Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On lessons in Norwegian (# 1 – Shock and Awe)

Due to popular demand (I know I’m stretching this, but I never claimed to be the preacher of truth…) today’s post is the first in a series (though probably not a consecutive one) of Norwegian “lessons”. That is, there are some oddities in this native tongue of mine, and some of them are amusing enough to be blogable. I’ve never claimed to be a great pedagogue either, so my tactic is a somewhat unusual one. Instead of starting with simple phrases such as “Mitt navn er…” [My name is…] or “Hallo” [Hello – duh!], and thus easing you into the language, I intend to scare the riff-raff away. Thus, we start with the tricksy stuff.

Ready to be confused? Today’s lesson is one of pronunciation. Specifically, I am targeting one thing that many Norwegians struggle with themselves. We have a number of words starting with an s and a consonant of some kind. The easy ones (st-, sp-, sn-, sm- and sv-) will not be covered in this post (or potentially ever) because they are, well easy. The tricky ones, however…

A clever observer once said to me that she found it interesting that the Norwegian sk- seemed to be pronounced like the English sh-. Following is a slight re-write of my reply:

Sk- doesn't necessarily have to be pronounced sh-. For instance Skandinavia is pronounced with the same sound as the English Scandinavia. However, sj-, skj-, sh- (not common), ski-, sky- and skei- are pronounced like sh-. Skau- is pronounced like sh- in some words (and/or dialects), and like sk- in others. The same goes for skøy-. If the rule had been consistent, this should also have been the case for skai-, but it isn't, because that's always pronounced sk- (again, as in Scandinavia).

Then we also have the similar sound kj- (also the common pronunciation of ki- and ky-, but not always), that English just don't have, and consequently, it's almost impossible for foreigners to pronounce it properly (many Norwegians struggle with it too). Instead, they end up with sh-, because it's easier to say. However, this may completely alter the meaning of the word you're trying to say. Kjede means chain or necklace, but pronounced with a sh-, it becomes skjede, which means vagina...

To further complicate this, there exist a number of varieties in Norwegian dialects where words written exactly alike are pronounced radically different. Some dialects don’t even have the kj- sound, while they may or may not have a tkj- variant (that you don’t find at all in for instance my dialect).

Finally, there are a number of other words also pronounced like sh-, such as the Norwegian word for giraffe, giraff (that can be spelled sjiraff, but if you do I'd have to kill you) and giro [giro - duh # 2]. Gisp [gasp] and giverglede [generosity], however, is pronounced like a Norwegian j (not unlike the sound at the beginning of "young"), while gire [(to) gear] and gissel [hostage] is closer to the English gi- (as in "give").

Now, repeat after me:
Sjåføren kjører skøyteløperen og skiskytteren som kjenner kystvakten opp på skytebanen der kyllingen sier ”kykeliky”. [The chauffeur drives the skater and the biathlonist who knows the coastal guard up to the shooting range where the chicken says “cock a doodle doo”]

Homework for next time: figure out how to pronounce æ, ø and å. That is if your browser can read them *evil cackle*


M.J. Nicholls said...

Yes! This is the motherlode we've all been waiting for!

I'm going to take notes and incorporate these grammar gems into a Pythonesque Norwegian saga (like Njorl's saga: Invest in Malden!)

Hopefully by the end I'll be able to write a complete sentence in this fine language.

For now, I'm just pleased that "cock-a-doodle-doo" is expressed in a single word. Kykeliky!

Tundiel said...

"Kjede means chain or necklace, but pronounced with a sh-, it becomes skjede, which means vagina..."


*loves Mari*

Hahaha, the word verification is 'mascanke', which I find really funny for some reason.*snorts*

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...


It looks *beautiful*, written. Even though the sentence was complete nonsense, it really looked so sophisticated!

Mystery Writing is Murder

J. M. Hunter said...

This is the best post ever! Thanks! I'm off to impress my friends and relatives with my newly learned Norwegian. How do you say "My turtle Petie does a back flip off the intercontinental divide into a vegan restaurant where all the waiters wear fur coats"? That one should come in handy.

BTW - I'm beating you on my word count. You better get busy.

Cruella Collett said...

Mark - just be aware that I require mean royalties (and don't you try to chuck Prince Charles at me!).

Tara - why did I have a feeling you'd like that one...? ;)

Elizabeth - huh! Sophistication is hardly the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Norwegian language, but I am glad you think so. Maybe it's the æ, ø and å that does it?

J.M. - well, I am no translator, but let me have a go...

"Skillpadda mi, Petter [because, naturally, like most Norwegian translators, I have no hesitations in also translating meaningless names], tar baklengs salto fra den interkontinentale skillelinja inn i en veganrestaurant der alle servitørene har på seg pelskåper"

There you go. I particularly liked that I got to once again demonstrate my superior knowledge in the ski-/skj-/sh- department with this sentence. Please note, though, that I chose to translate this into a (to me) radical bokmål. If I were to keep to a more concervative riksmål, it might look more like this:

"Skillpadden min, Peter [yes, one t is intentional, "Petter" being more of a bokmål sort of name] slår en baklengs salto fra den interkontinentale skillelinja inn i en vegan à la carte hvor alle kelnerne er iført minkpelskåper [it's likely that the type of fur would be specified in a riksmål-translation, thus the mink]"

The differences are subtle, but it can determine whether your beer costs 50 or 98 kroner in any given pub (or at least the respective ones the speakers of each version would frequent).

Would you also like it in Neo-Norwegian, or should I, as you suggest, get busy and write a few words on my NaNo?

Actually, what I should do is packing... Blegh...

snusmumriken.wordpress.com said...

God that must be confusing for not-norwegians.

... But where on earth is skau pronounced with an sh-sound?

Cruella Collett said...

It took some investigation, but I now know who you are, Snusmumriken (bra navn!).

Actually, I was secretly hoping that no Norwegians would read this and thus catch my small white lie/error… I could have sworn that I had an example (though possibly an extremely dialect specific one) where skau- was pronounced sh- when I wrote this, but by the time I posted I was uncertain (though I posted it nevertheless, shame on me), and now I can’t for the life of me remember what the example was.

I blame the fact that I am back in Oslo and my dialect details are fading by the minute… (lesesalen på mandag, tenker jeg)

Peggy said...

Well I was already confused.

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