swedish phonetics question

Since I’ve been listening to lots of Swedish lately, from a variety of sources, I’ve come across a sound that I can’t quite figure out how to duplicate, and I can’t find it mentioned in the pronunciation articles I’ve been reading. I’m hoping some Swedes can come to my rescue and explain how to make this sound.

I’ve gathered 4 examples of it. I’ve been referring to it as “the strangling sound” because it sounds to me like there’s a throat-constricting thing going on during this vowel. It only occurs in one accent, which occurs in one of my audiobooks and in one of the speakers from the Swedish Pimsleur lessons.

Sample 1 is from an audiobook. Listen for about the 6th word or so, which sounds like “li”, except the vowel has this weird quality that I’m having trouble describing.

Sample 2 is from the same audiobook, and has a couple examples of the strangling sound. Again, a “li” sound at about the 5th word, and then another word a few words later.

Sample 3 is from Pimsleur. The word is “Hej”, right at the beginning.

Sample 4 is also from Pimsleur, and the last word, “vin”, has this sort of sound. This might actually be the most clear example.

If anyone can tell me anything about this…like how to reproduce it, and maybe what accent this is, it would be much appreciated 🙂


10 Responses to swedish phonetics question

  1. Chiu says:

    I was told at my Swedish class to just say it however I want to. This was a beginners’ course and the teacher said we will eventually get it right after we’ve gotten used to hearing it. So, can’t help you :p Never got past the beginner stage

  2. Seb says:

    The accent in the first 2 examples would be quite hard for someone trying to learn Swedish. The accent and speed of the other 2 should be a lot easier for you to replicate.

    I believe the sound you are asking about is actually tow different sounds.

    In Swedish each vowel has both a short and a long sound. If the vowel is followed by one or no consonants then a ‘long’ version of the vowel is pronounced. If the vowel is followed by 2 or more consonants then a ‘short’ version of the vowel s pronounced.

    For example:

    Hej = long version of the vowel ‘e’
    hemma = short version of the vowel ‘e’

    The other one was the word life or ‘liv’

    It is followed by 1 consonant so it’s a long version of the vowel ‘i’.

    liv = short version
    ligga = long version

    In Swedish there are 9 vowels a,e,i,o,u,y,å,ä,ö each with 2 different versions or sounds.

    I hope that helps

    • Olle Kjellin says:

      Let me just add that in stressed syllables there always is a trading relation of length between the vowel and the consonant that follows it (if any). A long vowel V: is followed by nil or one short consonant C. (Note that this is about sounds, not letters!) A short vowel V is always followed by a long consonant C:. Thus either /V:(C)/ or /VC:). No other varieties exist in standard Swedish. The stressed *syllable* is long, always. Either with long vowel, or with long consonant. This is sometimes but irregularly reflected in the orthography. Unfortunately.
      ‘Gå’ is /V:/
      ‘Går’ is /V:C/
      ‘Gått’ is /VC:/
      ‘Min’ in central std Swedish is /VC:/, but in Scania (Skåne), as in Sample 2 below, is /V:C). The same with ‘en’, /VC:/ in CSSw, and /V:C/ in South. (Some archaic dialects use ‘en’ /VC:/ for masculine, and ‘en’ /V:C/ for feminine gender.)
      ‘Hej’ is /VC:/, as is ‘hemma’.
      ‘Liv’ is /V:C/, and ‘ligga’ is /VC:/.
      Although the consonant in ligga, ‘gg’, or gått, ‘tt’, is spelled with two letters, it still is only one single consonant – but it is very long, believe it or not. And the ‘j’ in ‘hej’ is always a long consonant, but never spelled with two letters. The ‘ng’ sound in ‘lång’ also is always a long sound, a single sound but long; and spelled with two different letters united. Got it? 😀
      Good luck! /Olle

  3. doviende says:

    Just as an update, this actually was due to a throat constriction as I thought. In linguistics, they call it “pharyngealization”:

    Pharyngealization is a secondary articulation of consonants or vowels by which the pharynx or epiglottis is constricted during the articulation of the sound.

    Through extensive practice when nobody else is listening, I’ve been able to somewhat duplicate it, but I mostly just make foolish noises 😉

  4. Olle Kjellin says:

    Hi. I’m new here. Being a Swedish phonetician and language teacher, who happened to stumble upon this site, I feel urged to try a reply. There is no pharyngealisation in Swedish that I know of. Seb’s contribution makes me a bit confused. The original question shows that recordings may be less than helpful.
    Sample 1: “jag… (hesitation) jag hade fyllt fyrtio och mitt liv hade sedan nästan fem…” (the tonal accent on “fem” makes me believe he is going to say ‘femton’)

    The speaker is from Skåne with its characteristic pronunciation that differs very much from my central standard Swedish, such as tongue-root /r/, diphthongization of long vowels, and some major prosodic differences. Please note that the orthography is very far from phonetic-like in Swedish; many more letters than sounds… 🙂
    The sound you are asking about is the /v/ in ‘liv’. It is not very energetically pronounced in this case, but rather as a relaxed labio-dental approximation. This is very common, but the intended sound itself is an ordinary /v/ as in English. Above all, it is preceded by this long, diphthong of /i:/ with a very fronted tongue position, more alveolar than palatal. That makes it sound quite strange.

    Is it okay to use these phonetics words in this forum?

    Sample 2: “Länge trodde jag att livet måste se ut så här för min del.”

    “Livet” is the definite form of “liv”. The rest as above. The same long /i:/ is found in ‘min’. (In my variety of Swedish we use short /i/ in this word.)

    Sample 3: “Hej, hur står det till?”
    What is your question about ‘Hej’?
    This speaker’s Swedish pron is not completely different from mine, apart from her sounding extreeeemely bored, whereas I am enthusiastic. :-D.

    Sample 4: “Jag vill gärna dricka vin”
    I noticed she has this peculiar long /i:/ sound with alveolarized tongue position, somewhat similar to sample 1, but without diphthong. It is quite common in some discontinuous parts of Sweden and China and northern Japan… If you squeeze the air stream just a little bit more, you might as well transcribe it as [z].

    Enough. Did this help at all?
    I would like to suggest that you spend less time on minute and genereally unimportant details of vowels and consonants, and spend some considerable time on prosody (rhythm and melody). Try this:

    Cheers from Olle
    Welcome to my group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Vi-studerar-svenska/

  5. doviende says:

    Wow, thanks for the fantastic reply, that’s exactly what I wanted. I loved your article on prosody terminology and I’m trying hard to acclimatize myself to that as I study.

    One problem I have is that while I have your excellent description of how a particular word may be emphasized using left melody and right melody, I’m still not entirely sure how to pick which words in any particular sentence will be emphasized or not.

    Still, I’m finding that by doing lots of listening and trying to repeat exactly what was said with the right prosody, I’m starting to develop some intuition in that direction, even if I can’t explicitly spell out which words are technically supposed to be emphasized.

  6. Olle Kjellin says:

    “still not entirely sure how to pick which words in any particular sentence will be emphasized or not.”
    –That’s *completely* up to the speaker’s discretion. In a free-speech society, no-one should tell you what you want to emphasize. 🙂

    • doviende says:

      Tack så mycket för hjälpen. Dina inläggen är mycket informativ. Jag har en fråga. Hur kan man öva med “chorus” metod utan riktiga människor? Jag har flera talboker och jag skär ut bitar att öva dem. Är det tillräckligt?

  7. Olle Kjellin says:

    Inte tillräckligt, men väldigt bra, bättre än många andra metoder. Jag själv brukar ta en kort inspelning av något språk som jag vill lära mig, dela upp den i enstaka meningar, eller 3-5 sek långa bitar, och bränna dem som separata spår på en CD. sedan klickar jag på “Repeat 1” och lyssnar på samma spår i 10-20 minuter, eller mer. T.ex. när jag kör till jobbet (som tar ca 1 timme). Mot slutet talar jag med i kör (“chorus”) med CDn. Hörselsinnet och hjärnan blir mättade, och det är lätt att uttala likadant. När skivan är slut, börjar jag om från början igen! 🙂 Mitt motto är, hellre *lite* men *komplett*, än *mycket* och *dåligt*.

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