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Pronunciation Breakdown: Swedish Sj-Sound Posted by on Sep 24, 2021 in Pronunciation, Swedish Language, Uncategorized

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Learning about phonetics is cool. And if you ask me, pretty difficult! A recent blog commenter said they have difficulty with the Swedish sj-sound and asked for tips to practice it. Classified as a “voiceless fricative phoneme” it’s one of the most difficult sounds in the Swedish language to reproduce. While I’m not a phonetics expert, I do have a great ear and a talent for parroting back the sounds that I hear. So, this week I’ll highlight the sj-sound and I’ll give you some tips and tricks to master it!

Fricka-what? Fricative!

Students typically meet the Swedish sj-sound for the first time when learning the number 7, spelled sju. Swedish sj, or ‘ɧ’, as it is symbolized in the phonetic alphabet is a fricative consonant sound that is made when air passes through a narrow opening at the back of our throat. This sound is also voiceless, meaning that no vibration of the vocal cords occurs. Any German speakers here? This sound is common in German, similar to the ch-sound in words like richtig and Ich.

What do Cool Whip and the Sj-sound have in Common?

 

Did a light bulb go off for you there? The phrase “cool whip” as quipped by Stewey from Family Guy has actually helped dozens of my students produce the sj-sound. Whip and white are commonly pronounced without any notice of the “h” in the word. Add the “h” back in and the words become “h-wip”, and “h-wite”. This “h-wa” sound is my favorite way to introduce the sj-sound to my students…it’s also good for a couple of laughs.

Letter Combinations that Replicate the Sj-Sound

Stj as in stjärna (star) and skj as in skjutar (the verb “to shoot”) also use this sound. The combination sk with the following vowels e, i, ö, ä, y, also produces the sj-sound, like skepp (ship), skiner (shine), and skön (nice). LearningSwedish.se has a detailed chart that outlines different sj-sound combinations. Be sure to click on the small play icons to hear the pronunciation and guide your study.

Dialect Differences in the Swedish Sj-Sound

Most Swedish dialects will pronounce the sj-sound as described above but there are some common variations to be aware of. Northern Swedish dialects, Finnish-Swedish, and sometimes stockholmska pronounces this sound more like the English “shhhh” sound. Listen to the following clip of the verb skjuta being pronounced in this order: Central Standard Swedish, Småländska, Norrland Swedish, Finland Swedish and Rinkeby Swedish.

Hear the difference? When the fricative pronunciation is getting you down, you can always default to the “shhh” consonant sound instead, it’s a great alternative and the norrlänningar will be flattered. 

Where can you practice the sj-sound?

I recommend the website for the textbook Mot målet for practicing this sound, and a suite of other Swedish letter combinations. Here is the link to the sj-sound. Listen to the speaker read the words and repeat them after. Select the three bars icon in the upper right-hand corner to see more Uttal (Pronunciation) exercises.

And, if you dig into YouTube, there are plenty of native speakers demonstrating the sj-sound. Essentially, listen and repeat and much as you can to tackle this sound!

Feeling pretty good about the sj-sound? Prove it, and master this tongue twister:

Sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor.
Seven seasick seamen were cared for by seven beautiful nurses.

Thanks for reading this week. Now, I’m wondering, what other sounds give you trouble? Tell me below in the comments!

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.


Comments:

  1. Sherman Rosen:

    What a practical and good-natured approach to this truly difficult sound. My Swedish sister-in-law did a minimal pair of AE “shell” and the name “Kjell” for me dozens of times and I could not hear the difference. She swore there was one.


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