Danish Language Blog

Danish Diphthongs Posted by on Sep 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

2012 WFSC 04d 059 Stacey Kemp David King

A diphthong = two vowels that form one single glide…

Having looked at the Danish vowels, the Danish diphthongs are next in line. A diphthong is a vowel glide, consisting of a main vowel that unnoticeably ”slides” into a different, quieter vowel (a ’semivowel’) to form a single syllable – as in English joy, ”joᵉᵉ”.

Your ”Danish for Nerds” handbook will tell you there are tons of diphthongs in Danish, and that you should probably just quit learning the language right now. Fortunately, it’s all a matter of analysis. Danish doesn’t have to be hard at all. Let’s look at it in an easy way.

Remember what I told you about the letter G when it followed E, I, Y, Æ, Ø or light A (90 % of Danish A’s)? It gets an English Y quality, so that the word flag (flag) somehow rhymes with English day. Vowel qualities aside, the major difference is: The a-y transition of the English word is smooth and quick. In the Danish word, the ’ag’ sounds more like an A sound followed by an independent Y sound (Y as in yes): [fla-y]. It isn’t ”gliding” in the English way. Now, why should we mess up our list with a wannabe diphthong like that?

In all of the following words, then, you’ve really just got an ordinary Danish vowel, followed by an English Y sound (J in Danish spelling):
eg (”e-j”, oak), lig (”li-j”, corpse), syg (”sy-j”, ill, sick), læge (”læ-je”, doctor), besøg (”besø-j”, visit), kage (”ka-je”, cake). The Y part even tends to disappear entirely in everyday talk: li’, sy’, besø’

Got it? 🙂

Some words spelt with a final -G, though, should indeed be added to our list of diphthongs-to-learn. They are just as smooth as their English pals, the Y part is never ever dropped, and you can’t make out their exact sound from the spelling. (Unless someone told you, of course!) For example, leg (play) rhymes with haj (shark), which both rhyme with English hi!

In the next few days, we’ll be looking at the only Danish diphthongs you’ll ever need to learn…


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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.