Swedish Pronunciation

First, a disclaimer: Phonetic symbology can be complicated, so I just use common sense and the regular English alphabet instead.  Thus, my phonetic transcriptions are approximations of correct pronunciation. I recommend listening to the audio clips where possible (more coming soon).

Second, below this list is a slightly more involved description of Swedish sounds for the extra curious reader.

Third, there are some regional differences in Swedish pronunciation. For the audio clips I’ll be using a ‘TV broadcaster’ type of accent.  But notably, Henning Mankell’s Wallander series takes place in the south, in Skåne, where the accent is different—and too complicated to explain here!

***Submit your own request for pronunciation clues to nordicnoir@gmail.com .

Swedish Pronunciation for Readers of ‘Nordic Noir’

The list is in alphabetical order. For personal names, I go by the last name

Erika Berger: eŕ’ ick uh  baré’ yer  (note: Swedish has a slightly ‘rolled’ ‘r’)

Nils Bjurman: neels  byuŕ’ man

Mikael Blomkvist: mee kel  bloḿ’  kvist 

Björck: byuhrk (see notes on ö below) – the bj is a ‘byuh’ sound; the ö is an uh sound; then there’s just r and k…so the whole thing is one strong syllable

Åke Edwardson: oh́’ ke    ed́’ vard sohn  (that ‘Å’is really more like ‘oa’ in ‘boat’; note that often his name is given as Ake Edwarson)

      Listen to Åke Edwardson

Ekström:  ek’ struhm  (see notes on ö below)

Kjell Eriksson:  (k)shell  eŕ’ ick sohn  (the ‘k’ is really almost not even pronounced)

Fälldin: fell deen’

Fröken:  fruh’ ken

Göteborg (what Swedes call Gothenburg):  yut́’ uh bor(ye)́’ 

Härnösand: hair’ nuh sahnd (see my notes below on the ä sound…all I can say is it’s not pronounced ‘har’ like ‘bar’! )

Mari Jungstedt: maŕ’ ee  yunǵ’ stet

Stieg Larsson:  steeg  laŕ’ sohn

Henning Mankell: henń’ ing man kelĺ’  (some Swedes say Man’ Kell’…I don’t know how Mankell himself says it)

Lisbeth Salander: liź’ bett  sah lahń’ der 

Mariagatan: mar eé’ ah gah́’ tahn

Niedermann: nee’ der mahn (it’s not mahhhhn; it’s just a short ah sound…also, this isn’t actually a Swedish name; it’s Dutch or German)

Nieminen: nee’ mi nen (again, this isn’t a Swedish name; it’s Finnish, and I don’t know how the Finns would pronounce it)

Pontonjärgatan: pon ton yaer’ gah tahn  Note: gatan means street; pon ton and yar are almost equal in stress, but ton has maybe a little less stress

Sjöwall and Wahlöö:  hwuh́’ vahl AND vah luhh́’    (see notes below on ‘sjö’ and ‘ö’)

     Listen to Sjöwall and Wahlöö:

Note: everyone will know what you mean if you butcher these names and say ‘show-wall and wall-oo’ (it might even be less confusing!).  Also, the ‘sj’ sound can be pronounced as an ‘sh’ by posh, upper class Swedes.

Maj Sjöwall: my  hwuh́’ vahl    (with a slight ‘ye’ sound at the end of Maj)

Skåne: skoh’ neh    (the ‘oh’ is like the ‘oa’ in ‘boat’)

Södertälje: suhd’ er tell’ ye

Svavelsjö: svah́’ vel hwuh’

Sverige (Sweden, in Swedish): sver’ (i) ye  (barely pronounce that ‘i’)

Johan Theorin: yó’ hahn  te or reeń’     (the ‘h’ in ‘hahn’ is very soft)

Thorbjörn: tor’ byuhrn  Note: The Swedish o, with no umlaut, is also unique and hard to describe; but I think the word ‘tour’ in American or British English is a decent approximation here. Björn means bear! Thor is a major god in Norse mythology.

Ulfskog: ulf’ skoog  Note: again, the Swedish o with no umlaut. It’s very closed off, and not open sounding like ‘oh’. It’s more like the o sound in ‘oof!’ But it’s not quite as long or stretched out as oo is in English. Here, it’s a tidy, compact little ‘oo’ sound.

Vanger: vahnǵ’ er

Wadensjöö: vahd’ en hwuh uh  NOTE: this is a tricky one. It helps to know that ö means island in Swedish; so this name is really wadensjo island, or even waden-sea island (sjö means sea or lake). The least stressed syllables are the ‘en’ and the final “ö” ( I assume the final ö gets elided a bit).  Also see my notes on the ‘sj’ sound, below.

Per Wahlöö:  pear  vah luhh́’    (roll the ‘r’ in Per)

Kurt Wallander: kurt  vahl lahń’ der

Wennerström:  venń’ er strum

Ystad: ????   I don’t know how to describe the ‘Y’ sound here…but you would be understood if you said something like:  i stahd’  (with an i as in ‘pick’).   I’ve heard people say ee’ stahd too, but that’s an even more Anglicized way of pronouncing it

       Listen to Ystad:

A LITTLE MORE INFO ON SWEDISH PRONUNCIATION

FOR THE EXTRA CURIOUS

Swedish Vowels: ä, a, å, e, i, ö, o, u 

Description of the Weirder Swedish Vowels:

ä: sounds a little like the ‘e’ in ‘bet’

å: sounds a little like the ‘oa’ in ‘boat’ (one syllable, but sort of like oh-ah)

ö: sounds only vaguely like the ‘u’ in ‘but’…This last vowel is particularly hard for English speakers, especially when there’s no consonant at the end.  For instance the word for ‘island’: ‘ö’.  A beginner might say ‘uhhhrrr’ and feel embarrassed—and rightly so.  If you’ve studied French or German, ‘ö’ is something like ‘eu’ in the French word ‘beurre’ or the German ‘ö’ in Köln or the ‘oe’ in Goethe…though note that people often say ‘guŕ teh’ for Goethe, but that ‘r’ isn’t really there!   Best to listen to the audio files (try ‘Sjöwall’), and try to imitate! 

Just a Handful of the Unusual Consonants:

g and j

   The ‘j’ is easier, since it always sounds like ‘ye’ (unless preceded by ‘k’ or ‘s’!).  The ‘g’ changes from hard to soft depending on the vowel that follows it. 

Soft       ge: ye      : yuh      : yeh    gi: yee

Hard    gå: goa    gatan: gah́’ than   gul: gool (but this ‘u’ is HARD to describe; ‘gul’ doesn’t sound lik ‘ghoul’!)

‘kj’

kjellare’ (cellar) is pronounced ‘(k)shelĺ’ ar eh’   (again, an almost hidden ‘k’ sound)

‘sj’

sjö (the word for sea/lake in Swedish): roughly, it’s like ‘hwuh’, only this is deep back in the throat (kind of like the ‘j’ in the Spanish word ‘jefe’ or the ‘ch’ in the German word ‘ich’).   However, posh Swedes might use an ‘sh’ sound.  sjö  might then be something like ‘shuh’. 

‘sk’

depends on the vowels following it

Skolan (school): skoó’ lahn

Kanske (perhaps): kahń’ hweh 

‘k’ depends on the vowels following it

Kompis (friend): kohḿ’ peese

Kök (kitchen): shuk

Kötbullar (meatballs): shut bulĺ’ ar

r’  rolled lightly, lighter than the Spanish ‘r’.   Sometimes it’s rolled more, sometimes less—depends on the word

‘t(ion)’

One of my faves!  Totally weird.  The Swedish word for ‘nation’ is ‘nation’…but they pronounce it nat hoon’  –with the ‘h’ deep in the back of the throat and a little raspy.  If you’re upper class, you might say na shooń’ . 

Still reading this page?  Just Google Swedish Pronunciation and you’ll find plenty of sites with full descriptions and audio clips of general Swedish words and sounds. Or email me your questions: nordicnoir@gmail.com .

Responses

  1. Thank you so much! I think I’m getting the hang of it! At least enough when I’m reading to myself. :)

  2. This is just what I was looking for! I’ve devoured the first of Larsson’s trilogy and I’m totally stumped by Swedish pronunciation. French? Spanish? Italian? I have a clue, but I’m so unfamiliar with Nordic languages that I stumble on every name or place that I read. I’m starting the second book, so I appreciate your posting these helpful pronunciation keys. Thanks!

  3. Tack så mycket!

  4. Yeah, I too was totally overwhelmed by Swedish pronunciation. (I like knowing how to pronounce what I read.) I could figure out some of it through tennis pro connections of all things, Mats Willander and Bjorn Borg to name a few. Anyhow, thanks for your help on this. I’m now reading “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and it’s going a bit faster than the first book in the series.

  5. This is great. I’ve been working through the Larsson and Mankell books and have been watching the Wallander TV series to get to grips with the pronunciation. It is a challenge, to say the least. But I feel obliged to try. It is only fair (and polite) to make an effort with the Swedish language even in a limited way dictated by these books. Well done and thank you for the site. More sound recordings would be great.

  6. Help in boston “sjogrens syndrome”

    • “sjogrens”, which is correctly spelled “sjögrens”, could be pronounced something like “HWUH grens” …or at least that would be acceptable. As I’ve noted elsewhere on the blog, the ö is tricky for English speakers to pronounce absolutely correctly. The Swedish “e” is also tricky…to my American ear it almost sounds like a super quick “ee-ya”, though Swedes might laugh at me for saying so. In the end though, I suspect that in most cases, especially among English speakers, you’d find it more practical to Anglicize the term and just say “SHOW grins”…which is in fact what they suggest at http://www.sjogrens.org.

  7. Like the last post I see from D.J.Bost [my initials too!], I’m totally stumped by Swedish pronunciation. French? German? Italian? I have a clue, but I’m so unfamiliar with Nordic languages that I stumble on every name or place that I read. I’m starting the third book, so I appreciate you posting these helpful pronunciation keys. Many thanks!
    PS: I’m sending you an email for a few more words. Look forward to some help with these too.

  8. Very helpful. I am reading the last novel now and I find it to be the best….much more detail. I also saw the Swedish Trilogy on HBO..GREAT.

  9. […] Swedish Pronunciation « Nordic NoirSwedish Pronunciation for Readers of ‘Nordic Noir’. The list is in alphabetical order. For personal names, I go by the last name. Erika Berger: eŕ’ ick uh baré’ yer … […]

  10. Where can I find a pronunciation guider for NU AR DET JUL IGEN, in American English phonetics?

    Thank you,
    Hilary

    • Hi Hilary,
      To pronounce the phrase “Nu är det jul igen” (literally: now is it Christmas again) you could search for each word on Lexin, which offers helpful audio clips.
      If you really need to find the phrase written out according to American phonetics as opposed to the IPA (international phonetic alphabet) I have no idea. I suspect most Swedish-English dictionaries use the IPA. Nor do I know where the whole phrase would be written out according to the IPA.
      For what it’s worth, here’s my inexpert attempt according to this Merriam Webster key:
      nü ar det yül ēyen — though I really don’t see a precise equivalent in this key for “är” and “det”. Also, some Swedes might pronounce the “är” more like “ay” (as in hay)—depending on where they live or how casual they mean to be etc.
      Of course, any phonetic key will fail to give you a good sense of how the whole phrase sounds when pronounced at once. I found this song, “Nu är det jul igen” on YouTube though and here the phrase is repeated twice in a row at the very beginning. As you can hear, there’s a lot of elision going on. It sounds more like “Nu d’ jul igen”!

  11. […] How to pronounce things in a Swedish accent because it’s fun and vieerd :) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers

%d bloggers like this: