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“sj” vs. “kj” Posted by on Jan 9, 2010 in Language, Pronunciation

If you haven’t already been confused about the difference in these two sounds, “sj” and “kj”, I hope this post prevents any future confusion regarding the matter.  There is a small, but important difference between the pronunciation of the two; it is sometimes difficult for beginners to hear the difference, and even more difficult to produce the two different sounds.  The English word “shoe” is probably the closest to the Norwegian pronunciation of the word sju (the number 7).  The “sj” sound is almost (but not quite exactly) the same as the Englsih “sh” sound.  When I try to explain the distinction between the English “sh” and the Norwegian “sj,” I point out that the Norwegian “sj” seems to be a softer sound than the English “sh.”  It’s interesting to me to clarify distinctions between sounds because I think they depend on factors that we don’t necessarily think about to a great degree.  For example, there are many different sounds that the English “sh” prefix is followed by…sheep, shanty, shook, sherry, Shawn, shrine-both vowels and consonants can follow the “sh” prefix.  However, in Norwegian, there are very limited sounds that follow the “sj” prefix.  Sjø, sjel, sjakk, sjokolade, sjiraff.  Maybe I am crazy, but it seems like there are fewer words that can be produced with the Norwegian ”sj” than the English ”sh.”  However, now I am getting off track from my original intention for this post.  Back to ”sj” vs. ”kj.”

Let’s take a look at some words that begin with both prefixes.

SJ”:  sjokk (shock), sjelden (seldom) ,sjalu (jealous), sjanse (chance), sjuk (sick), sjåvinisme (chauvinism)Notice the cognates and the different ways the same words start in English (ch, j, sh)-

KJ”:  kjøkken (kitchen), kjeller (basement, cellar), kjempe (fight), kjær (beloved, dear), kjole (dress).

It is difficult to try to explain the distinction between the two sounds without being able to actually make the sounds for you to hear.  In order to make the ”kj” sounds, your tongue has to be up against your bottom teeth.  Once your tongue is positioned there, try to say ”shhhh” and you essentially produce the ”kj” sound.  Try it and look in the mirror.  I encourage you also to listen to audio recordings of native Norwegians speaking and try to distinguish between the two sounds. 

It took me longer to figure out how to pronounce the ”kj” sound than I think any other sound in the Norwegian language.  It was not until someone explained the importance of the location of the tongue that I really got the sound down. 

Øve, øve, øve!  Practice, practice, practice!

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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!