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Swedish pronunciation – Stress in single words

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Hej där!

I should begin this blog with introducing myself. I’m a 32 year old Swede who recently left my hometown Uppsala to live in Southern California for a while.  For the past 10 years I have worked as a Swedish language instructor at Folkuniversitetet. Since I really enjoyed my job I wanted to continue sharing my passion for Swedish when living abroad, so in this blog I will discuss different things one could come across when learning Swedish.

Since pronunciation is a very important part of the Swedish language, I thought it would be a good thing to discuss stressing in this very first post.

Correct stressing  is far more important than pronouncing single sounds correctly. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to pronounce the different sounds correctly. What I’m saying is that even if you have the best /å/ and /ö/on this planet and don’t stress the right way, it will still be hard to hear what you are saying. The opposite way, you might be struggling a little bit with i/y or e/ä but with a good sing-song Swedish melody you will be able to communicate smoothly.

When stressing a syllable we should do three things. First of all, make one sound longer. Stretch it. It is almost always longer than you think! “But how can I know what sound should be longer?” you ask me. Well, when you read you can actually see if it is the consonant or the vowel that is longer. Basically, stretched vowels are followed by only one consonant (or no consonant). And opposite way, if a syllable has two consonants, then the consonant is stretched. Let me show you an example:

bo is pronounced “booo”

gata is pronounced “gaaaata”

alla is pronounced “allla” with a long l and short a:s

lampa is pronounced “lammmpa” with a long m. M comes first and is therefore longer.

OK, so now we know how to make a sound longer, and which sound to make longer. The next thing we need to do to stress our syllable is to make the sound louder. If you listen carefully to spoken Swedish you will notice that the volume is going up and down a little bit. Stressed sound = louder sound. If we use the previous examples it will look something like this:





The third thing we need to do when stressing is to have a higher pitch. It is like singing basically. So go up with your tone in the stressed syllable, and down in the unstressed. It is a good thing to try to focus on the melody when you hear Swedish, even if you don’t understand all the words. Keep the radio and TV on, it makes you get used to the melody and helps getting a good pronunciation. When my husband first came to Sweden I always turned the radio on in the morning. He didn’t know that is was a pronunciation lesson and now he gets compliments for his good melody ;-)

Now we know how to stress, let us move on to what part of the word to stress. First of all, if a word is of Germanic origin (Swedish, German, Dutch for example) we stress the first syllable. I’ll show you two examples:

gata is pronounced “gaaata”, first syllable is stressed

räkning is pronounced “räääkning”, first syllable is stretched

If a word is a loan word from a non-Germanic language (French, Latin, Greek etc. ) it is stressed in the end, even if you don’t do that in the original language. Let’s take a look at a few examples again:

biologi is pronounced “biologiiii”

bibliotek is pronounced “biblioteeek”

telefon is pronounced “telefooon”

fåtölj is pronounced “fåtölllj”

If a word is a combined one, for example “telefonkatalog” or “skrivbordsstol” then we have to stress twice. Remember though, thast we can never have MORE than two stressed syllables. That is what makes it possible to pronounce those long words, we get to rest a little bit between the stressed syllables. We can start looking at a word with two parts:



If we ad another part to these words, we can still only keep two stressed syllables. We will keep the first one and the last one. So if I ad “stol” to “skrivbord” and “burk” to “kattmat” it will sound something like this:



Well, that was a little something about stress in single words.

Good luck with your pronounciation!

Sara the Swedish Teacher

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