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Danish Stress Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Pronunciation

If you want to talk with the natives, you have to hit an udtale [OOTHtahleh] (pronunciation) that is not too far off. 🙂 Of course, having a bit of accent is okay, as long as people don’t need to guess whether you meant hat or head. Stress is one of those little details that do matter in this respect. (While alle [AL-eh] means ”everybody”, allé [aLEH] means ”avenue”…)

Word stress is all about on which syllables to focus… But don’t get stressed about it! 🙂 (Photo courtesy of mitchell haindfield at Flickr, CC License.)

Many Danish words are stressed on the first syllable:

SOfa, FLASke, MENNeske, Eventyr, HEMMelig (sofa, bottle, human being, fairytale, secret)

Of course, it’s hard to tell if one-syllable words are stressed on the first or last syllable:

GRÆS, SNE, SØ (grass, snow, lake) 😉

Small grammatical words that don’t really refer to a lot in the outside world, often get no stress at all: Hans og Grethe ka’ li’ at tur i parken. (Hans and Grethe like to take a stroll in the park.)

Then there is a number of prefixes that tend to lose their stress, including be-, ge- and for-. (Prefixes are ”semi-words” that are put in front of other words to change their meaning, like ”pre-” in prepaid.) As a result, the words they front end up getting stressed on the second syllable:

at beSØGe (to visit), beTALing (payment), geVÆR (gun), geVINST (profit), at forSTÅ (to understand), forÆLDre (parents), forNUFTig (reasonable)

(Of course there are undtagelser, exceptions, like FORår, springtime.)

Other prefixes keep their stress, while the words they’re attached to also retain a bit of theirs:

MIStanke (suspicion), Ulykke (accident), UDmærket (outstanding)

Yes, you maybe guessed it – when words are jammed together to create new words (compounding), the main stress usually lands on the first syllable, while the other original stresses remain as ”secondary stresses” (pronounced a bit more forcefully than entirely unstressed parts of the word):

FLYTTedag, LASTbil, MENNeskerettigheder (”moving-in day”, truck, human rights)

Finally, many everyday words are stressed on the (second-)last syllable. That’s because they were originally taken from other languages. You just have to learn them by heart. 🙂

milJØ, chaufFØR [shaw-FUR], banAN, benZIN, staTION [sta-SHAWN], turIST, minerAL, geograFI, chokoLAde, banDAge [ban-DASH-eh], faMIlie (evironment, driver, banana, petrol/gasoline, station, tourist, mineral, geography, chocolate, bandage, family)

Sometimes this special stress is marked by the letter é: idé, café (idea, café)

Fun fact: Part of the reason why Danish pronunciation can be so hard, is that Danes put so little effort into unstressed syllables that they often become reduced or even disappear. For example koppen (the cup) is often pronounced ”kobm”, while uge (week) is reduced to ”u’” [oo]. 🙂

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About the Author:Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


Comments:

  1. Tom Dawkes:

    Bjørn, the “imitated” pronunciation you give is not so good as a more precise transcription would be , such as the International Phonetic Association’s. For example in the first paragraph — alle and allé — are very unclear – AL-eh and al-EH– apart from the stress: IPA ‘alə and al’e would be much clearer, as the final vowels are quite different. Though I’m sure it’s reasonable not to bother indicating the stød!
    But I do find your blog interesting: keep up the good work.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Tom Dawkes @Tom Thank you for the feedback. I agree that ”imitated” pronunciation is not optional – I never like it when I see it in books (”Basic Portuguese for Travelleres” and the like). The thing is, many of Transparent’s readers don’t read the IPA, and want a more ”loose” description. Others, like you, do read IPA and are looking for something more ”thorough”. So, it’s always a compromise for me as a blogger. I’ll reconsider IPA, though I can’t give you promises on this. I do agree, though, that the difference between alle and allé has a lot to do with the vowel difference – which arises from the stress difference. It’s a ”chicken and egg” situation.

  2. Huong:

    Hi thank you for your article about Danish stress.
    Its very helpful for me in begining to learn Danish. I was struggle with learn this language , still now keep on struggling.
    I was language school in Danmark in 2, 5 year.Honestly teacher used tradidional method to teach , and almost never concentrated on pronounciation .Therfore we can not distinguish what is street in a word.Result is wrong for pronounciation and we can not understand what native says.
    Im 52 year old, I think that is too old to learn new language .Do you share what is tips to learn Dannish effectively ? especcially in listening . Do you know program to learn Danish such as VOA or BBC ( with l slow speed anguage)?because before I learn English by that VOA , that was helpul for me a lots.

    Thank you in advanced

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Huong @Huong – Thanks for the comment! 🙂 I’m not really allowed to advertise for other language courses here… Have you tried your local library? On this site there are easy news (written, I’m afraid): http://www.dr.dk/ligetil – Also children’s books are a great way to learn a new language, I think. Do any of the readers know a slowed-down story somewhere?


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