Vowels and homonyms

There are many groups of words in the Norwegian language, that can be difficult to tell apart or more importantly difficult to pronounce accurately for non-native speakers. I came up with this sentence last night during our Norwegian class, which illustrates this problem.

Er det lov å lyve om løven i låven? (
Is it permitted to lie about the lion in the barn?)

lov the o as in “of”
lyve the y is like the “e” in eat/beat
løven the ø sounds a bit like the “i” in whirr but a bit longer.
låven the å is a like the “ou” in ought or the “o” in bore, but a bit darker.

Then there are homonyms to keep things interesting. Here is another example from our lesson.

Vi skal løfte møblene opp på loftet. (We will lift the furniture up into the loft)
Du må love meg at du skal lufte moblene (You must promise me that you will air the furniture)
Javel, det er et løfte. (Yes that is a promise)

å løfte = to lift
et loft = a loft/attic     the loft = loftet
et løfte = a promise    the promise = løftet
å lufte = to air

There is no way to differentiate between “å løfte” and “et løfte” except from context. I also found it quite hard to hear the difference between loftet, løfte and lufte. The trailing “t” of loftet is (almost) dropped so all that is left is the vowel sounds to differentiate between loftet and løfte. The word “lufte” while it isn’t a true homonym can still cause confusion to the untrained ear. More so if the sentence is spoken quickly or in dialect.

Of course, being confronted with vowels and homonyms is just part and parcel of learning a language. To be honest, I am glad I don’t have to learn English as a second language given that it is peppered with similar sounding words, spelling exceptions and erratic pronunciation.

5 thoughts on “Vowels and homonyms

  1. Why in English are "allow" and "follow" pronounced so differently, and how do you after a year of practice in Norwegian differentiate single tone words like ånden ("the spirit") and hender ("hands") from their double tone hononyms ånden ("the breath") and hender ("happens")?

  2. Speaking of hononyms, do you know the story Laden Rat Rotten Hut by H.L. Chase? It was in printed in the "Language" section of my venerable Whole Earth Catalogue and the opening paragraph goes like this:

    WANTS PAWN TERM DARE WORSTED LADLE GULL HOE LIFT wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry Putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

    He wrote a whole book, "Anguish Language", apparently unassisted – it's worth looking out… http://www.justanyone.com/allanguish.html has the complete text.

  3. Vi lærte tidlig i norsktimene på skolen at nesten ingen fra utlandet klarte å høre forskjell på bønder og bønner. Stemmer det?

    Det mye som ikke er logisk på norsk, for eksempel at "o" noen ganger uttales som "å", som for eksempel olje. På en annen side, så kan det engelske språket være frustrerende for nordmenn også.

    Jeg har alltid lurt på hvorfor det skrives Leicester, men uttales lɛstər blant annet ;)

  4. Hei Stein,

    bønder og bønner: det er neste umulig å høre forskjell. Jeg har lagd merke til at på språkkurs lærerne overdriver forkjellen så at elever kan høre dem. I daglig muntlig språk forskjellene existerer ikke.

    Leicester vs Cirencester. Morsomt heh?

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