World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Danish phonology

Article Id: WHEBN0030871445
Reproduction Date:

Title: Danish phonology  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Danish language, Mid front rounded vowel, Mid front unrounded vowel, Nepali phonology, Avestan phonology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Danish phonology

Danish is a Scandinavian language related closely to Swedish and Norwegian, and more distantly to Icelandic and Faroese as well as to the other Germanic languages. However, Danish phonology is highly distinct from those found in these other languages. For example Danish has a suprasegmental feature known as stød to distinguish certain words. Its use of approximants in place of certain consonants is greater than its neighbors', though the Scandinavian languages are largely mutually intelligible, and Danish can easily be read by Swedes and Norwegians.


In distinct pronunciation it is possible to distinguish at least 20 consonants in most variants of Danish:[1][2]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo
Velar Uvular/
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop ɡ̊
Fricative f s (ɕ) h
Approximant ʋ ð j ʁ
Vocoid ʊ̯ ɪ̯ ɐ̯
Lateral l
Table of allophones
Phoneme Pronunciation
in syllable onset in syllable coda
/p/ [pʰ] [b̥]
/b/ [b̥] [b̥]
/t/ [tˢ] [d̥]
/d/ [d̥] [ð̞ˠ̠]
/k/ [kʰ] [ɡ̊]
/ɡ/ [ɡ̊] [ɪ̯] after front vowels,

[ʊ̯] after back vowels

/f/ [f] [f]
/s/ [s] [s]
/h/ [h]  
/v/ [ʋ] [ʊ̯]
/j/ [j], [ɕ] after [s] or [tˢ] [ɪ̯]
/r/ [ʁ] [ɐ̯]
/l/ [l] [l]
/m/ [m] [m]
/n/ [n] [n], [ŋ] before /ɡ k/

The Danish allophones can be analyzed into 15 distinctive consonant phonemes, /p t k b d ɡ m n f s h v j r l/, where /p t k d ɡ v j r/ have different pronunciation in syllable onset vs. syllable coda.[3]

[ɕ] occurs only after /s/ or /t/. Since [j] doesn't occur after these phonemes, [ɕ] can be analyzed as /j/, which is devoiced after voiceless alveolar frication. This makes it unnecessary to postulate a /ɕ/-phoneme in Danish.[4]

Instances of [ŋ] can be analyzed as /n/ as it only occurs before /ɡ/ or /k/ and isn't contrasting with [n]. This makes it unnecessary to postulate an /ŋ/-phoneme in Danish.[5]

/p, t, k/ are voiceless and aspirated in syllable onset: [pʰ, tˢ, kʰ] (some scholars[6] analyse them as voiceless aspirated lenis: [b̥ʰ, d̥ˢ, ɡ̊ʰ]). Aspiration is lost in syllable coda.[7]

/b, d, ɡ/ are voiceless and lenis in syllable onset: [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊]. In syllable coda /d, ɡ/ and sometimes /b/ are opened: [ʊ̯ ð̞ˠ̠ ɪ̯/ʊ̯]. /ɡ/ becomes [ɪ̯] after front vowels and [ʊ̯] after back vowels.[8]

/s/ is apico-alveolar.[9][10]

[ʋ, ʁ] may have slight frication, but are usually pronounced as pure approximants.

According to Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), /ʁ/ is actually a voiced pharyngeal approximant.[11]

In syllable coda, /v/ and /r/ are normally pronounced [ʊ̯] and [ɐ̯]. In slow and careful speech /v/ is often = [ʋ]). /r/ forms a diphthong with the preceding tautosyllabic vowel: e.g. stor "big" [ˈsd̥oɐ̯ˀ], næring "nourishment" [ˈnɛɐ̯eŋ]. /a(ː)r/ and /ɔːr/ / /ɔr/ coalesce into the long vowels [aː] and [ɒː] respectively. /ər/, /rə/ and /rər/ are all rendered as [ɐ], e.g. læger "doctors" = lære "teach, learn; doctrine" = lærer "teaches, learns; teacher" [ˈlɛːɐ].

/v.ə/, /j.ə/ and /d.ə/ (/əd/) are normally rendered as the vowels [ʊ], [ɪ] and [ð̩]. [ʊ], [ɪ] are pretty close to [o] and [e], e.g. leve "live" = Leo [leːʊ]. /v.əd/ and especially /j.əd/ are frequently assimilated to [ð̞̩] (in the case of /v.əd/ normally, but not exclusively, with an indication of a rounding at the outset), e.g. meget "much, very" [ˈmɑːð̞̩], Strøget "a central shopping street" [ˈsd̥ʁʌð̞ˀð̞̩]. In Jutlandic Standard Danish, the word-final phoneme is /t/, so these words are normally pronounced [ˈmɑːɪd̥], [ˈsd̥ʁʌɪ̯ˀɪd̥] in that variety.


Monophthongs of Danish, from Grønnum (1998:100)

Modern Standard Danish has around 20 different vowel qualities. These vowels are shown here in a narrow transcription. In the rest of the article and in in WorldHeritage the diacritics are usually omitted.

The vowel system is unstable, and the contemporary language is experiencing a merger of more of these phonemes. Thus, many speakers tend to confuse /eː/ with /ɛː/, /e/ with /ɛ/, /øː/ with /œː/ and /ø/ with /œ/.[12][13]

Symbols in forward slashes are phonemes according to Grønnum (1998) and/or Basbøll (2005). Other scholars may not agree with this analysis.

  • Stressed vowels
    • /i/ is close front unrounded [i].[14][15][16][17][18][19]
    • /y/ is close near-front rounded [ÿ].[14][15][17][19]
    • /u/ is close back rounded [u].[14][15][17][19][20]
    • /e/ has been variously described as near-close front unrounded [][14][15][16][18] and close-mid front unrounded [e].[17][19]
    • /ø/ is close-mid near-front rounded [ø̠].[14][15][17][19]
      • Ejstrup & Hansen (2004) state that the short version is more open than the long one,[21] but in conservative Danish the difference is very small.[19]
    • /o/ is close-mid back rounded [o].[14][15][17][19]
      • The short version is more open than the long one,[21] and, in conservative Danish, also more central.[19]
      • In Herning, long /oː/ tends to be diphthongized to [ou̯] or [ɔu̯].[21]
    • /ɛ/ has been variously described as close-mid front unrounded [e],[14][15][16] mid front unrounded [ɛ̝][18][19] and open-mid front unrounded [ɛ].[17]
    • /œ/ has been variously described as mid near-front rounded [œ̝̈][14][15][19] and slightly raised open-mid near-front rounded [œ̠].[17]
      • Ejstrup & Hansen (2004) state that the short version is more open than the long one,[21] but in conservative Danish the difference is very small.[19]
    • /ʌ/ is near-open near-back somewhat rounded [ɔ̜̈˕].[14][15][22]
      • Basbøll (2005) states that many Standard Copenhagen speakers of his generation generally pronounce [ʌʊ̯] as [ɒʊ̯],[23] and that it is the main variant among younger speakers of Standard Copenhagen.[23]
    • /ɔ/ has been variously described as slightly advanced mid back rounded [],[15][19] mid near-back rounded [ö̞][14][24] and slightly raised open-mid back rounded [ɔ̝].[17]
      • The short version is more open than the long one,[21] and, in conservative Danish, also more central.[19]
    • /æ/ is open-mid front unrounded [ɛ].[14][15][16]
    • /a/ has been variously described as slightly retracted near-open front unrounded [æ̠][14][15][17] and near-open front unrounded [æ].[19] For certain older or upper-class speakers, it may be somewhat lower.[25]
    • /ɶ/ is near-open near-front rounded [ɶ̝̈].[14][15]
      • Grønnum (1998) includes an additional phoneme, namely /œ̞/, which phonetically is [œ̠].[14][15] Basbøll (2005) writes that "Nina Grønnum uses two different symbols for the vowels in these and similar words: gøre she transcribes with [œ̞] (semi-narrow transcription) and [œ] (narrow transcription), and grøn she transcribes with [ɶ] (semi-narrow transcription) and [ɶ̝] (narrow transcription). Clearly, there is variation within Standard Danish on this point, cf. the end of the present s. 2.2."[20]
    • /ɑ/ has been variously described as open central unrounded [ä],[14][15][20] somewhat raised open central unrounded [ä̝],[17] advanced open back unrounded [ɑ̟][26] and slightly raised open back unrounded [ɑ̝].[19]
    • /ɒ/ has been variously described as somewhat lowered open-mid back rounded [ɔ̞][14][15][24] and somewhat raised open advanced back rounded [ɒ̝̈].[17]
  • Unstressed vowels
    • [ə] is mid central [ə].[27]
    • [ɐ] may be any of the following: near open central unrounded [ɐ],[23] retracted mid central unrounded [ə̠],[23] or simply the same as stressed /ʌ/.[28] Basbøll (2005) states that /ɐ/ - /ʌ/ merger is "probably the normal case."[23] Grønnum (1998) transcribes both /ʌ/ and /ɐ/ as /ʌ/.
    • [ɪ] is a lax, relatively close unrounded neutral front vowel.[23] It is an assimilatory variant of [ɪ̯ə].[23]
    • [ʊ] is a lax, relatively close rounded neutral back vowel, which may be realized the same as short /o/.[23] It is an assimilatory variant of [ʊ̯ə].[23]
  • Non-syllabic vowels
    • [ɪ̯] is a non-syllabic, lax, relatively close unrounded neutral front vowel.[29] Grønnum (1998) transcribes it the same as [j].
    • [ʊ̯] is a non-syllabic, lax, relatively close rounded neutral back vowel.[29] Grønnum (1998) transcribes it as [w].
    • [ɐ̯] is a non-syllabic, central retracted neutral vowel (pharyngeal glide),[29] which may be a non-syllabic equivalent of /ʌ/.[28] Grønnum (1998) transcribes it as [ʌ̯].
Some vowel allophones[30][31]
Phoneme Pronunciation
default before /r/ after /r/
/iː/ [iː]
/i/ [i]
/eː/ [eː] [ɛː] ~ [æː]
/e/ [e] [ɛ] ~ [æ]
/ɛː/ [ɛː] [æː] [æː] / [ɑ]1
/ɛ/ [ɛ] [æ] ~ [a] [a] / [ɑ]2
/aː/ [æː] [ɑː]
/a/ [a] ~ [æ] / [ɑ]3 [ɑ]
/yː/ [yː]
/y/ [y]
/øː/ [øː] [œː]
/ø/ [ø] [œ] / [ɶ]4
/œː/ [œː] ~ [ɶː] [œː] NA
/œ/ [œ] [ɶ] ~ [ʌ] [œ] ~ [ɶ]
/uː/ [uː] [uː] ~ [oː]
/u/ [u] [u] ~ [o]
/oː/ [oː]
/o/ [o]5 / [ɔ] [o] [o]5 / [ɔ]
/ɔː/ [ɔː] [ɒː] [ɔː]
/ɔ/ [ʌ] / [ɒ]4 [ɒ] [ʌ] / [ɒ]4
/ə/ [ə] [ɐ]
  1. Before /d/
  2. Before labials and alveolars
  3. Before labials and velars
  4. Before /v/
  5. In open syllables

[ə] and [ɐ] occur only in unstressed syllables. With the exception of [a], [ʌ], [ə] and [ɐ] all vowels may be either long and short. Long vowels may have stød, thus making it possible to distinguish 30 different vowels in stressed syllables. However, vowel length and stød are most likely features of the syllable rather than features of the vowel.

These allophones can be analyzed into 11 distinctive vowels, where allophonic alternation mainly depends on whether the vowel occurs before or after /r/. The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables. All other phonemes may occur both stressed and unstressed.

Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y u
Close-mid e ø o
Mid ɛ œ ə ɔ
Open a

The three way distinction in front rounded vowels /y ø œ/ is upheld only before nasals, e.g. /syns sønˀs sœns/ synes, synds, søns ("seems, sin's, son's"). Furthermore, there are only three words where /y/ occurs before a nasal in a stressed syllable, i.e. synes, brynje, hymne ("seems, armor, hymn").[32]

The distribution of [a] and [ɑ] is largely in complementary distribution. However, a two-phoneme interpretation can be justified with reference to the unexpected vowel quality in words like [ɑndʁɐ ɑnɐleːð̩s] andre, anderledes ("others, different"), and an increasing number of loanwords.[33]

Long and short vowels

Long vowels occur in syllables which were originally open, i.e. there was not more than one short consonant after the vowel. Since the long consonants have been shortened, vowel quantity has become phonological: /baːnə/ bane "course" ≠ /banə/ bande "swear", /iːlə/ ile "hasten" ≠ /ilə/ ilde "badly".

There are long vowels in some syllables which were originally closed, especially in neuters of adjective stems ending in /s/ and /n/ (e.g. pænt "nice" /pɛːˀnt/) and in the preterites and participles of verb stems ending in /s/, /n/ and /t/ (e.g. /sbiːstə/ spiste "ate" [ˈsb̥iːsd̥ə], /føːtə/ fødte "gave birth to" [ˈføːd̥ə]).

The distinction between long and short vowels is neutralised before tautosyllabic /v, j, d, ɡ, r/ that are all realized as vocoids in coda position.

Current developments

Before labials and velars, /a/ is [ɑ] in most varieties: in other positions, it is [a] in the conservative speakers.

[a], the regular allophone of /ɛ/ after /r/ is [ɑ] before labials and alveolars in the language of most younger speakers, thus neutralizing the distinction between /rɛ/ and /ra/ before these consonants. Before velars, it is often realised as a diphthong [ɑɪ] by younger speakers; the difference between strække ([ˈsd̥ʁa̝ɡ̊ə]) "stretch" and strejke ([ˈsd̥ʁɑ̈jɡ̊ə]) "strike", the only minimal pair, is practically non-existent.



Unlike the neighboring Mainland Scandinavian languages Swedish and Norwegian, the prosody of Danish does not have phonemic pitch. Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words like billigst [ˈb̥ilisd̥] "cheapest" and bilist [b̥iˈlisd̥] "car driver". The main rules for the position of the stress are:

  1. Inherited words are normally stressed on the first syllable.
  2. The prefixes be-, for-, ge-, u- are unstressed, e.g. for’stå "understand", be’tale "pay", u'mulig "impossible" (NB there is also a stressed for- in nouns corresponding to the verbal prefix fore-).
  3. In many compound adjectives, especially those ending in -ig and -lig, the stress is replaced from the first to the second syllable, e.g. vidt’løftig "circumstantial", sand'synlig "probable".
  4. Words of French origin are stressed on the last syllable (except /ə/), e.g. renæ’ssance, mil’jø.
  5. Words of Greek and Latin origin are stressed according to the Latin accent rules, i.e. stress on the penultimate if it is long or else on the antepenultimate, e.g. Ari’stoteles, Ho’rats.
  6. The suffixes borrowed from Romance languages -aner, -ansk, -ance, -a/ens, -a/ent, -ere, -i, -ik, -ion, -itet, -ør are stressed, e.g. finge’rere, situa’tion, poli’tik, århusi’aner. The preceding syllable is stressed before the latinate suffixes -isk, -iker, -or, e.g. po’lemisk, po’litiker, radi’ator. The suffix -or is stressed in the plural: radia’torer (colloquial: radi’atorer).
  7. Verbs lose their stress (and stød, if any) in certain positions:
  • With an object without a definite or indefinite article: e.g. ’Jens ’spiser et ’brød [ˈjɛns ˈsb̥iːˀsɐ ed̥ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] "Jens eats a loaf" ~ ’Jens spiser ’brød [ˈjɛns sb̥isɐ ˈb̥ʁœðˀ] "Jens eats bread".[34]
  • In names, only the surname is stressed, e.g. [johan̩ luiːsə ˈhɑjb̥æɐ̯ˀ] Johanne Luise Heiberg.[34]
  • In a fixed phrase with an adverb or an adverbial: ’Helle ’sov ’længe [ˈhɛlə ˈsʌʊˀ ˈlɛŋə] "Helle slept for a long time" ~ ’Helle sov ’længe [ˈhɛlə sʌʊ ˈlɛŋə] "Helle slept late".
  • Before the direction adverbs af, hen, hjem, ind, indad, ned, nedad, op, opad, over, ud, udad, under (but not the location adverbs henne, inde, nede, oppe, ovre, ude): e.g. han ’går ’ude på ’gaden [hæn ˈɡɒːˀ ˈuːð̪̩ pʰɔ ˈɡ̊æːð̪̩n] "he walks on the street" ~ han går ’ud på ’gaden [hæn ɡɒ ˈuð̪ˀ pʰɔ ˈɡ̊æːð̪̩n] "he walks into the street".


The original pitch tone has been replaced by an opposition between syllables with and without the stød. The stød is not a separate phoneme, but a suprasegmental feature that may accompany certain syllables; those with a long vowel or that end with a voiced consonant.

The stød is phonemic since many words are kept apart on the basis of the presence or absence of the stød alone, e.g. løber "runner" [ˈløːb̥ɐ]løber "runs" [ˈløːˀb̥ɐ / ˈløʊ̯ˀɐ], ånden "breathing" [ˈʌnn̩]ånden "the spirit" [ˈʌnˀn̩].

It is impossible to predict the presence or absence of the stød; it has to be learned. However there are some main rules:

  1. Original monosyllabic words have stød. Words that ended in consonant + r, l, n in Old Danish have the stød even though an anaptyctic vowel was later developed. The postposed definite article, which has become an inseparable part of the word, does not influence the word.
  2. All umlauting plurals in -er (ODan. -r) have the stød, e.g. hænder [ˈhɛnˀɐ] "hands".
  3. Most presents from strong verbs (ODan. -r) have the stød, e.g. finder [ˈfenˀɐ] "finds". Many of the presents of verbs with a preterite in -te have the stød as well (but not the presents of verbs with a preterite in -ede).
  4. Monosyllabic words that originally ended in a short vowel + a single n, r, l, v, ð, g do not have the stød. However, when the definite suffix is added, the stød "returns", e.g. ven [ˈʋɛn] ~ vennen [ˈʋɛnˀn̩] "friend".
  5. Stød is frequently avoided in words with the combinations rp, rt, rk, rs, e.g. vers [ˈʋæɐ̯s] "verse", kort [ˈkʰɒːd̥] "card, map"/"short".
  6. Most (non-derived) words in -el, -er have the stød. Most words in -en do not have the stød. Nomina agentis in -er do not have the stød.
  7. All words with the unstressed prefixes be-, for-, ge- have the stød.
  8. There is stød in most compounds that have a replacement of the stress from first to the second syllable.
  9. There is frequently the stød in the second part of compound verbs.
  10. Monosyllables regularly lose the stød when they are the first part of a compound: mål [ˈmɔːˀl] "target, goal" ~ målmand [ˈmɔːlˌmænˀ] "goalkeeper". The vowel is sometimes shortened: tag [ˈtˢæːˀ] "roof" ~ tagterrasse [ˈtˢɑʊ̯tˢaˌʁɑsə] ”roof terrace”
  11. Words of Greek or Latin origin have the stød on a stressed antepenultimate syllable or a stressed last syllable. A stressed penultimate syllable has the stød if the word ends in -er.

Text sample

The sample text is a reading of The North Wind and the Sun.

Orthographic version

Nordenvinden og solen kom engang i strid om, hvem af dem der var den stærkeste. Da så de en vandringsmand, der kom gående, svøbt i en varm kappe. Og de enedes om, at den der først kunne få kappen af ham skulle anses for den stærkeste. Først tog nordenvinden fat, og han blæste og blæste, men jo mere han blæste, des tættere holdt manden kappen sammen om sig. Til sidst måtte nordenvinden give fortabt. Så tog solen fat. Og han skinnende og skinnende, og til sidst fik manden det for varmt og måtte tage kappen af. Da måtte nordenvinden indrømme, at solen var den stærkeste af de to.[34]

Phonetic transcription

[ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ʌ ˈsoːˀl̩n kʰʌm eŋˈɡ̊ɑŋˀ i ˈsd̥ʁiðˀ ˈʌmˀ ˈvɛmˀ ˈa b̥m̩ d̥ɑ vɑ d̥n̩ ˈsd̥æʌ̯ɡ̊əsd̥ə || ˈd̥a ˈsɔːˀ d̥i n̩ ˈvɑnd̥ʁæŋsmanˀ d̥ɑ kʰʌm ˈɡ̊ɔːɔnə | ˈsvøb̥d̥ i n̩ ˈvɑːˀm ˈkʰɑb̥ə | ʌ d̥i ˈeːnð̩ðəs ˈʌmˀ | a ˈd̥ɛnˀ d̥ɑ ˈfœ̞ʌ̯sd̥ kʰu fɔ ˈkʰɑbm̩ ˈa hɑm | sɡ̊u ˈanseːˀs fʌ d̥n̩ ˈsd̥æʌ̯ɡ̊əsd̥ə || ˈfœ̞ʌ̯sd̥ tˢo ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ˈfad̥ | ʌ han ˈblɛːsd̥ə ʌ ˈblɛːsd̥ə | mɛn jo ˈmeːʌ han ˈblɛːsd̥ə d̥ɛs ˈtˢɛd̥ʌʌ hʌld̥ ˈmanˀn̩ ˈkʰɑbm̩ ˈsɑmm̩ ˈʌmˀ sɑ || tˢe ˈsisd̥ mʌd̥ə ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ɡ̊i fʌˈtˢɑb̥d̥ || ˈsʌ tˢo ˈsoːˀl̩n ˈfad̥ | ʌ han ˈsɡ̊enð̩ðə ʌ ˈsɡ̊enð̩ðə | ʌ tˢe ˈsisd̥ ˈfeɡ̊ ˈmanˀn̩ d̥e fʌ ˈvɑːˀmd̥ ʌ mʌd̥ə tˢa ˈkʰɑb̥m̩ ˈæːˀ || ˈd̥a mʌd̥ə ˈnoʌ̯ʌnvenˀn̩ ˈenʁɶmˀə a ˈsoːˀl̩n vɑ d̥n̩ ˈsd̥æʌ̯ɡ̊əsd̥ə a d̥i ˈtˢoːˀ][34]



Further reading

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.