[diacritics] | [vowels] | [diphthongs] | [consonants] | [stress] | [notable exceptions] | [Gothenburg] | [bottom]
Along with Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are among the most important Scandinavian languages (Finland is geographically part of Scandinavia, but its language is unrelated to the others). These languages share with English the unfortunate characteristic that spelling and pronunciation do not always correspond in a logical way; in fact there are some cases in which distinct words may be pronounced differently but spelled the same. With Swedish and Norwegian names this is rarely a large problem: the most frequently occurring names are easy to figure out by standard Germanic reasoning, though sometimes a bit of guesswork is required. Fortunately, very few Americans will know when you guess wrong.
Note that the Scandinavian languages are closely related to each other and somewhat more distantly related to German and Dutch. But it would be a mistake to assume that German rules always apply!
Scandinavian languages use a few distinctive symbols that don't appear in other languages, most notably å, æ and ø. These last two are used in Norwegian but not in Swedish, which substitutes the umlauts ä and ö. Swedish also sometimes puts acute accents on vowels (e.g. é), but whatever effect this has on pronunciation is negligible for radio purposes.
As mentioned above, some vowels may occasionally appear with acute accents (e.g. Alfvén, Wirén), but this does not substantially affect their sounds.
|ä||a, as in "ash", but the eh approximation of German will do|
|æ||a or eh, the Norwegian equivalent of Swedish ä|
|å, aa||aw or oh|
|e (final)||uh, like German unstressed final e|
|i||ee, or shortened to ih (before a double consonant)|
|ö||ö, like German ö, or French eu (only in Swedish)|
|ø||ö, the Norwegian equivalent of Swedish or German ö|
|u||u, as in "put"|
|y||ü, like German ü, or French u|
These don't occur very often, and more often in Norwegian than in Swedish. Remember that ei is NOT like German.
|ei, ej, ey||ay, e.g. Leif Segerstam = layf say-ger-stahm (he's Finnish, but his name isn't)|
|eg||ay, this is not always a diphthong (sometimes it's pronounced just as it looks), but often is if the g is not followed by another vowel, e.g. the ending -egn = -ayn|
|øy||öy, a difficult sound to get right, so just say oy if you're not feeling adventurous|
The Scandinavian final g presents a tricky issue that is best ignored in radio announcing: technically it should be pronounced something like a y, but most listeners will not recognize names ending in -berg if you pronounce them this way. Otherwise, g sometimes undergoes a "softening" similar to that of the Romance languages (e.g. Italian gi = jee), except that it's less significant in unstressed syllables, and the sound changes to y instead of j. Something similar happens to k, the voiceless equivalent of g. Also take note of all the strange consonant combinations involving s and/or j.
|ch||sh usually, except in the Swedish word och (meaning "and"), which is pronounced ohk|
|g [+ä,æ,e,i,ö,ø,y]||y, e.g. Gimse = yeem-suh; note: it's safest to use an ordinary hard g in unstressed syllables, since the vowels tend to shorten and lose their softening quality, e.g. Jørgen = yör-guhn|
|g [+a,å,o,u]||g, hard as in "get"|
|k [+ä,æ,e,i,ö,ø,y]||sch, like the German ch in "ich"; may be approximated as lightly gutteral kh, e.g. kyrka = khür-kah (means "church"); note: it's safest to use an ordinary hard k in unstressed syllables, since the vowels tend to shorten and lose their softening quality, e.g. Birkeland = beer-kuh-lahnd|
|kj||sh, technically this sound is different from that of sj below, but you're really better off not worrying about it|
|r||r: mostly like the English r, but with a very slight trill|
|s||s (never z like German or Italian)|
|sk [+ä,æ,e,i,ö,ø,y]||sh, e.g. sked = shed|
|st, sp||st, sp (NOT like German sht, shp)|
|v||v, e.g. Paa Vidderne = paw vih-dehr-nuh|
|w||v, e.g. Dag Wirén = dahg vee-rehn|
|x||ks, just like English|
Try to follow the same rules as in German: stress falls normally on the first syllable, unless this syllable is one of a certain set of prefixes. In names, the first syllable is almost always stressed.
As in Dutch, some Scandinavian names are better known in mispronounced forms. Grieg's opera Peer Gynt for instance is normally pronounced peer gihnt, even though the Norwegians would call it something more like payr yünt. In such cases, correctness must give way to familiarity.
Every classical music announcer ends up at some point having to mention the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on the air (most likely conducted by Neeme Järvi). Here your Germanic instincts might lead you to say goh-ten-boorg. If Gothenburg were a city in Germany you'd be right, but in fact the Swedes call it Göteborg, which is pronounced yö-te-boh-ry. You could try to say that, but no one who isn't Swedish would know what you're talking about, so you'd be better off sticking with the Anglicized form, Gothenburg, and pronouncing it gah-then-burg, just as it looks.
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list of names with audio samples