This is a subject that I frequently post about, and yet its basics have yet to be properly discussed. This post will help you to achieve familiarity with the Icelandic language, both in terms of written characters and their respective sounds. This guide may also be used as a method for pronouncing Old Norse. It is a lengthy guide, but that is because Icelandic, in all its beauty, is a bit difficult for most people to pronounce. In the end, this quite is only “basic” because it does not delve deeply into the linguistics behind certain sounds involved. Nonetheless, this guide should provide to be very helpful!
When working through this guide, try to avoid becoming overwhelmed. I strongly recommend working through only one section at a time.
- h- : hêtre (beech, m), humain (human, m), hérisson (hedgehog, m)
- -s-, sometimes : if you see a word with a ô inside, that accent was very likely an s put just after the o (hostel, hospital) ; if you ever see those words in a french text, you are not supposed to pronounce those -s-
- -d-, sometimes, in set expressions : la grand roue (the big wheel) > la gran rou, la grand-mère (the grandmother) > la gran mèr…
The S problem :
“s” can be said either “ss” > Frank Sinatra, or “z” > let’s go to the zoo
- if it’s the first letter, s- is a “ss” > sucre, m (sugar) : ssukr
- “sc” and “ls” together make also “ss” > fils, m (son) : fiss, scie, f (saw) : ssi
- “ss” are “ss”, no shit > poisson, m (fish) : poisson
- a final -s (NB : for a not-verb/not-noun) can be either “ss” or mute : tous as anadjectif indéfini, a comparative, a superlative or a negative = mute (il n’y a plu(s) de pain (there’s no more bread), c’est la plu(s) gentille (she’s the nicest)) ; as a pronom indéfini = “ss” (tous”s” ces hommes)
- when a word finishes with -s and the next starts with a vowel, you make the liaison : vous avez (plural you have) : vou zavé, les éléphants : lé zéléfan
The C problem :
“c” can be said either “ss” > science, f : ssienss, or “k” > carie, f (cavity) : kari
- c+a : “k” > café, m (coffee), cauchemar, m (nightmare) “cochmar”
- c+e : “ss” > cercle, m (circle), céleri, m (celery)
Here’s a quick and short little guide to the “basic” pronunciations of the Norwegian letters (keep in mind that there are always exceptions, and the letters could be pronounced differently in certain words, but for the most part, this is what they should sound like in bokmål – this should cover a fair bit (I hope) though it’s far from perfect (some sounds aren’t even in the English language, so the examples aren’t… the best….//sweats), but I’ll try to make a video for you guys one day instead.)
A - Pronounced like the (posh) British “a” in the word “bath”. The British, not the American!
B - Pronounced similar to the English “b”.
C - Very rare. You’ll hardly ever see this letter in Norwegian – the only word I can think of right now is the loanword “cello”, in which it’s pronounced p. much like the English version of the word.
D - Pronounced similar to the English “d”.
E - Now this one can be hard, especially for native English-speakers. Technically it has 2 “main pronunciations”, one which you’ll find in words like the name “Erik” or “Even”, and the other which you’ll find in words like “eple” (apple) or “engel” (angel). The first one is pronounced like the “a” in “air” , while the second one is pronounced more like the “e” in “red”.
F - Pronounced similar to the English “f”.
G - Usually pronounced like the “g” in “get”, but silent if it’s part of a “-lig” or “-ig”-ending ( “hemmelig” is pronounced like “hemmeli”), and silent when placed before a “j” (”gjennom” is pronounced like “yennom”)
H - Pronounced similar to the English “h”, but silent when placed before a consonant like “v” or “j” (”hjerte” is pronounced like “yerte”)
I - Pronounced like the “ee” in “bee”.
J - As you may have noticed so far, “j” is usually pronounced like the English “y”
K - Pronounced similar to the English “k”.
L - Pronounced similar to the English “l”.
M - Pronounced similar to the English “m”.
N - Pronounced similar to the English “n”.
O - Another letter with 2 “main pronunciations”. One being found in words such as “rogn” and “ovn”, while the other can be found in words like “sol” and “rose”. The first one sounds similar to the English “o” in “more”, the second sounds similar to the “oo” in “moo” (think of a very deep “moo”-sound, lmao, honestly this is the closest example I could find in English atm)
P - Pronounced similar to the English “p”.
Q - Very rare. Only word I can think of right now is the loanword “quiz”, again pronounced pretty much like the English version of the word.
R - A rolling r (it’s technically a so-called “tap”, but it would be easier for you to just think of it as a rolling r), like the “r” in a Scottish dialect.
S - Pronounced similar to the English “s”.
T - Pronounced similar to the English “t”, however it’s usually silent if it’s a suffix (aka. at the end) of a definite+neuter noun ( “fjellet” is pronounced “fyelle”)
U - Pronounced similar to the “ue” in the British word “blue”
V - Pronounced slightly softer than the English “v”, somewhere between the English “w” and “v”
W - Very rare, usually only seen in certain names such as “William”, where it’s usually pronounced like the Norwegian “v”
X - Very rare, only word I can think of right now is the loanword “boxer”, pronounced similar to the “x” in the English version of the word.
Y - Pronounced similar to the English “y” in “finally”
Z - Very rare, you can find it in the word “zebra”, but it’s usally written “sebra” and pronounced like a normal “s”
Æ - Pronounced similar to the “a” in the English word “bad”
Ø - Pronounced similar to the “u” in the English word “hurt”
Å - Pronounced similar to the “o” in the English word “lord”
in standard german the digraph ch is used to transcribe both the the ich-laut (unvoiced palatal fricative /ç/) and the ach-laut (unvoiced velar fricative /x/). its very easy to tell how its pronounced by looking at the vowel which precedes it
light (front) vowels e - short like e in pet* i - short like i in sit^ ä - like ai in air^ ö - like i in bird* ü - like ee in sheep but with lips in a little o shape ei/ai - a followed by i eu/äu - o followed by i ie - like ee in sheep ur - u followed by i
dark (back) vowels a - like a in bath* o - like o in pot* u - like oo in book* au - a followed by u
*australian english ^british english
ich-laut ch is pronounced /ç/ when preceded by a light vowel g is pronounced /ç/ when preceded by a single i at the end of a syllable 1. put your tongue in the position for /j/. the tip should be touching the inside of the bottom teeth and the sides should be gently touching the roof of your mouth. 2. breath out gently. the airflow should be about the same as if you were pronouncing /f/ (its the same sound as the h in english huge)
ach-laut ch is pronounced /x/ when preceded by a dark vowel 1. put your tongue in the position for /k/. the tip should be touching the inside of the bottom teeth and the back should be close to or gently touching the roof of your mouth 2. breath out gently. the airflow should be about the same as if you were pronouncing /h/ but held for a little longer (its the same sound as the ch in scottish loch)
Casual observation: In American English, the vowel /æ/, including (and especially) its many dipthongized realizations, appears to be stigmatized. A number of linguists have noted that in folk linguistics, /æ/ is particularly prone to being described as “nasal” - a mark of opprobrium. In one folk-linguistic discussion I witnessed on the internet, I saw someone describe it as “the ugly A sound”. People who pronounce foreign words with /æ/ are often mocked as ignorant.
I have noticed that this last phenomenon has increased to such an extent that it now appears that the vowel /æ/ is forbidden in new loanwords for educated speakers of American English, even when the vowel in the source language is phonetically closer to American English [æ] than [ɑ]. Old loanwords with /æ/ are increasingly shifted to variants with /ɑ/; e.g. Iran and Iraq are no longer typically pronounced with /æ/ in educated speech. There exists a sort of hierarchy of such /æ/-avoidance; while a typical educated speaker may pronounce Islam, Iraq, and Iran with /ɑ/, only very high-status speakers, or speakers who strongly wish to signal their liberal values or cosmopolitan sophistication, will typically pronounce Pakistan with /ɑ/.
Anecdotally (well, more anecdotal than this is already) I have noticed that some speakers will pronounce foreign “a” even further back (if that’s possible) than regular American English [ɑ] - and higher, and even sometimes rounded, like [ɒ̝], in order to signal education and sophistication.
Subtitle: And How Most People Are Pronouncing Everything Wrong
This is something that I’ve noticed for a long time, and sometimes I do tend to brush it off. However, when it gets to the point that people (I’m specifically referring to English speaking individuals) are mispronouncing things so badly that I cringe, it’s time for a little lesson.
The biggest difference between Japanese and English is:
There are no silent letters in Japanese
Everything you see gets pronounced (I know where you’re trying to raise an objection here, but let me finish this thought first) and, unless specified, no vowels are stressed. When you grow up speaking and writing English you have to remember a myriad of rules which, for the most part, make absolutely no sense and you wonder if someone put them in there just to mess with people and then that word got made into standardized English and now you’re saying “bae” everywhere (side note: I really don’t like the word “bae”).
So, if I have a word like (髷/まげ) spelled “mage” in Romaji (what our alphabet is called in Japanese) it isn’t pronounced “mayj” like the spell caster, it’s “mahgay” or “ma-gé” (oddly enough, most English speakers understand French accents).
When it comes to “skipping” sounds, the sounds themselves aren’t actually skipped, but they’re said so quickly or so fluidly that you barely hear them. For example, one of my friends was writing out Japanese words for a presenter to say and she put (着付け/きつけ) “kitsuke” as “Kit-soo-kay”. My response was “No, it is not ‘Kit-soo-kay’, it’s ‘Kit-skay’.” She unknowingly tried to stress a vowel that did not have indication that it needed to be stressed. If you think that you can’t pronounce all three kana in “kitsuke” try saying it the way that I wrote it and I dare you to try really hard not to get any of the “tsu” in there. You’ll find it pretty much impossible.
Japanese prides itself on being a very fluid language and will even add accents to kana to make words flow better. For example, let’s look at the word 菊/きく (kiku). On it’s own or at the start of the word it’s fine, but if we put it at the end of other kana the sound becomes too hard and we need to add an accent and change the sound we’re associating with it. Japanese letters change to the following when an accent is added:
K -> G
S -> Z
T -> D
H -> B or P
So, when adding “菊/きく” (kiku) to “乱/らん” (ran) we get “乱菊/らんぎく” (rangiku) as “rankiku” is too rough and doesn’t flow (again, try the difference for yourself).
Yes, this is where I need to bring out the “exceptions to the rules”. In Japanese there’s a vowel pairing for each consonant (K,S,T,H,M,N,R,Y) and the entire hiragana kana set looks like this:
So, there’s a few things to notice in the “one of these things is not like the other ones” category of thinking. Mainly, Chi/ち, Ji/じ/ぢ, Tsu/つ, Zu/づ, and Fu/ふ. The obvious thoughts would be, “Why isn’t Chi “Ti”, Shi “Si”, and Tsu “Tu”?” and “How the hell did you get “Zu” out of “Tsu”?”
For fun reasons. In the late 19th century James Hepburn made the chart that you see above, to which we now call The Hepburn System. He wrote out the literal sounds to each kana and noticed the small changes that didn’t follow the predicted English outcome. Mainly, that “Ti” had a “Ch” sound and made it “Chi”, “Si” had a “Sh” sound and made it “Shi”, and “Tu” had an “S” sound and made it “Tsu”. When it got to “Hu” he noticed how the sound became an “F” without an accent and a “B” when one was added, so “Hu” became “Fu”. For “Zu” (づ) it’s sometimes written out as “Dzu” even today to give confused English speakers a bit more background as to what the base kana is when speaking, but for the most part it’s written as “Zu”. In the Hepburn System the basic reading rules are called Gojūon.
You may have noticed that “Ye” and “Yi” and most “W” sounds are missing. Technically, they did exist for the most part a long time ago, but modern Japanese has made them obsolete because you can make the same sounds with existing kana and there’s no need for repetition. “Ye” was “ゑ” which we now pronounce as “E” and “Yi” was “ゐ”, which we now pronounce as “I”. For the “W” sounds Ye/We and Yi/WI were the same sound and letter and “Wu” never really existed. “Wo/O” is a bit odd since we do spell it as “O” today but it used to be “Wo” and “O” before standardization (it’s normal to be confused by this point). “を” isn’t replaced by “お” today because “を” is a particle that’s still in active use. As for “ん” it used to be interchangeable between “M” or “N”, but standardization has mostly dropped “M”. Some old habits die hard so you’ll often see this quirk pop up in words like “Kampai” or “Sempai”, even though that pronunciation is considered dated.
Also, there’s the odd part where “H” can turn into both “B” and “P”. By using a slightly different looking accent (゜) instead of (゛), we add in an entirely new consonant.
After all of this you’re probably like, “But there’s all kinds of “J” sounds in Japanese!” and you’re correct. To make these sounds we need to combine two kana that we now call Yōon instead of Gojūon, with the added kana being slightly smaller beside the first kana. This size differences tells the viewer that these two sounds should be combined. With the exception of the “Wa” and the “Y” kana everything can be combined. So, why can’t “Y” be combined with other kata? Well, it is, but it can never be the main kata as “Y” kata are always the modifiers. To make the sound “Ja” we write it as “じゃ” which is the combination of “Ji” and “Ya”. The middle vowel gets dropped in pronunciation and the modifying kata gets the majority of the sound. Technically it should be written as “Jya” but since the “Y” isn’t even pronounced it gets dropped with the standardized Hepburn system. When you add the modifiers your Yōon set now looks like this:
It should be pretty easy to notice that only Ki/き, Gi/ぎ, Shi/し, Ji/じ, Chi/ち, Hi/ひ, Bi/び, Pi/ぴ, Mi/み, Ni/に, and Ri/り are used, or, only kana with “I” in them. This is because the rule of double sounds is only applied properly to the “I” sound. Like, if I tried to make “Kya” with anything but “Ki” and “Ya” I’d get “Kaya” or “Keya” or “Koya” or “Kuya”, which is not fluid as each kana contains hard sounds and the desired sound can be made without a modifier. Since I/Y have the same sound in English the “I” is simply dropped due to the double vowel rule. Since “Wa” is the only “W” kana and contains no “I” it cannot be modified. At this point you may be wondering why there’s no “T” sounds represented or why “ぢ” isn’t like “じ” on the Jōon list. For starters, “Chi” is the “I” kana in the “T” line, so there’s no “T”s in the first part. “Ja/Ju/Jo” aren’t spelled with “ち” because “し” already gives us the sounds we need so there’s no need to repeat.
Again, you interject, “But, I see words spelled with a “つ” in the middle and it’s not pronounced! What’s up with that?” Well, Japanese uses that to indicate a slight pause. Like with the Jōon combinations the “つ” is made smaller and when writing the word out in English you’d double the letter that follows directly behind it. Let’s use the word “Hakkake” (はっかけ) as an example. Your formula for this would be Ha+(pause+double next letter)Ka+Ke. Since “K” is the letter directly beside the pause it is doubled in an attempt to show when and how a pause should be used. Saying it like “Hakake” is fluid, but doesn’t show that there needs to be something extra. Saying it as “Hakkake” makes you pause in an attempt to pronounce two “K”s. That attempt at pronouncing two “Ks” is enough to equal the pause in Japanese. The one very small exception to this rule is when there’s a pause right before “Chi”. In this case you wouldn’t double the “C”, but rather write in a “T” (as “Chi” is in the “T” kana line).
Then there’s the repeating kana rule. When there’s two identical kana beside each other the second will get the accent in an attempt to continue the flow of the world. This is also where people like to call “づ” as “dzu” since it’s common to get combinations like “”tsuzumi” (つづみ) and it’s totally okay to write it as “tsudzumi” to allow for people to understand a double kana, but keeping it simple usually means writing it as “Tsuzumi”. When kata doubles you get the following:
K + K = K + G S + S = S + Z T + T = T+ D H + H = H + B or H + P F + F = F + B or F + P
But now you cry, “I see other kana used all of the time, especially with foreign words!” and, once again, you’re correct. Japanese uses three different sets of writing to make up their entire “alphabet” known as Kana (仮名), the word I’ve been using throughout this lesson. The first is Kanji (漢字), which are logographic symbols that were “borrowed” (re: totally copied) from the Chinese in the 7th century. The second is Hiragana (ひらがな), which is considered to be the “true” script of the Japanese language as it was developed within Japan and has been in use for over 1,000 years. The third is Katakana (カタカナ), a more angular and rigid form of hiragana that’s used for “borrowed” words; that is, words that are not native to Japan or the Japanese language before Japan opened the country up for trading again in the 19th century. Katakana not only takes the sounds that hiragana has, but also adds sounds that Hiragana couldn’t/were not native Japanese sounds, such as “Ti” or “Je” (yes, they really do exist). So, here’s the Gojūon for katakana:
For the extended sounds that I mentioned, like “Ti” and “Je” this is where katakana comes in. However, there’s different systems that try to decide which kana should be used for foreign words, and, they’re all valid, but I’ll only show the ones that are accepted by pretty much every system. They are:
Now we can make cool words like “New York” (ニューヨーク) or “Fancy” (ファンシー). The “ー” in katakana means an elongated vowel for the Japanese speaker/reader.
So, now that we got all of that language stuff out of the way, time to forget all of it if you’re the Japanese government. Yes, you read that right. The Japanese government doesn’t recognize the Hepburn System as the “official” way to Romanize/Latinize the Japanese language. Just give that a second to sink in. The first, most used, and most sound “accurate” system is not the one that the Japanese government wants people to use. There’s actually two competing systems that Japan teaches: The Nihon-Shiki and Kunrei-Shiki systems. There’s not much of a difference between them, but they basically answer the question of “Why is it “Tsu” and not “Tu”?”. Well, in those systems it is Tu. Now, you may look at this and be like, “So, what’s the problem?” Well, under the Hepburn System no sound is silent and it reads exactly as it’s written. Under the Nihon or Kunrei Systems it tries to make it look like the predicted result (like “Tsu” being “Tu”), but the sound that’s made is completely different and you would need the background knowledge of how a kana should actually be pronounced (this brings to mind a Monty Python sketch, bonus points if you get the reference to the actual skit).
How do you know which to use then? Well, the Hepburn System is used to teach Japanese to English speakers/readers and the Nihon or Kunrei Systems are for native Japanese speakers to Latinize their writing systems. However, you may notice that almost everything is written using the Hepburn System, even in Japan. This is because it was heavily promoted by the United States government after World War II and it’s kinda stuck. Since I am a native English speaker who speaks to other (mostly) native speakers I use the Hepburn System as that’s what was taught to me in university as well.
Now, you’d think I’d end it here, but, if you thought I had covered everything then you weren’t paying enough attention. “Būt what abōūt thōse stress marks ōver vōwels that yōū keep ūsing!?” some of you who lasted this long may ask. That’s an excellent question! To keep things “neat” all systems of Romanization/Latinization will often leave out vowels or place markers on vowels that should be stressed if the hiragana or katakana is not given. Like, “Okasan” is actually spelled as “お母さん/おかあさん” (okaasan) in Japanese, but Hepburn usually drops the second “A” as it would lead English speakers to mispronounce the vowel and the word correctly. Another great example is “Kyoto” which is actually “京都/きょうと” (kyouto) and has a “U” in there that most English speakers aren’t even aware of. “Kyoto” is the very much Anglicized way of pronouncing the former imperial capital, but in Japanese you would actually hear the extended vowels and you do end up hearing or saying “Kyou-to” over there. To remedy the situation the “U” is represented with a stress mark over the “O” indicating that this is a long vowel and that the word “Kyōto” has a vowel that needs to be elongated upon speech.
So, tl;dr: Romanized/Latinized Japanese letters sound exactly like they look and should be pronounced that way. There are no hidden sounds in the Japanese language. A stress mark over a vowel means that two vowels should actually be written there (the second of which is usually a “U”), but one is taken out because it makes the word too long or it becomes unfamiliar to English speakers who have seen it written as “Kyoto” all their lives when it should be “Kyouto” or “Kyōto” as a compromise.
Slight Edit: To people wondering about the “Kitsuke” pronunciation above and how I mentioned that “there are no silent letters in Japanese”, yes, the “U” is pronounced even in “Kit-skay” (try it). Japanese tends to like to downplay “U”s to the point where they’re the most fluid letter/sound of all. Again, I’m reminded of a discussion I had in high school with a friend over how to pronounce “Sasuke” (さすけ) from Naruto. She insisted it was “Sa-Soo-Ke”, which is elongating a vowel that has no mention or reason to be stressed. It should be “Sas-ke” as your mouth with make the “U” sound whether you like it or not (again, try it). The more you practice speaking Japanese the easier it will come to you and the better you’ll be able to understand how a vowel should or should not be elongated.
To help you have a better understanding of Arabic pronunciation, I decided to make a small list of the letters and vowels that exist in English but have no Arabic equivalent as well as the closest sound in Arabic.
1- the vowel “o” doesn’t exist in Standard Arabic.
Instead, the sound “oo” exists, which is how the letter و sounds like
The sound “g” like great does not exist in standard Arabic.
Note : There are certain dialects that have it, for example the in Egyptian and Sudanese dialect, people pronounce the letter ج as a “g” instead of a “j”. And in the Khaleeji dialect the letter ق is pronounced as a “g” instead of a “q”.
Hello ! I know many of you have problems with pronunciation in swedish, like how to say “j” or “skj” it’s not really difficult but you need to learn it to get a perfect swedish!
Pronounce each syllable as if it formed part of an English word, and you will be understood sufficiently well. Remember the points below, and your pronunciation will be even closer to the Swedish. And: nearly everyone, everywhere in Sweden speaks English.
A vowel is usually long when it’s the final syllable or followed by only one consonant; followed by two it’s generally short. Unfamiliar combinations are:
å when short as in hot (långt) , when long as in raw (igår).
ä when before r as in man (nära) ; otherwise as in get (träffas).
ej(nej) as in mate.
ö as in fur but without the r sound (första).
Consonants are pronounced as in English except:
g when before i, j, y, d, v, or ö as in yet (Göteborg); otherwise hard g as in get (vardagar) ; occasionally as in shut.
j, dj, lj as in yet (jag).
k before i,e,y,ä or ö like sh in sheep (kycklingsoppa), otherwise hard (fisk).
qu as kv (queer).
sch, skj, stj as in shut (stjäla); otherwise hard.