Sunday, 22 January 2017

ENG: Learn to understand spoken Danish: stød (creaky voice/glottal stop)

According to a chronicle, already in 1554 a Swedish bishop expressed his annoyance over how Danes pressed out the words "as if they were trying to cough." On the one hand, this comment reveals, for minimally how long the Danes have spoken with stød (literally thrust) but also how disturbing this so characteristic feature can be to Swedish ears.

The importance of stød is critical in spoken Danish: basically it is only this linguistic phenomenon which differentiates the pronunciation of gul (yellow) [gulˀ] (with stød) from guld (gold) [gul] (without stød). The same applies to the difference between anden (the duck) which is pronounced ['andˀen] (with stød) and the pronoun anden (another) pronounced ['anden]  (without stød). We can also look at the noun for runner, løber [ˈløːb̥ɔ] (without stød), and contrast it with the present form of the verb run, løber [ˈløːˀb̥ɔ] (with stød). Farmers, bønder, take stød, while beans, bønner, is pronounced the same way but without it.

Those of you who want to speak flawless Danish simply cannot evade stød. For those who are satisfied with "only" understanding Danish – i.e. not using the language actively - everything is much easier. For us to realise if someone is talking about a yellow thing, or something made of gold, the context actually gives a far better support than the individual sounds of the language.

What remains, however, is to become comfortable with this coughing sound, I beg your pardon: stød. For my own acceptance of it there are two decisive explanations: the first relates to the actual sound, the second to its origin.

Baaahaha and Cockney butter ... or butter from the Swedish town of Eskilstuna


The Danish stød if often (not least in Copenhagen) pronounced through a complete closure of the vocal cords, a so called glottal stop. In Swedish, we do not have that sound, but can identify it, for example in how in English Cockney accent the sound /t / is replaced through a full glottal stop in the pronunciation of butter. Those who know Spanish will recognise the same in how the letter /s/ is replaced by a soft vocal cord closure when people in Andalusia say España (Spain).

All of us can pronounce this sound. If we imitate a sheep - baahaha – you clearly here it, which is why we add the letter /h/ to describe this bleating sound. If we bleat without closing the glottis completely, we get what phoneticians call the creaky voice. In many Danish dialects this is rather similar to how stød is pronounced and then we actually have direct parallels in Swedish dialects. Try to mimic how Swedish-speakers around the cities of Eskilstuna or Örebro say smör (butter) with a creaking vowel. Here, there is a narrowing of the vocal cords, but they do not close completely. Due to this dialect feature, this part of Sweden is often referred to as the “Whining belt” (Gnällbältet), although the “Creaking belt” would be a more suitable name.

Historical connection with pitch accent


Danish stød may seem strange if one does not take into account a phenomenon which among the Germanic languages is unique for the other two Scandinavian languages - Swedish and Norwegian – and thus can be expected to have existed in Danish as well: our pitch accent. In Swedish this (and only this) differentiates the pronunciation of stegen (the steps) and anden (the duck) - both with acute accent - from stegen (the ladder) and anden (the spirit) - the latter two with grave accent.

Scandinavian originally monosyllabic words like steg (step) and and (duck) take the acute accent in Swedish and Norwegian but in Danish they are pronounced with stød. Consequently, Scandinavian words which historically had two syllables are pronounced without stød in Danish.
Unfortunately, this simple principle is complicated by the fact that all the Scandinavian languages have a number of words which received their accent when they were still monosyllabic and have retained this although, subsequently, they have become polysyllabic. Historically, we did not say sitter (present tense of sit) in Swedish, but sitr. Hence, the Danish word sidder takes stød.

To further complicate predictability, there is a number of Danish monosyllabic words where stød is the only differentiating element. Examples of this can be found when we compare ven (friend) [vɛn] (without stød) with vend (the imperative of the verb turn) [vɛnˀ] (with stød). To comfort those of you want to learn to speak perfect Danish, this last example can be explained through the rules for when stød can occur in the language (so-called stødbasis).

Do not confuse stød with stress


Just like with the pitch accent of Swedish and Norwegian, in Danish we must distinguish between stød and stress. Examples of Danish words which can be told apart thanks to stress - not stød - we find in billigst (cheapest) [ˈb̥ilisd̥] och bilist (motorist) [b̥iˈlisd̥]. The first word has the stress on the first syllable, the second one on the final syllable.

Just get used to it!


In short: Do not sweat the stød in Danish. If you want to shorten your path to understanding spoken Danish, you had better focus on the similarities between this and the other Scandinavian languages. So, just get used to it! :) And, by the way, beware that the word stød is pronounced without stød.

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Several good videos in Danish about stød can be found here: 1, 2, 3.

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Earlier related articles: 
Differences between Danish and Norwegian –Infografic on the Written Languages
Learn to Understand Spoken Danish – an Introduction (part 1)  

Learn to Understand Spoken Danish Despite Reduction (part 2)

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Swedish version

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Sources:

Saturday, 14 January 2017

ENG: Learn to understand spoken Danish - despite reduction

Reduction blurs the pronunciation

It is a fact that spoken Danish has changed markedly during the 20th century. Danish people tend to omit more and more syllables or sounds when they are not stressed or when they have a position at the end of a word. Linguists call this phenomenon reduction and it gradually distances Danish from the other two Scandinavian languages. Apparently, you do not have to go further back than the 1960s to find movies where the language sounds more typically Scandinavian than today.

Sometimes the pronunciation of words actually merges. For example, in modern Danish there is no difference between doctors læger (plural) and a teacher lærer (singular). Both words are pronounced lääå [ˈlæ:ɔ].

Do not despair

It is easy to despair but there is help: the reductions in Danish follow certain rules. Here is a presentation of those I consider most important.

The ending -a became an -e and was often then lost

That a short /e/ in an unstressed position results in a sound similar to that of Swedish /ö/ (more correctly [ə]) is a phenomenon which exists in many languages. Phoneticians call this short neutral vowel schwa.

Like in Danish, in Norwegian the old Scandinavian ending -a has evolved to an -e, but that is also how it is pronounced. By contrast, in Danish it has been reduced to schwa, affecting, among other things the basic form (infinitive) of all verbs. This is why tell tale is pronounced tälö [ˈtˢæ:lə].

In some cases, it has gone so far that the ending is not pronounced at all. With the word chin hage serving as an example, one can imagine how the evolution has occurred in stages: haka (like in Swedish) – hagö – häjö – häö - hää. When the speaker retains a suffix, modern pronunciation will be hääö [ˈhæ:ə], but many Danes pronounce this word Danes hää [ˈhæ:].

Alternatively: the ending -a became an –e, but was then assimilated

In Danish, the above mentioned schwa is so weak that, when it appears after another vowel, many speakers completely drop its original quality. We say that the sound is assimilated (adapted).

That is why the word for a living room stue (compare with stuga in Swedish) can be pronounced stuu [ˈsd̥uːu] and girl pige may sound like pii [ˈpʰiːi].

When /r/ becomes a vowel

Some Swedes cannot stop complaining about the Danish (and southern Swedish!) guttural /r/. However, they will rapidly start appreciating it, in case they want to learn to understand spoken Danish. For most Swedes, it is a far more odd phenomenon that the Danish /r/ has often turned into something very similar to a vowel; a so called vokoid. In combination with an anterior vowel this vokoid forms a diphthong. This, among other things, affects the in all Scandinavian languages highly common ending -er. The word for churches kirker is a good example because here we have two vokoid r-sounds. It is pronounced kiökö [ˈkʰiɔkʰəɔ].

Among Swedish dialects something similar can be observed around my hometown of Halmstad. Like in Danish, in these positions the r-sounds are replaced with diphthongs. Hence, we pronounce kyrkor (churches) kyökoö [ˈɕyːəkuːə].

One of two consonants is dropped

In many Danish words you will hear how letter combinations like -ld- and -nd- are simplified to one single sound; -ll- and -nn- respectively. As a consequence the verb want vilje and the plural of the adjective wild vilde are pronounced ville [ˈvilə].

Copenhagen Dialect instead of Standard Danish

In all honesty, reduction occurs in Swedish and Norwegian as well, but the Danish language lacks the counterforce which we have in Standard Swedish (rikssvenska) and Standard East Norwegian (standard østnorsk/ norsk standardtalemål), respectively. Standard Danish (rigsdansk) is no longer promoted by the media and therefore tends to be pushed out by the contemporary Copenhagen dialect. Here, unstressed syllables disappear to an even greater extent than elsewhere. This means that most of us Swedes base or picture of Danish on one of its most unclear dialect.  If people in Copenhagen say something which we perceive as Ka du gi m n ka, it is difficult for a Swede to understand that they are actually saying "Kan du give mig en kage?" The verb can kan is pronounced in exactly the same way as the desired cake, kage.

The written language as a bridge

If you want to learn to "hear" which word might hide behind the reduction, I would recommend you to read Danish regularly. This is probably why Norwegians are generally better at understanding our neighbour language than we Swedes - their written language bokmål is much more similar to Danish than written Swedish is.

A Swede will obviously feel confused, if they perceive uu [ˈuːu] where they expects to hear the word week (vecka in Swedish). Now, if you know that this word is written uge in Danish (uke in Norwegian Bokmål) it all becomes much easier.

In later articles we will immerse into the Danish vowel and consonant sounds. However, first we will take a closer look at a unique sound phenomenon which have irritated Swedes for centuries: the Danish stød.

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I have never studied Danish at the university, so I warmly welcome all proposals to improve and correct this article.

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Earlier related articles: 

Differences between Danish and Norwegian –Infografic on the Written Languages
Learn to Understand Spoken Danish – an Introduction (part 1) 

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Swedish version 

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Sources: 
Snacka skandinaviska; Lindgren, Birgitta / Havaas, Anitha; Prodicta, 2012; sid. 24. 
Danska – Grundbog i dansk for studerende ved svenske universiteter; Købmand Petersen, Bjarne; BOD Books on Demand, 2012; sid. 18,-19, 129-137 och 230-235.
Fonetik og fonologi af Ruben Schachtenhaufen, ph.d.
Wikipedia in English: Danish phonology
 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

ENG: German book tips: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOxBGMBA0c7/?taken-by=erikwirdheim
It has honestly taken me several months, but now I have finished the reading of The Tin Drum (Die Blecktrommel) by Günter Grass. To my defense, it should be said that I only read the book during short tram trips in Zurich; from Belvoir Park to Stockerstrasse and that is only four stops in each direction.

The plot will be well-known to most of you, not least thanks to the film from 1979. The book is written down when the protagonist Oskar is in a mental hospital, but presents his full life from his childhood in the German Free City of Danzig before and during World War II through his later move to postwar Dusseldorf. Oskar has a very different perspective on life, since he stopped growing when he was three years old. Despite this, he manages relatively well throughout the destiny of his family, above all thanks to his innate ability to make glass crack with his voice and the sense of rhythm which he developes through years of playing toy tin drums.

To read The Tin Drum in the original German language was a bit of a challenge. Some of Grass’ sentences are extremely long (see example below). The novel contains comments which are written in local German dialect or in German with a Polish accent. The protagonist interchangeably refers to himself either as I or as Oskar - sometimes he even changes in the middle of a sentence. Apart from this, the story is anything but straight forward. Oskar tends to repeat and further elaborate on what has already been told and thus makes you unsure of what really happened back then, and what is an afterthought.

Having said that, it should be emphasized that I never had to take the help of dictionaries. The book is consistently very funny and also interesting from a historical perspective, especially for those of us who care about the relationship between Germans and Poles. If you - like me – on top that are interested in the history of the Polish city of Gdańsk, the first parts are like a goldmine. Here we get the chance to travel on the old tram lines, go swimming in wartime Sopot and experience both city architecture as well as landscapes in the surrounding countryside with its Kashubian culture.

Some of the episodes will probably stick in my memory forever. Here we find Oskar's childhood memories about the safety he used to feel (and the odor he used to smell!) while hiding under his grandmother's skirts, and how he probably contributed to the death of both men, whom he could consider to be his fathers. Among his memories as an adult, his utterly failed attempts to approach his neighbour, the nurse Dorothea, will aslo stay with me.

It deserves to be mentioned that The Tin Drum is included in the list of the Best German Novels of the 20th Century. The book is the first part of Grass’ so called Danzig trilogy, which also includes Cat and Mouse and Dog Years.

Günter Grass (1927-2015) was a great personality in the West German post-war debate and, in 1999, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. When he in 2006, in conjunction with the publication of his autobiography, announced that during World War II - more or less voluntarily – he had joined Waffen-SS, he for obvious reasons, was strongly criticized. It should be stressed that in spite of his revelation, both Poland's former President Lech Wałęsa as today's Polish residents of Gdańsk has allowed him to retain the title of honorary citizen of the city, thanks to his outstanding literature about the old German Free City of Danzig.

In short, I strongly recommend The Tin Drum. It is indeed written in a very special way, but clearly within my limits, although I am anything but a literary scholar.

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Below you will find what I think is the longest sentence of the novel and at the same time a shining example of its rich personal gallery and of how the author sometimes refers to himself as I, sometimes as Oskar:

 ”Der Falter trommelte zwischen Glühbirnen meine Geburtsstunde ein; die Kellertreppe mit ihren neunzehn Stufen trommelte ich und meinen Sturz von der Treppe, als man meinen dritten sagenhafter Geburtstag feierte; den Stundenplan der Pestalozzischule trommelte ich rauf und runter, bestieg mit der Trommel den Stockturm, sass mit der Trommel unter politischen Tribünen, trommelte Aale und Möwen, Teppichklopfen am Karfreitag, sass trommelnd auf dem zum Fussende hin verjüngten Sarg meiner armen Mama, nahm mir dann Herbert Truczinskis narbenreichen Rücken als Trommelvorlage und bemerkte, als ich die Verteidigung der polnischen Post am Heveliusplatz auf einem Blech zusammenschlug, von weit her eine Bewegung am Kopfende jenes Bettes, auf dem ich sass, sah mit halbem Blick den aufgerichteten Klepp, der eine lächerliche Holzflöte unter dem Kopfkissen hervorzog, diese Flöte ansetzte und Töne hervorbrachte, die so süss, so unnatürlich, so meiner Trommel gemäss waren, dass ich ihn auf dem Friedhof Saspe zu Schugger Leo führen konnte, dass ich, als Schugger Leo ausgetantzt hatte, vor ihm, für ihn und mit ihm das Brausepulver meiner ersten Liebe aufschäumen lassen konnte; selbst in den Dschungel der Frau Lina Greff führte ich ihn, liess auch die grosse fünfundsiebenzig Kilo aufwiegende Trommelmaschine des Gemüsehändlers Greff abschnurren, nahm Klepp auf in Bebras Fronttheater, liess Jesus auf meinem Blech laut werden, trommelte Störtebeker und alle Stäuber vom Sprungturm hinunter – und unten sass Luzie -, ich aber erlaubte Ameisen und Russen, meine Trommel zu besetzen, führte ihn aber nicht noch einmal auf den Friedhof Saspe, wo ich die Trommel dem Matzerath nachwarf, sondern schlug mein grosses, nie endendes Thema an: Kaschubische Kartoffeläcker, Oktoberregen drüber, da sitzt meine Grossmutter in ihren vier Röcken; und Oskars Herz drohte zum Stein zu werden, als ich vernahm, wie aus Klepps Flöte der Oktoberregen rieselte, wie Klepps Flöte unter Regen und vier Röcken meinen Grossvater, den Brandstifter Joseph Koljaiczek, aufspürte und wie dieselbe Flöte die Zeugung meiner armen Mama feierte und bewies.” 

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Swedish version

Monday, 2 January 2017

SWE: Tyskt boktips: Blecktrumman av Günter Grass

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOxBGMBA0c7/?taken-by=erikwirdheim
Det har i ärlighetens namn tagit mig flera månader, men nu har jag läst klart den: Blecktrumman (Die Blechtrommel) av Günter Grass. Till mitt försvar ska sägas att jag bara har läst boken under korta spårvagnsresor i Zürich; från Belvoir Park till Stockerstrasse, och det är bara fyra hållplatser i vardera riktningen...

Handlingen är väl allmänt känd, inte minst genom filmatiseringen från 1979. Boken tecknas ner när huvudpersonen Oskar sitter på en mentalsjukhus, men besriver hela hans liv från uppväxten i den tyska fristaden Danzig före och under andra världskriget till hans senare flytt till efterkrigstidens Düsseldorf. Oskar har ett mycket annorlunda perspektiv på livet, eftersom han som treåring slutade att växa. Trots detta klarar han sig förhållandevis bra genom familjens alla öden, framför allt tack vare sin medfödda förmåga att spräcka glas med sin röst samt rytmkänslan som han har övat upp på sina många leksaksblecktrummor.

Att läsa Blecktrumman på originalspråket tyska var lite av en utmaning. Vissa av Grass meningar är enormt långa (se exempel nedan). Boken innehåller kommentarer som är skrivna på den lokal tysk dialekt eller på tyska med polsk brytning. Huvudpersonen refererar omväxlande till sig själv som jag eller som Oskar – ibland ändrar han sig mitt i en mening. Upptill detta är berättelsen allt annat än rak. Oskars upprepar sig och utvidgar gärna vad som har hänt tidigare på ett sätt som gör en osäker på vad som verkligen hände då, och vad som är en efterkonstruktion.

Med detta sagt ska det understrykas att jag aldrig behövde ta hjälp av ordböcker. Romanen är genomgående väldigt rolig och samtidigt intressant ur ett historiskt perspektiv, speciellt för oss som bryr oss om relationen mellan tyskar och polacker. Är man dessutom – som jag – intresserad av den numera polska staden Gdańsks historia, är de första delarna av boken en guldgruva. Här får vi resa längs de gamla spårvagnslinjerna, åka och bada i krigstidens Sopot och uppleva både stadsbebygglse och den omkringliggande landsbygden med sin kasjubiska kultur.

Vissa episoder har jag nog lagt till minnet för evigt. Till dessa hör Oskars barndomsminnen om tryggheten (och lukten) när han satt under mormors kjolar samt hur han förmodligen bidrog till att båda de personer, som han kunde se som sina fäder, dödades. Bland hans minnesbilder som vuxen har hans minst sagt misslyckade försök att närma sig sin granne, sjuksköterskan Dorothea, klistrat fast sig.

Det ska i sammanhanget nämnas att Blecktrumman finns med på listan över 1900-talets bästa tyska romaner. Boken utgör den första delen av Grass Danzig-trilogi, vilken också omfattar Katt och Mus samt Hundår.

Om författaren Günter Grass (1927-2015) bör jag tillägga att han var en stor personlighet i den västtyska efterkrigsdebatten och fick Nobelpriset i litteratur år 1999. När han, i samband med utgivningen av sin självbiografi 2006, tillkännagav att han under andra världskriget – mer eller mindre frivilligt - hade ingått i Waffen-SS, blev han av förklarliga skäl starkt kritiserad. Det bör därför betonas att såväl Polens f.d. president Lech Wałęsa som dagens polska invånare i Gdańsk har låtit honom behålla titeln som hedersmedborgare av staden, tack vare hans enastående litteratur om den gamla tyska fristaden Danzig.

Kort sagt: jag rekommenderar varmt Blecktrumman. Den är i sanning väldigt speciellt skriven, men ligger inom mina ramar, trots att jag är allt annat än litteraturvetare.

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Här nedan finner ni vad jag tror är bokens längsta mening och samtidigt ett lysande exempel på det rika persongalleriet samt på hur författaren ibland kallar sig själv för jag och ibland för Oskar:

”Der Falter trommelte zwischen Glühbirnen meine Geburtsstunde ein; die Kellertreppe mit ihren neunzehn Stufen trommelte ich und meinen Sturz von der Treppe, als man meinen dritten sagenhafter Geburtstag feierte; den Stundenplan der Pestalozzischule trommelte ich rauf und runter, bestieg mit der Trommel den Stockturm, sass mit der Trommel unter politischen Tribünen, trommelte Aale und Möwen, Teppichklopfen am Karfreitag, sass trommelnd auf dem zum Fussende hin verjüngten Sarg meiner armen Mama, nahm mir dann Herbert Truczinskis narbenreichen Rücken als Trommelvorlage und bemerkte, als ich die Verteidigung der polnischen Post am Heveliusplatz auf einem Blech zusammenschlug, von weit her eine Bewegung am Kopfende jenes Bettes, auf dem ich sass, sah mit halbem Blick den aufgerichteten Klepp, der eine lächerliche Holzflöte unter dem Kopfkissen hervorzog, diese Flöte ansetzte und Töne hervorbrachte, die so süss, so unnatürlich, so meiner Trommel gemäss waren, dass ich ihn auf dem Friedhof Saspe zu Schugger Leo führen konnte, dass ich, als Schugger Leo ausgetantzt hatte, vor ihm, für ihn und mit ihm das Brausepulver meiner ersten Liebe aufschäumen lassen konnte; selbst in den Dschungel der Frau Lina Greff führte ich ihn, liess auch die grosse fünfundsiebenzig Kilo aufwiegende Trommelmaschine des Gemüsehändlers Greff abschnurren, nahm Klepp auf in Bebras Fronttheater, liess Jesus auf meinem Blech laut werden, trommelte Störtebeker und alle Stäuber vom Sprungturm hinunter – und unten sass Luzie -, ich aber erlaubte Ameisen und Russen, meine Trommel zu besetzen, führte ihn aber nicht noch einmal auf den Friedhof Saspe, wo ich die Trommel dem Matzerath nachwarf, sondern schlug mein grosses, nie endendes Thema an: Kaschubische Kartoffeläcker, Oktoberregen drüber, da sitzt meine Grossmutter in ihren vier Röcken; und Oskars Herz drohte zum Stein zu werden, als ich vernahm, wie aus Klepps Flöte der Oktoberregen rieselte, wie Klepps Flöte unter Regen und vier Röcken meinen Grossvater, den Brandstifter Joseph Koljaiczek, aufspürte und wie dieselbe Flöte die Zeugung meiner armen Mama feierte und bewies.” 

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English version