Norwegian Language Blog

How to pronounce L in Norwegian Posted by on Aug 26, 2010 in Language

It has been requested that I write a post on hvordan bokstaven l uttales (how the letter l is pronounced).  By the way, I like suggestions for writing material, so keep them coming!  Thanks, Jens.  Not only is it good to write more posts about pronunciation, but I was actually just thinking about l sounding like r sometimes too!  So this forces me to think about it.

For the most part, the uttalelse (pronunciation) of the letter l is fairly straight-forward, but as Jens pointed out in his comment on an earlier post about the letter r, sometimes, depending on where you are in Norway, l can sound like r as strange as that may sound.  When I hear words with ls in them that sound like rs, I am reminded of dansk (Danish).  I´m reminded of dansk because so much of spoken Danish is formed in the back of the throat.  There are many different descriptions of what dansk sounds like, my personal favorite: like they´ve got a potato lodged in the back of their throat and they have to pronounce, sort of, around it.  Well, norsk can sound like this too from time to time.  Not surprising since the 2 languages are very similar in construction, vocabulary, and in written form.  But, l sounding like r is one of the only instances that I have observed that cause me to think the 2 languages sound similar to the ear.

Most of the time, when l is at the beginning of a word, such as:

land (country)

laks (salmon)

luft (air)

lov (law)

it sounds just like any l in English.  Just a plain old l.

The same is also true for most ls that end a word, such as:

stjal (stole)

smil (smile)

hel (whole)

bål (fire)

And, Jens´example of the word Hallingdal (place in central Norway), he heard people there pronouncing the l as if it were kind of an r-I say kind of because it´s not a full-blown r, but just slightly resembles one.  The word, or name in this case, that made me start to think about this peculiar pronunciation mystery is the last name Mikalsen.  I recently met someone with this last name and when I asked him what his etternavn (last name) was so that I could put his nummer in my kontakter, he said Mikalsen.  I started to type it how I thought it would be spelled, Mikarlsen.  I showed it to him, he kind of laughed, and told me to take the r out.  The way to form this sound is to really loosen your jaw and when you are ready to pronounce the l, drop your tongue farther into the back of your mouth and let it lay on the back of the roof of your mouth instead of where it normally lays against the back of your bottom front teeth.  This is quite frankly, quite hard to explain, but give it a whirl.  I´ll keep my eyes peeled for a youtube example….until then, you can laugh at yourself for how funny you think you sound (guaranteed, I just did when I was sitting here thinking about how to explain it).

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. Acne:

    Yay… At last a blog to learn Norwegian 🙂

  2. Morten Møst:

    This is a challenging topic, not least to write about. Thank you for trying.
    Pronounciation of the letter L actually varies a lot throughout Norway, changing with the dialects. So if I follow your advice and say luft and land like most English-speakers say love or London, people around me would be convinced I’m from Oppland or Hedmark. If you don’t believe me, listen to any song by Vazelina Bilopphøggers.

    In those areas stjal and bål would be spoken like you describe, but it wouldn’t sound like an r to me, a moderate Oslo dialect speaker. I’d think of that as “tjukk l” – “fat l” – which can even be used in thre middle of the word, like in the colour “blå”.

    Your excellent “Mikarlsen” example highlights another challenge. To me it sounds like Mr. Mikaelsen is from Østfold, probably the Fredrikstad region where that built-in “r” efffect (comparable also to a “j” is part of the native dialect: Fotbarll. En hajlliter øl. My friend Mikalsen here in Oslo presents imself with no audible r.
    One really interesting phenomenon is that this Østfoldese speciality is also common among children and teenagers in Bærum municipality west of Oslo. But most of them stop doing that when they grow up. When I was a child on Bærum that was considered silly children’s langugage. But these days it seems to have become quite fashionable even among the more mature young.

  3. Dianna:

    The technical name for the tricky L you’re describing is a retroflex consonant!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Dianna Yes, you’re right, Dianna, thanks for pointing this out to the readers! 🙂