Norwegian preaspiration in traditional and modern sources

January 12, 2018

13th Forum of Germanic Language Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Categories:  Laryngeal phonology North Germanic Historical phonology

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In this paper I survey traditional descriptions of Norwegian dialects with particular attention to their discussion of voiceless stop preaspiration, and conclude that it is highly probable preaspiration has been consistently under-reported in these sources. As surveyed in detail by Pétur Helgason (2002), preaspiration in Norwegian has been reported most prominently for northern Gudbrandsdalen (Ross 1907; Horne 1917), Rogaland (Oftedal 1947; Wolter 1965), and for Senja by Iversen (1913). To Helgason’s list should be added Vestvågøya (Elstad 1982) and contact varieties in Northern Norway (Jahr 2008). Other varieties, by implication, lack preaspiration, and it is usually treated as characteristic of most mainland North Germanic varieties.

I survey the results of recent empirical studies. Pétur Helgason (2002) has shown that preaspiration is widespread in mainland varieties; in particular, he has demonstrated that it is pervasive, albeit variable, in Central Standard Swedish. Preaspiration has also been shown to exist in Trøndelag (Moxness 1998; van Dommelen 1998; van Dommelen, Holm & Koreman 2011; Ringen & van Dommelen 2013), Dalane (Tengesdal 2015), and Oslo (Allen 2016). Finally, I briefly present the results of my own instrumental study demonstrating the pervasiveness of preaspiration in speakers from both Rogaland and Northern Norway.

I argue that this situation is less likely to be due to language change, and more likely to reflect fieldworkers’ lack of expectation to find preaspiration: for instance, Elstad (1982) notes preaspiration for Vestvågøya where Christiansen (1933) does not mention it for the neighbouring island of Gimsøya; Tengesdal (2015) directly contradicts Oftedal’s (1947) impressionistic claims — even though the same author correctly identified preaspiration in Scottish Gaelic (Oftedal 1956). I compare these findings to the recent discussion by Kristoffersen (2016) of the late discovery of the lack of tonal contrasts in rural dialects around Bergen.


About me

I’m Pavel Iosad, and I'm a Lecturer in Theoretical Phonology in the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. ¶ You can always go to the start page to learn more.



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