Dec 14, 2010

Norwegian Christmas

Christmas is coming closer, and in Norway, most celebrations traditionally ‘begin’ on the 13th of December. 

The reason celebrations ‘start’ on the 13th of December is because of St. Lucias day, typically a Swedish tradition, it is still celebrated in Norway (and indeed, even in Denmark, Finland and Iceland to a point). There is a lot of ceremony involved in this, and it involves the serving of “lussekatter” (lucia buns) by children to their parents. Each town or even family can vary in the different ways they celebrate this, if they do at all, but the core ideas remain mostly the same, and this generally marks the beginning of the ‘Christmas Season’ in Norway. 

The Norwegian word for Christmas is ‘Jul’ (Yoohl). Like most countries, they have a Christmas tree (Juletre) which can be decorated with tinsel, lights, beads and glass balls, pepperkaker (ginger bread) and most importantly, Norwegian flags! 
Plain Norwegian Pepperkakker
The real celebrations begin on the 24th, Christmas eve, which most view as the most important part of the season. Most families get together for a traditional meal to celebrate, with some of the more common foods including lutefisk, pinnekjøtt, julepølser and medisterkaker. These Christmas family dinners can continue from December all the way through to new years (Romjulen). 

Julebrus has many variations
Julebrus is also something which is associated with Norwegian Christmas, it is a ‘festive’ soft drink likely made so that minors could have something to drink while the older members of the family would drink alcoholic beverages. Now, however, Julebrus is popular among Norwegians of all ages and huge quantities of it are sold throughout Norway during  the Christmas season. 

I don’t know if you did this wherever you’re reading this from, but when I was a kid we left out cookies and milk for Santa (later to discover it was my father eating them, not Santa) and in Norway, it is not unusual to leave out a traditional porridge dish (lillejulaften) for Julenissen (the equivalent of Santa Claus), though I strongly suspect that the father will be eating that when the children are asleep.

One interesting thing is that Norwegians are taxed half as much during Christmas time as an incentive from the Norwegian government, perhaps to encourage spending and also give their part to the Christmas spirit.
Norwegian kids celebrating. The girl with the candles is dressed
in the traditional outfit for St. Lucias day.
In Norway, the way of saying 'Merry Christmas' is God jul (Gooh yoohl) and when the new year comes around, godt nyttår (gooht nytohr) 

So, god jul og godt nyttår! Hopefully you get lots of expensive presents! 

Dec 11, 2010

Skj, Sj, Rs, Kj and other strange letter combinations

In Norwegian, there is a few letter combinations which we rarely (if ever) see in English. Most of them are pronounced in a way which is not really expected if you haven't encountered them before. So I'll go through them, and try to provide some examples.

Kj makes a 'sh' sound, rather than what you would expect it to make if you only speak English. As an example, I'm going to use the Norwegian band Gåte. The song Kjærleik is a good example of the 'Kj' sound (and might also help with the pronunciation of the æ sound). Even though it's being sung, this at least makes an interesting way to learn the pronunciation, or hear it.
Gåte was a Norwegian 'folk rock' band,
This is the lead singer, Gunnhild Sundli

This sound is pronounced like a more harsh 'sh' sound like in the English word, "shut". To me, properly pronounced it sounds almost like there's a soft 'h' sound in front of the Sh sound, but that's probably just me. Just think of it like the Sh in Shutup. Sj is pretty much the same in pronunciation to Skj, so basically a slightly... harsher Kj. An example is another Gåte song, Sjå Attend.

This isn't so much a letter combination in most cases, but more like a convention, I suppose. Words the have an 'r' followed by an 's', and sentences that have a word ending in 'r' followed by one starting in 's' cause the 's' to have a 'sh' sound in most cases. The sentence Vær så snill (Be so kind, like saying please) when spoken the r and the s run together, which causes the s to be pronounced as a sh, so instead of being pronounced like 'vahr soo snil' it is more like 'vahr sho snil'

This is an interesting combination, at the start of words (eg. Skål -Skohl, meaning 'cheers') it is pronounced as you would expect, but in the middle of words (eg. Datamaskin - Datamaschin, 'computer') it is pronounced with a 'sh' sound. At the end of words, eg. 'fisk' (fish) it still makes the regular sound you would expect from sk.

To cap up, i'll put them in the order of what is the 'harshest' sound and what is the 'lightest';
Skj/Sj - example - Bagasje (Luggage) - Bag-ahsh
Kj - example - Kjole (Dress, the clothing not the action) - Schohl
Rs - example - Først (First) - Foursht 
Sk - example - Torsk (Cod, the fish) - Torshk

It's a little confusing at first, but in written Norwegian it's fairly simple, the pronunciation of them is what will kill you, since they are so similar if you aren't used to hearing them, so it is difficult to tell the difference between the two sounds.

Dec 7, 2010

Some Basics

I’m not really sure what is considered basics of languages so I think the best thing to start with is probably all the common phrases, introductions and things like that. I’ll try make this come up as a little table sort of thing, with the word in Norsk, the word in English, and then the pronunciation. For most of these the pronunciation is pretty obvious, but i’ll put it there anyway just to get into the habit of it, when we move on to more complicated norwegian words. Some explanations of the pronunciation might be a bit strange, mainly because I can’t think of a better way to explain it. It works in my head. 

  • (Norsk – English – Pronunciation) 
  • Ja – Yes – (Yah)
  • Nei – No – (Like the beginning of “night” just don’t say the ‘t’)
  • Kanskje - Maybe – (Kan-sheh, almost like saying ‘can she’*)
  • Hallo – Hello – (Hallu)
  • Ha det/Har det bra – Bye/Good bye (Ha deh/Har deh bra, this literally means ‘have it good’)
  • Hvordan har du det? – How are you? - (Vordan har doo deh, How have you it?)
  • Hvor bor du? – Where do you live? – (Vor bor du, Where live you?)
  • Hva heter du? – What is your name? – (Va heter du, what names you?)
  • Hvor gammel er du? – How old are you? – (Vor gamehl ar doo?)
*I’ll do a post in a few days if I get time, about the ‘sk’ and ‘skj’ sounds. 

A few side notes – for words like hvor and hva, I’ve written the pronunciation as basically ignoring the ‘h’ sound, that’s because it’s so soft it’s practically not there in my opinion, but the 'v' is softer. It’s hard to explain, you will have to hear it most likely. Another note is the ‘r’ in Norwegian words, like har det bra. The ‘r’ is rolled especially in the middle of words, and in some cases it’s pronunciation is very important, and can make the difference between saying two different words. 

To avoid confusion, Ha and Har both mean ‘have’ in this case, the r is just usually dropped for the shorter ‘ha det’.  To add confusion, ‘Har’ and ‘Her’ both have almost the same pronunciation in Norwegian, but one means have and the other means here (remember ‘e’ in Norwegian is normally pronounced like an English ‘a’).

Since some of the phrases I used are questions, I’m now going to go through and answer them with a simple answer...

Hvordan har du det? – Jeg ha det bra (I have it good)*****
Hvor bor du? – Jeg bor i Norge (I live in Norway, do not confuse ‘bor’ with ‘born’ as I usually do)
Hva heter du? – Jeg heter Olaf Haraldsson (My name is...)
Hvor gammel er du? – Jeg er 18 år (I am 18 years)

That pretty much raps it up for today. In a few days hopefully i’ll have time to do one for pronunciation of ‘skj’ etc, and in a week i’ll do one for Christmas in Norway.
In other news, Norwegian women are apparently some of the most beautiful in the world.
If you're wondering about the outfit, I'll explain it later

Just another reason to live there!

*****An anonymous poster below mentioned that you can't say "Jeg ha det bra" I said above in this post how important the 'r' pronunciation can be, if you read the two comments you'll probably understand what I'm saying a bit more, in a way, jeg har det bra is saying "i'm fine" (still literally I have it good) and I suppose Jeg ha det bra would be like saying "I'm having a good time." But I don't think anyone actually says that. If you read the anonymous comment he/she also showed an example of the difference in past/present/definite/infinite kind of, which is actually a good idea which I'm now going to steal for later use.

Dec 2, 2010

The Norwegian Alphabet

I guess the most important thing for learning a new language is the differences in alphabet. For some languages this is harder (for example, Slavic languages, which have a completely different alphabet).

For Norwegian, it's simple, because the alphabet is exactly the same as english except for three letters -
ø, æ and å.

Pronunciation of these letters is a little more difficult than just seeing them, though, and when I first started I just assumed 'å' was pronounced like a regular 'a', and 'æ' like 'ae' and 'ø' just like a regular 'o'. Other letters in the Norwegian alphabet are also pronounced differently to in English.

Norsk Alfabetet (The Norwegian Alphabet):

Aa - (ah)
Bb - (beh)
Cc - (seh)
Dd - (deh)
Ee - (eh)
Ff - (eff)
Gg - (geh)
Hh - (haw, sometimes 'hoo')
Ii - (ee - how you would pronounce the letter E in English)
Jj - (yeh, J is like the English letter Y)
Kk - (kaw, I have also heard kuh)
Ll - (ell)
Mm - (ehmm)
Nn - (ehnn)
Oo - (oh, short)
Pp - (peh)
Qq - (koo)
Rr - (arr, somewhat rolled, especially in the middle of words)
Ss - (ess)
Tt - (teh)
Uu - (ooh, longer than 'O')
Vv - (veh)
Ww - (double veh)
Xx - (ex)
Yy - (ew)
Zz - (zett)
Åå - (aw, sort of like in cot)
Øø - (err/ur almost like a saucy sounding grunt, or the word churn, with less focus on the 'R' sound)
Ææ - (the easiest, pronounced like the 'a' from apple)

"Å" is also the name of a town in Norway
It should be noted that some letters are not used frequently, except for foreign words, for instance I don't know of any Norwegian words that have C, Q, X or Z in them. It might also help that Å, Ø and Æ are all vowels of the scandinavian languages (except Swedish, who use Ä, Ö and Ë I think...)

Interestingly, the letter å is also a word (to) and the name of a small town.
After some practice of pronouncing words with the letters, you do eventually get used to the pronunciation (it's a good idea to listen to some audio of them if you have it)

I guess that's all for now, just a short one... not sure what it will be yet, but something new will hopefully be up by next Tuesday (in Norwegian, Tirsdag!)