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 long vowels are not written double nor marked in other ways.

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 to avoid saying a totally different word than you intend to. 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 (in Spanish). It is not too complicated to pronounce a long vowel, as it is similar to a short vowel, but it is held for a bit longer. Unfortunately 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]). Long vowels before /m/ is very rare in native Norwegian words, but is found in loan words such as fonem (phoneme), where the last syllable is stressed, and the e is long.

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