Swedish: Differentiating Ö Ä Å and A and O ?

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Moorland, Aug 11, 2018.

  1. Moorland Member

    English - England
    Hi new English member here slowly learning Swedish on the Net.

    I also enjoy listening and watching Swedish documentaries and programmes with sub titles in Swedish anyway, but often wonder how some words spoken by the narrator with any of the three letters Ö - Ä - Å (raw, air, hurt) appearing in the sub titles at the bottom can be distinguished and understood with the ordinary letters O – A by Swedish people when in ordinary conversation.

    I've been trying to come up with any similar comparisons in English but can't think of anything so presumably it's something to be learnt in which case are there any Swedish websites explaining it all ?
  2. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    hmmm…. Not sure I understand. They're different letters. I don't see how they're more different conceptually than "v" and "w". The latter is twice as much "v" as "v" is. But they are used differently and sound different. Just like the letters you're asking about. Know what I mean.

    Or am I misunderstanding what you're asking?
  3. Moorland Member

    English - England
    It's because there are no accented letters in English why I've often wondered how native speakers of Swedish can differentiate between accented words and similarly spelt words without accents in ordinary conversations or listening to TV, as even with the help of sub titles they still seem to sound the same.

    So when you say they "sound different" is this something that non native speakers would miss unless they'd been living in Sweden for several years....?
  4. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    Well, first of all I'm not sure I know what you mean by "accented words", to me they're not "accented" the way French words are (like the way "e" is modified using accents), nor to emphasize something within a larger context (i.e. not by default). Additionally the letters "a" and "o" in Swedish appear in different places in the alphabet compared to å, ä and ö. So to me I just don't see them as being the same letter with an accent or modification of some kind, they're just different letters.

    As for not hearing a difference I think that's probably just.... well... getting used to a language. I could imagine that someone would find the same problem with English. For example, I've met a fair amount of Scandinavians that always used the rounder "w" instead of "v". So "victory" would sound "wictory", and "wery" instead of "very".
    (and there's of course the caricature German doing the opposite....)

    Now, if you take for example these two words:

    "bota" (to cure)
    "möta" (to meet)

    they sound different to me. The same place in the word - the first syllable - is stressed in both cases, but the vowels sound different.

    bota - Wiktionary
    möta - Wiktionary

    I couldn't find the pronunciation of "mota" (no "ö", just "o") on Wiktionary, but it sounds like "bota" with an "m" instead. So you should hopefully be able to see what the magnitude of difference is between for example "mota" and "möta".

    I really think it's just a matter of getting used to the sound of the various letters, and for the purpose of learning treating å, ä and ö as separate entities.
  5. Moorland Member

    English - England
    I had to say accented because I didn’t know the word for the circle and two dots above the letters, so chose in the interim “accents” knowing of course that accents are also used in French. I also knew that the 3 letters in question appear at the end of the alphabet as well, but do they not have a special name....?

    In fact I wasn’t expecting to hear the differences in the videos between the pronounciation of the three letters and the ordinary letters A and O, only knowing when seeing them appear in the sub titles at the bottom. This is why I was wondering how the Swedish could tell, my guess now being that words with the “accents” would not have fitted into the context of the sentence without them ? I can also understand getting used to hearing and identifying them eventually, though probably made more difficult when there’s regional dialects involved.

    The two words you mention “bota” and “möta” are in fact a good and amusing example of the problem as while I know how to pronounce “möta” (merta) as well as the other two accented letters in ordinary sentences, there seems to be no way of knowing how the non-accented words in similar cases are pronounced except through trial and error.

    So is it botta, boata, borta, bowta (?) the same going for other similar pairings of words as well :) ? My guess is that it’s “botta” only because it’s closest to English, whilst Germans, Spaniards, Italians and the French for example could well come up with just about anything as I think they also have “accented” words in their alphabets as well ? In which case though I’m not sure English might be the only language without them, not counting borrowed or imported words such as café and so on.

    However I think this does more or less answer my original question, that is once one knows the correct pronounciation of the unaccented words rather than knowing how to pronounce å, ä and ö which of course native speakers in this case the Swedish already do....
  6. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    Yeah, I really don't think there's an underlying method that can be applied that will somehow guide a person to how letters are pronounced, just the "hard" work of learning each one.

    Interestingly actually, I just googled this and watched a video where a person pronounced Swedish vowels, and there are actually some that sound the same but aren't "the pair" one might think. "Ett" (one) and "ätt" (lineage) sound the same for example, and context makes it clear which one is which (when spoken). But it's interesting because that "e" sound is closer to "ä" in this case than any "a" sound.

    I would also argue that "gått" (gone) and "gott" (tasty) sound essentially the same, and again show how in this case "o" is sometimes the same as "å", whereas "a" again is never confused with "å".

    So looks can be deceiving.
  7. winenous Member

    English - British
    In Swedish
    ö has the name ö
    ä has the name ä
    å has the name å
    In English you may have to say "o umlaut" or "o with two dots over it" if you are talking to someone who does not understand Swedish. But in Swedish it is just another letter - it is what it is - there is no technical term for the dots (as there is in German for example).

    Incidentally, ö, ä and å are not just separate letters in the alphabet - they are positioned at the end, after z, which emphasises that distinction between them and o and a.
  8. Moorland Member

    English - England
    Yes very interesting indeed and helpful thanks....

    Regarding the 3 “accented” letters in question not having a specific name, did a quick Google and thought that phonemes or allophones might simplify things at least for me a bit, preferring phonemes as it sounds more suitable than allophones. Any thoughts ?

    What is an allophone?

    Finally going back to your original example is it botta, boata, borta, bowta my guess being “botta” if only because it’s closest to English ? Consequently could you recommend any sources explaining how to pronounce ordinary Swedish words generally as I'm obviously still at the guessing stage ?
  9. MattiasNYC Senior Member

    New York
    As for having a name for the type of letters I can't really help you there. I just see them as letters. To me there's no bigger reason to distinguish between "a" and "å" than there is "i" and "å", because they just are different vowels.... to me at least. Perhaps there are some people here that are better at actual grammar and the actual teaching of Swedish, but to me that's where it sort of ends.

    As for the pronunciation I'll just refer back to the recordings in the Wiktionary links I provided. I'm not sure if you clicked on the play icon and listened to them, but I think it's probably easier for you to judge which of "botta, boata, borta, bowta" is the closest to the Swedish "bota". The "o" is definitely long and pronounced with puted lips. I'm bad at this stuff but I'd say that the vowel sound is closer to the "o" in the English "fool".

    Also please note that when you're investigating how to pronounce these vowels not only will you have variations based on context, i.e. the surrounding letters, but you'll unfortunately also have accents to consider. So the video I mentioned earlier I didn't link to for that exact reason. I thought the person giving the example using "ö" had an accent which wasn't appropriate for the purpose of learning how to pronounce the letter.

    Anyway, wineous said what I said more succinctly so we both agree.
  10. winenous Member

    English - British
    Just to say that by "name", I think Moorland means what you say when you spell out a word verbally, or recite the alphabet. That is what I was assuming in my reply at least.

    (I am having a similar issue with another language, so I am very much aware of the question!)
  11. Moorland Member

    English - England
    I’m beginning to think that it’s something that everyone faces when they’re trying to learn another language as one’s own language is the only yardstick or means of trying to understand available as without it I think you’d be really floundering, and why in my case I find watching the same Swedish documentaries over and over again with Swedish sub-titles very useful and rewarding. Because you’re simultaneously and unconsciously learning new words and expressions, correct pronounciations all linked to pictorial images, best of all having random words and phrases suddenly popping into one’s head at any time later on which is for me the icing on the cake.

    So I think it’s because there are no accented words in English it’s initially hard for some to grasp the basic concept, just the same as you obviously see them as ordinary letters having grown up with them. This is why speaking for myself I need some sort of a label or name, as Winenous said to identify these 3 letters, now able to happily file it away into my memory box already labelled accents with a new one Swedish phonemes which incidentally sounds pretty impressive anyway....:)

    Yes I had foreseen the likely difficulty about different dialects and accents earlier, but unfortunately as a result of it all I forgot about your link to the word bort. It sounds a bit like bowter coming pretty close to bow tie, also the word bow on its own the same as in archery - bow (and arrow). Equally I can now see and imagine with just this one word alone how difficult is must be to learn English too, as for example in these three instances - bowing to someone, the front end of a ship or a lady’s bow in her hair all easily possible to use in a single sentence !

    All very enlightening thanks ….

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