Orthographies

Scandinavian orthographies comprise some letters in addition to the 26 characters of English. Mainland Scandinavian features three extra vowel characters: all of them have â (as aw in law), and Swedish has a (as a in man) and o (as the same character in German). Finnish has taken over a and o, while Danish, Norwegian, and Faroese use œ, which corresponds to a, and 0, which corresponds to o. Faroese and Icelandic also feature a series of accented vowel characters that denote separate vowel or diphthong phonemes: â, i, o, û, y and, in Icelandic, é. Finally, Icelandic includes the characters p and 5, pronounced "th" (as in "thing" and "that," respectively) in English. Faroese, too, includes 5 (but in this case it remains mute, only etymologically determined). North Saami includes a number of consonant characters absent from the rest of Scandinavia: c, d, g, s, -, z.

The Scandinavian orthographies derive from late medieval pronunciation. They were originally relatively speech-based, although writing conventions that did not correspond to the spoken language were already developing. However, at the time when the orthographies were fixed in a stable form, pronunciation had already begun to shift from the medieval structures, and move in quite different directions within the Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic languages. In some respects, spelling followed these developments in pronunciation; for instance, in Danish the original unvoiced plosives in postvocalic position were spelled as voiced in accordance with their medieval pronunciation, thereby distinguishing this language clearly from the others, and the weakened unstressed vowels were spelled as e (e.g., gade or "street" versus gata in Swedish). In most other respects, however, Danish spelling has continued to remain conservative, espe cially during the last two to three centuries, when the phonological structure of the language changed as a result of the fricativization of the mentioned plosives and, in many cases, their virtual disappearance in pronunciation. The uvular r, which spread in Danish from the 18th century onward, has made a similar impact, changing its surrounding vowels profoundly and thereby giving the spoken language a completely different appearance as compared with the written. The Swedish language, on the other hand, evolved more conservatively in its phonology, but some unstressed morphological suffixes were weakened, losing a consonant or disappearing altogether, while the old forms were retained in writing and in fact restored in pronunciation (so-called "spelling pronunciation") during the 20th century. Icelandic pronunciation has shown a different development, primarily marked by a series of changes of long vowels, including diphthongization. The old spelling conventions were retained, however, and in the 19th century systematized by the introduction of accent marks. As a result, Icelandic is reasonably easy to pronounce from the written word (if the rather complicated pronunciation rules are mastered), but it is difficult to predict the spelling from the pronunciation.

The Norwegian alphabet borrowed most of its spelling conventions from the Danish, but these were modified to better suit Norwegian pronunciation. Even Nynorsk, which was established to counter Danish in Norway, accepted the same graphical conventions as Danish. However, as a result of the policy of bringing both Norwegian varieties closer to popular speech and to each other, more regular and speechlike spellings were introduced in many words. Especially with regard to foreign words, Norway has been more eager to nationalize its spelling than the Swedish and Danish (who have, however, also done so to some extent). An example is the word for concentration, which in Swedish and Danish is spelled koncentration, and in Norwegian konsentrasjon. This "Norwegianization" of international words is accepted in Norway, but when it comes to modern loanwords from English, it has become a controversial issue. Iceland also nationalizes spellings of foreign words, although the Icelandic language tends to reject such words and coins Icelandic neologisms instead. The Faroese spelling is generally conservative, approaching Icelandic and Old Norse and disregarding much of the postmedieval developments in Faroese speech.

Finnish orthography is known for its near-perfect correspondence with standard speech. Quantity is faithfully rendered by a consistent doubling of long consonants and vowels. For example, compare the following verb forms: tulee (meaning "comes"); tuulee ("blows"); tullee ("will probably come"); and tuullee

("will probably blow"). Double characters are always pronounced long. With respect to the Saami languages, they have been written with different orthographies created by foreign (Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish) experts, mainly missionaries or linguists. Only from the 1970s onward were there enough Saami linguists to approach this work, and a pan-Scandinavian Saami cooperation concurrently emerged. In 1978, new, united spelling, containing the special characters mentioned above, replaced the established spellings of North Saami—one valid in Norway and Sweden, and the other in Finland. Other forms of Saami (South Saami, Lule Saami, Enare Saami, etc.) have acquired their own spellings during the last several decades of the 20th century, although these are based on the existing Scandinavian alphabets and express special phonemes with digraphs. The numeral 7, thus, is spelled cieza in North Saami, giet-jav in Lule Saami, tjijhtje in South Saami, and seit-seman in Finnish.

Lars S. Vik0r

See also Iceland; Norway; Saami; Scandinavian Languages; Sweden

Further Reading

Haugen, Einar, The Scandinavian Languages, An Introduction to Their History, London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1976

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