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How to hiccup like a Dane… Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Pronunciation

[audio:https://blogs.transparent.com/danish/files/2013/02/stoed.mp3|titles=stoed]
A non-Dane once left a Danish language course in Copenhagen just a wee bit frustreret (frustrated): How was he ever going to learn a language where you didn’t know whether you were crying mor! (mother!) or mord! (murder!)?

dog

Don’t cough while talking about females! (Hun = she, hund = dog…)

However, there is a difference between the two words (and it’s not the d, which in this case is silent)! The first one is pronounced, more or less, like the last syllable of ”amour”. The second word sounds identical, except that Danes, while saying it, make a little hiccup sound down their throat. That’s the stød – the famous devil in Danish pronunciation…

Et stød means ”a thrust”. You’ve got the same sound in English, between the ”uh” and the ”oh” of uh-oh! (Say the word slowly, and notice how your vocal chords clash.) If you speak Cockney, the sound is very frequent, like in butter, ”bu’er”.

A rule of thumb: Whenever an (accented) word has only one syllable, and does not contain a short vowel (as in taktop or tit), it probably has stød:
mand [man], vand [van], ild [il], jord [yor], rohusbilvind [ven], hånd [hon],
mund [mawn], hund [hoon], ged [geth], langgrimpænstorblårød
(Man, water, fire, earth, rest, house, car, wind, hand, mouth, dog, goat, long, ugly, nice, big, blue, red…)
Try coughing slightly as you say each of these words. That should bring you close! 🙂

Sometimes even two syllable words have stød. That’s because these words originally had only one syllable. Manden (the man) comes from mand+en. Therefore, it is still pronounced with a stød on the first syllable. Many verbs also have stød on their first syllable in the present tense: jeg løber (I run), vi læser (we’re reading), kommer du? (do you come?) (Once upon a time, these words must have been more like ”løbr”, ”læsr” and ”komr”.)

If you find all this confusing, don’t worry. Achieving a good pronunciation of Danish comes from speaking with Danes. Leaving out the stød entirely is much better than spending time worrying about it! Remember, it is only a soft ”ahem” sound that comes with some Danish words. Many foreign students of Danish pronounce their stød way too harshly (making Danish sound more like Arabic or Hebrew). You shouldn’t try to imitate puking, as people sometimes do when they make fun of Danish… 😉

 

Small list of words where the stød actually does make a difference

Without stød • With stød

mor mother • mord murder

hun she • hund dog

man one, you • mand man

en læser a reader • hun læser she’s reading

en anden another one • anden the duck

hej hi • haj shark

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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. Ida Chiavaro:

    I’m just starting to study for a final Danish exam next month, I could not have found your post at a better time. I was trying to hear and say the difference between bønner (bean or prayer) and bønder (olden days farmer) today – I can actually hear the difference now, even though I cant tell which one is being talked about unless the qualifying info comes with it 🙂 looking forward to reading more of your posts

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Ida Chiavaro I’m glad to hear that you found my post useful! As you’ve probably figured out, ”bønder” is the word with stød. Usually it should be easy to know whether someone is talking about beans or farmers! 🙂 Held og lykke med din eksamen.

  2. Eddy Mcdill:

    Valuable data. Blessed us I discovered your web site inadvertently, that i’m shocked why this twist of fate did not came into being ahead of time! My partner and i book-marked that.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Eddy Mcdill Thanks for the comment. Glad the post could be useful to you!

  3. Farley:

    More examples with audio other than hun – hund would be highly welcome. Thanks anyway

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Farley Sorry, I have not the time to reedit. But I’ll think about doing another post on this topic! 🙂

  4. yuval:

    Thank you for that – finally i understand what is this terrible stød everyone is afraid of. I think for now i will leave that aside though, like you suggest.
    thanks again!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @yuval @yuval
      I’m happy to hear that! Yes, it’s more important to focus on vocabulary and stuff. 🙂