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The peculiar Swedish “k” Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Swedish Language, Video, Vocabulary

Hejsan!

I’ve had a lot going on for the past weeks so haven’t managed to finish editing my latest video until now. It’s called “The cat who drove the refrigerator into the church” and is about the Swedish letter “k”. “K”, in Swedish, is a peculiar letter that can be pronounced in (basically) two different ways. (If you’re a hardcore linguist, then that number is actually higher, but there’s no use in confusing you if you’re not!)

Here’s the video. My suggestion is to watch it first and then review with the rest of this post. Enjoy!

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFNfIMMDaZg[/youtube]

Katten körde kylskåpet in i kyrkan.
The cat drove the refrigerator into the church.

katt[en] : “[the] cat”
körde : “drove” (past tense of köra)
kylskåp[et] : “[the] refrigerator”
in i : “into”
kyrka[n] : “[the] church”

Hard k:n (“K’s”, plural of k) are pronounced [k] and soft k:n are pronounced [ɕ] (similar to an English “sh”-sound but slightly brighter). The soft k:n in the example are colored in orange while the hard k:n are colored in blue below:

Katten körde kylskåpet in i kyrkan.

The “soft vowels“, which make k “soft” are as follows:

e : kela : “snuggle”
i : Kina : “China”
y : kylskåp : “refrigerator”
ä : r : “dear”
ö : rde : “drove” (past tense of köra)

The “hard vowels”, which make k “hard” (this is the original k-sound, before historic sound changes) are as follows:

a : katt : cat
o : ko : cow
u : kul : fun
å : kylsp : refrigerator

Languages being languages, there are exceptions in which k:n followed by soft vowels are pronounced hard:

kille : “guy”
r : “choir”
BUT: r “drive” (past tense of köra) (These words have different origins. Kör as in “choir” is a loan word; kör as in “drive” is a native Swedish word. You can remember this exception from the former’s similarity to the English word “choir”, which also has a hard k-sound.)

Have a great weekend, everyone!! Ha det så bra!

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About the Author: Stephen Maconi

Stephen Maconi has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2010. Wielding a Bachelor's Degree in Swedish and Nordic Linguistics from Uppsala University in Sweden, Stephen is an expert on Swedish language and culture.


Comments:

  1. Jorge:

    Tack Steve. Your video is very useful. I’m a Spanish native speaker who is trying to lear swedish. My language’s pronunciation is very different from Swedish, but my English knowledge helps me to understand your material.

  2. Sheila Morris:

    While the Swedish “k” may seem strange at first, it actually behaves much like “c” in English. Think of the word “circus”, or “circle”. You could make up a similar sentence, even: “The cat cycled to the cold center of the city.” Note that the vowels that change the English “c” from soft to hard are the SAME as change the Swedish “k”!

  3. someone:

    Hej! Can you maybe write a blog about rules, when to use for example: en klocka, klockan. I would like to know when to put en or ett before the word and when after. It’s confusing me :/ Tack!

    • Patrik:

      @someone “En klocka” means A watch/clock
      While “klockan” means THE watch/clock.

  4. Tony Davis:

    I have only one criticism of your videos: the music track. Why does almost everyone producing instruction videos find it necessary to add “musical” backing (which doesn’t even have much merit as music)? It does two things: it distracts one’s attention from the words, and, even worse, it sometimes obscures the sound of the words.

    In a language video it’s especially important to be able to hear every subtlety of pronunciation, and this just isn’t possible with an intrusive musical track present. I hope you’ll consider cutting out the music in future videos.

  5. Michael Bach Ipsen:

    The c and g have similar features in Italian, French, and Spanish:

    ‘c’ + front vowel = [s]/[tj] (front consonant)
    ‘c’ + back vowel or consonant = [k] (back consonant)
    ‘g’ + front vowel = various soft front consonants
    ‘g’ + back vowel = [g] (back consonant)

    e.g. centro/camino/gentile/golfo

  6. Shane Hutchinson:

    There’s also the common word “kö” meaning queue, which does not obey the rules. “Du står fortfarande i kön. Tack för att du väntar.” 🙂

  7. max max:

    thank you!