Grønnum (2003:121)
- Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144)
- Bauer et al. (1980:?), cited in Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:144): "Only in a very distinct Danish - as from the stage of the Royal Theater - do we get a fricative."
- "John Wells's phonetic blog: Danish". 5 November 2010. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- Haberland (1994:320)
- Maddieson et al. (1993:34)
- Basbøll (2005:62, 212)
- Basbøll (2005:211–212)
- Grønnum (2005:123)
- Basbøll (2005:62)
- Basbøll (2005:66)
- Grønnum (1998:99–100)
- Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:323)
- Torp (2001:78)
- Basbøll (2005:218)
- Basbøll (2005:65–66)
- Grønnum (2005:148)
- Grønnum (2005:300–329)
- Grønnum (2005:307–310)
- Grønnum (1998:100)
- Basbøll (2005:45)
- Uldall (1933:?)
- Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)
- Basbøll (2005:46)
- Ejstrup & Hansen (2004:4)
- Basbøll (2005:47)
- Basbøll (2005:32)
- Basbøll (2005:47). Only this author states the roundedness of [ʌ] explicitly.
- Basbøll (2005:58)
- Basbøll (2005:57, 143)
- Allan, Holmes & Lundskær-Nielsen (2011:11)
- Basbøll (2005:48, 58)
- Basbøll (2005:48, 63)
- Basbøll (2005:52)
- Grønnum (2005:287–288)
- Basbøll (2005:51)
- Basbøll (2005:50–51)
- Ejstrup & Hansen (2004)
- Grønnum (1998:104)
- Haberland (1994), p. 318.
- Basbøll (2005), p. 83.
- Grønnum (2005), p. 294.
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- Ejstrup, Michael; Hansen, Gert Foget (2004), Vowels in regional variants of Danish (PDF), Stockholm: Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University
- Grønnum, Nina (1998), "Illustrations of the IPA: Danish", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 28 (1 & 2): 99–105, doi:10.1017/s0025100300006290
- Grønnum, Nina (2003), "Why are the Danes so hard to understand?", in Jacobsen, Henrik Galberg; Bleses, Dorthe; Madsen, Thomas O.; Thomsen, Pia, Take Danish - for instance: linguistic studies in honour of Hans Basbøll, presented on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag, pp. 119–130
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- Uldall, Hans Jørgen (1933), A Danish Phonetic Reader, The London phonetic readers, London: University of London Press
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