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Danish Pronunciation Dictionary

Overview of IPA for Danish

By Ruben Schachtenhaufen


Udtaleordbog.dk uses IPA for phonetic transcriptions. The transcriptions are in accordance with modern definitions and principles of the IPA rather than traditional Danish transcription standards. The IPA chart can be seen here.

In this article the essentials of Danish phonology are explained. One can spend a lifetime studying the details of a language. Consequently, a lot of details are omitted here.

The examples provided are based on 30-50 year old Copenhagen speakers.

Consonants

Bilabial Labio-
dental
Alveolar Alveolo-
palatal
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive pʰ p t kʰ k
Affricate ts
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative f s ɕ h
Fricative/
approximant
v j ʁ
Lateral l

Danish has 18 distinctive consonants. The most remarkable is perhaps the lack of voiced plosives, /b d g/. Instead, Danish has a contrast between tenuis and aspirated/affricated plosives, /p t k/ vs. /pʰ ts kʰ/.

If the BDG-standard is seleceted, plosives will be shown with /b d g p t k/ rather than /p t k pʰ ts kʰ/. This pre-1999 standard will perhaps seem more intuitive to some users.

Plosives and affricates

pʰæːɐ pære
p pæːɐ bære
t tæːɐs deres
kʰæːɐ kære
k kæːɐ gære
ts tsæːɐ tære
tɕæːɐ tjære

Nasals

m hɛmə hæmme
n hɛnə hænde
ŋ hɛŋə hænge

Fricatives

f fæːɐ færre
s sæːɐ sære
ɕ ɕæt sjat
h hæːɐ hære

Approximants

v væːɐ være
ʁ ʁæːʊ ræve
j jæːɐ jager
l læːɐ lære

Vowels

The vowels are divided into strong and weak vowels (sometimes refered to as full vowels vs. non-full vowels. Stressed syllables always contain one of the strong vowels, while unstressed syllables typically contrast one of the weak vowels or syllabic sonorants. Loanwords can have any strong vowel in unstressed syllables as well.

Strong vowels

Danish has 13 distinctive strong vowels. There are five unrounded front vowels, four rounded front vowels, and four back vowels. Only /a/ is fully open.

All 13 vowels can be short and long. Short vowels are typically slightly more open than corresponding long vowels. The difference is larger for the near-open vowels /æ ɒ/. However, this difference is not consistent, and it is not distinctive. Therefore, it is not displayed on udtaleordbog.dk.

front
unrounded
front
rounded
back
close i y u
e ø o
ɛ œ ɔ
æ ɶ ɒ
open a

Unrounded front vowels

i viːnə vine kʰik kig
e veːnə vene hek hik
ɛ vɛːnə væne hɛk hæk
æ væːnə vane hæk hack
a vaːmə varme hak hak

Rounded front vowels

y kʰyːlə kyle fyːɐ fyre
ø kʰøːlə køle føːɐ føre
œ kʰœːlə curle
ɶ fɶːɐ fyrre

Back vowels

u muːsə muse uɤ̰ ud
u moːsə mose foɤ̰ fod
ɔ mɔːsə måse ɔɤ̰ åd
ɒ mɒːsə morse ɒɤ̰ od

Weak vowels

In unstressed syllables only five vowels and four syllabic sonorants are distinguished in most native Danish words. These weak vowels can vary quite a bit, and they may overlap with some strong vowels. The vowel /ɪ/ may vary between /i/ and /e/, a /ɐ/ can vary between /a/ and /ɒ/ etc. The weak vowels are shown with distinct symbols in order to differentiate them from the strong vowels, that doesn't display the same variance.

ə fætə fatte
ɐ fætɐ fatter
ɪ fætɪ fattig vaːɪ veje
ɤ fætɤ fattet vaːɤ varet
ʊ faːʊ farve
n kʰætn katten
m kʰapm kappen
ŋ pʰakŋ pakken
l sykl cykel

The weak vowels /ɐ ɤ ɪ ʊ/ originates from historical r d g v. They may occur as the single vowel in an unstressed syllable, or they may form diphthongs with a preceding strong vowel.

Diphthongs

Diphthongs are displayed with a combination of strong+weak vowel, e.g. /haʊ haɪ moɐ mæɤ/ hav, hej, mor, mad. All strong vowels can form a diphthong with one or more weak vowels. However, not all combinations of strong and weak vowels exist in the language.

Suprasegmentals

The distinctive suprasegmentals in Danish are stress, length and creaky vouce (trad. called stød).

Stress

Stress on first syllable: ˈfeskəʁḭː fiskerig
Stress on first syllable: feskəˈʁḭː fiskeri

In isolation, all words have a stressed syllable. A small group of words have two stressed syllables, and a handful of words have three stressed syllables. Stress may occur on the ultimate, penultimate or antepenultimate syllable in morphologically simple words. In connected speech, most word lose stress.

The stress patterns are mostly predictable, although quite complex.

Length

Short vowel: ˈfulə fulde
Long vowel: ˈfuːlə fugle

All strong vowels can be short or long. Weak vowels are always short.

Creaky voice

With creaky voice: pɶn̰ɐ bønder
Without creaky voice: pɶnɐ bønner

Quite a lot of Danish words feature a glottal accent (traditionally called 'stød'). The specific pronunciation of the glottal accent vary quite a lot depending on speaker, dialect, style and context. The default pronunciation in Copenhagen Danish is considered creaky voice, which is also the standard notation chosen on udtaleordbog.dk. It may also be pronounced as a glottal stop, /ʔ/, or, especially in Jutland, a tonal accent. Some dialects doesn't have this feature at all. As such it can be omitted, with no real impact on intelligibility.

The glottal accent is highly predictable from the phontactics and morphology. As such, it is only marginally distinctive.

In unstressed context and less distinctive speech, as well as in singing, the glottal accent is often omitted.


Cite this article:

Schachtenhaufen, R. (2022). IPA for Danish. udtaleordbog.dk. Retrieved [DATE], from https://en.udtaleordbog.dk/ipa.php


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Udtaleordbog.dk is developed by Ruben Schachtenhaufen, MA, ph.d., academic staff member at University of Copenhagen.


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