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!
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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 gö: yuh gä: yeh gi: yee
Hard gå: goa gatan: gah́’ than gul: gool (but this ‘u’ is HARD to describe; ‘gul’ doesn’t sound lik ‘ghoul’!)
‘kjellare’ (cellar) is pronounced ‘(k)shelĺ’ ar eh’ (again, an almost hidden ‘k’ sound)
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’.
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org .