Norwegian vowels – long or short?

If you ask a Norwegian, he or she would probably say that there are 9 vowels in Norwegian. Which is not entirely incorrect, as there are 9 letters in the Norwegian alphabet that represent vowels. Those are a, e, i, o, u, y, æ, ø, å. Unlike English, each vowel grapheme of Norwegian represents one vowel phoneme. Except for the fact that we differentiate between long and short vowels, but this is not done altering the way we write the vowels.

Rather, we usually (but not always!) use a double consonant after a short vowel, and a single consonant after a long vowel. Examples include tak [tɑːk] vs. takk [tɑkː]. It is crucial to make the distinction when you speak Norwegian, otherwise you end up saying a totally different word. The distinction between short and long vowels is easier to grasp for someone with English or Arabic as their native language, than it is for someone whose native language is Spanish, French, Italian, Polish or Russian. I wrote about this in my master thesis, so if you happen to be Spanish or Latin American, and you want to improve your pronunciation of Norwegian, you can read it here. It is not too complicated to pronounce a long vowel, as it is similar to a short vowel, except for the fact that is dragged out a bit longer. What makes it difficult, is that we do not always show the difference in writing, nor do Norwegian dictionaries show the pronunciation of words. A double m in the end of a word is not possible in Norwegian. Words such as om, hjem, and ham are pronounced with short vowels. So is han, which rhymes with vann, which again rhymes with land. ([hɑnː], [vɑnː], [lɑnː]).

The distinction between long and short vowels exists only in stressed syllables. All unstressed vowels are always short.

Stay tuned for blog posts about the pronunciation of the individual vowel phonemes!

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