Monday, November 2, 2009

Speeds of Spoken Swedish and Danish

Studies in linguistics appear to indicate that the speeds of spoken Swedish and Danish are quite different. Though the two are closely related Germanic languages, they sound rather different in their spoken forms. Also, studies which have compared the speeds of Danish and Swedish speakers suggest that the speed of Danish speakers is 20-30% greater than that of Swedish speakers.

Since Danish and Swedish are closely related languages, particularly in their written forms, this is a remarkable difference. To illustrate the similarity of these languages, here are a few sentences:

I can't see them.
Jag kan inte se dem. (Swedish)
Jeg kan ikke se dem. (Danish)

You have a big house.
Du har ett stort hus. (Swedish)
Du har et stort hus. (Danish)

We travel every summer.
Vi reser varje sommar. (Swedish)
Vi rejser hver sommer. (Danish)

It rained a lot.
Det regnade mycket. (Swedish)
Det regnede meget. (Danish)

She looks happy.
Hon ser lycklig ut. (Swedish)
Hun ser lykkelig ud. (Danish)

Why is the speed of spoken Danish so much greater than that of spoken Swedish? A number of reasons can be given to explain this difference.

Danish has many word-final schwas where Swedish has full vowels. For example, the Swedish word for "four" is "fyra" and the Danish word is "fire". Undoubtedly, the final unstressed "a" in "fyra" has a longer duration than the unstressed "e" in "fire".

Danish does not have long consonants while Swedish does. The Danish word for "sit" is "sidde" but the double "d" is in fact a voiced interdental fricative with a short duration. The Swedish word for "sit", however, is "sitta". The double "t" is a long consonant with a long duration.

Many Danish words have silent letters. For example, the Danish word "bage" means "to bake" but the "g" is silent. In the Swedish counterpart "baka" every letter is pronounced.

Swedish has a pitch accent which Danish lacks. The Swedish word "komma" meaning "to come" has first-syllable stress but high pitch on both the first and second syllables. The pitch on the second syllable is not only high but also relatively long in duration. In contrast, the Danish word "komme" does not have high pitch nor long duration on the second syllable.

Danish often uses vowels with a shorter duration than Swedish does. For example, the word for "you" is "du" in both languages, but the vowels are different. Danish uses the vowel of Spanish and German but Swedish uses a different vowel. It is not a back vowel but rather a central vowel with a relatively long duration.

The Danish "r" vocalizes when it is word-final and preceded by a schwa. For example, the noun "parker" (parks) is pronounced as if it had a word-final "a". This means that the word-final "er" is only one segment. In Swedish, however, the word-final "er" of "parker" (parks) is two segments which results in a longer duration.

Though the Swedish and Danish languages are very similar to one another, the speeds at which they are spoken differ significantly. They have a number of differences in pronunciation which explain this phenomenon.

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