The Norwegian A and Æ

The first letter of the alphabet in most languages which use the Latin alphabet is the letter A / a. The name of this letter in Norwegian is [ɑː] (click to listen). The lower case cursive happens to be similar to the IPA symbol used to represent the pronunciation of this letter in Norwegian: [ɑ] when short, and [ɑː] when long. It is an open back unrounded vowel. Similar to the British English (RP) pronunciation of a in bath or car. However, it is not similar to the American pronunciation of bath, which is closer to that of the Norwegian letter Æ / æ (click to listen). The phonemic distinction between a and æ does not exist in languages such as Spanish, French, Russian, Polish or Arabic. It is important to remember that confusing these two sounds may result in saying the wrong word. The Norwegian word har (click to listen) is pronounced with the back vowel: [hɑːɾ], whereas the adverb her (click to listen) is pronounced [hæːɾ]

In my experience, those whose mother tongue is a Romance or Slavic language struggle with pronouncing the Norwegian a.

Vowels a and ɑ (CC BY-SA 3.0 Ishwar~commonswiki)
Vowels a and ɑ (CC BY-SA 3.0 Ishwar~commonswiki)

This X-ray shows the exact position of the tongue when pronouncing the Norwegian /ɑ/, as compared to the Spanish /a/. The back of the tongue is further down when pronouncing the Norwegian /ɑ/ than it is when pronouncing the Spanish /a/.

Click the letters to listen and compare: A vs Æ


Updated with audio files 11 July.

2 thoughts on “The Norwegian A and Æ

  1. British English pronunciation varies according to where you are in the country. The pronunciation you describe is normally south England English.

    1. Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely correct. I have now specified that I am talking about RP English (Received Pronunciation / «BBC English»). If you click on the links named «bath» and «car», you can listen to the (RP) pronunciation there. The reason I chose to use British English as an example, is because the phoneme [ɑ] exists in British English, and there is to date, as far as I know, no Norwegian dictionary or web page which has a sound file nor IPA transcript of the pronunciation, as there is no standard Norwegian pronunciation. The «standard» American pronunciation of «bath» is very close to the Norwegian æ, yet the accents vary considerably also in the United States.

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