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Y U always mix up Norwegian vowels Posted by on Jun 20, 2016 in Pronunciation

uyUnless you’re a Norwegian (or a Swede), you’ll probably find the language a bit difficult to pronouce. I think Norwegian (and Swedish) dialects are a sonical challenge mainly because

– they’ve got 2 different word melodies – think Chinese

– the vowels are not what you’d expect

– many dialects have tricky consonant combos (often involving the letter R)

Let’s look at the tricksters U and Y (as in pute og dyne

, pillow and duvet).

The U of many languages has a slightly ”darker” sound than the middle vowel of let’s DO it! or cool! (Check out Spanish, Swahili, Esperanto…) German even has the letter Ü (as in München = Munich), which is made by letting out the ”cool U” with rounded lips (like when you’re going to kiss somebody). Why am I talking about German? Well, when the Vikings spoke, their U was just like the German one, and their Y was like the German Ü…

The catch is… In 2016 Norwegian, the Y has become much ”brighter”. It’s so upfront that’s it’s almost leaving your mouth! You really have to pout your lips to make it: skygge, nydelig (shadow, gorgeous).

When the Y ”brightened” (in the Middle Ages or so), the U decided to follow it on the tongue’s jorney towards the teeth… If you listen, there’s no wonder why many foreigners keep confusing the two sounds: furu, husker du? (fir tree, do you remember?)

Okay, there’s one thing more: The Norwegian O got brighter, too, taking that ”dark” place where the U used to be – phew: sol (sun). Compare that to the much ”darker” O of Spanish sol or English robot. To a Norwegian, those sound like … Å! 🙂

Recap: In Norwegian, the sounds U/Y (and O) are ”brighter” – pronounced with the tip of the tongue more in front of the mouth – than in many other languages.

Now try to pronounce the following line of poetry (I think it was written by Jan-Erik Vold):
Hun har myk hud, hun. (She’s got soft skin, she does.)

Note: I’ve saved the stuff about vowel LENGTH for another time. 🙂

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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.


  1. Este:

    Excited to add to my Norwegian heritage through your site. Mange takk