Phonological history of Swedish

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Phonological history of Swedish

Post by HinGambleGoth » 24 Aug 2016 13:03

Inspired by this ... of_English, i felt like a swedish counterpart would be nice, most sources on this subject are in Swedish and i will give an English version of the general developments.

I will use the periodization used in Swedish literature since that is the system employed in the main sources.

Rsv "Runsvenska" Runic Swedish/East Norse
Äfsv "Äldre fornsvenska" early old Swedish
Yfsv "Yngre fornsvenska" late old Swedish
Änysv "Äldre nysvenska" early new Swedish
Ynysv "yngre nysvenska" late new Swedish
Nusv "Nusvenska" modern Swedish

I will start with Runic east Norse, this is the language of the Viking age and early medieval scandinavia, and it's developments up until the introduction of the Latin alphabet into what is now Sweden

Roughly 800 - 1200

Older short i and u in short syllable words like sunu => sun and sitiR => sitr are lost, ending the syncope period

East Norse monodiphthongization, æi => ē, au = ø̄, øy = ø̄ But some northern and Finland-Swedish dialects don't participate.

Rhotacism, R a voiced presumably palatalized sibilant from Germanic z* merges with r
høyRa => hø̄ra
It is, however frequently dropped altogether, as in a-stem plurals like drængiaR = drængia this more often in the southern dialects.

h is lost before consonants, hringR => ringer, hlaupa = lø̄pa, hnefi = næfi

æ from i-umlaut of a merges with older short e, the result was most likely [ɛ]

U-umlaut is lost and ǫ either merges with o or ø, ǫl => øl

w-breaking, short i becomes iu when a w is present in the next syllable, sinka = siunka

a vowel, with highly variable spelling probably a short shwa, is inserted before syllabic r. hæstr = hæster

βn = > mn as in hrafn = ramn

ē = > ǣ, but some dialects show ē = > ia

Phonemic nasal vowels are lost in this period, but the details are unclear, they are still found in Övdalian.

To be continued, the next step will be the important old Swedish period with its vowel shifts and simplification of the quantity system.
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Re: Phonological history of Swedish

Post by HinGambleGoth » 30 Mar 2017 15:09

This is the development of the Swedish vowel system, roughly from 1300 to 1500, some mergers started later and are still ongoing in the dialects, standard Swedish merged /ɞ:/ and /o:/ centuries ago and it is mostly found in western Sweden today. Otherwise, the vowel system has remained remarkably stable since then, but there are dialectal tendencies to lowering, merging and diphthongization.


o: = u: bo
u: = ʉ: hus
a: = o: ar = år
ø: = ø: høgher = hög
y: = y: by
i: = i: vir = vi
e: = e: sten
ɛ: = ɛ: hær = här

Long vowels were shortened before long consonants, most clusters and /m/. Shortened /e/ has merged with /ɛ/ in most dialects.

The vowel /ʉ:/ from /u:/ was a central vowel and not a front one like in modern standard Swedish. This central pronunciation is still heard in Finland and Dalarna Swedish.

/orC/ lengthened some time before the back vowel shift so words like ord, gjorde and nord all got /u:/.

A few instances of Swedish å come from short /a/ that lengthened early in some words, like åker , åter and åka


o = ɞ stock
u = ɵ hund
a = a land
ø = ø (:) øl = öl
ur/l = o (:) dulder = dold
ir/l = e (:) hirþi = herde
yr/l = ø: (:) fylghia = följa
y = y ø trygg
i = i e hitta
ɛ = ɛ þæn = den

The vowel /ɞ/ has merged with /o/ in most dialects, this was complete in Mälardalen by the 19th century.

Shortened /e/ or lowered OEN /i/ has merged with /ɛ/ in most dialects, this merger is still ongoing.

Short /i/ and /y/ often became more open i some words, and everywhere in the west. Short /ø/ came from u-umlaut and is quite rare and often lengthened later.


o = ɞ: kol
u = ʉ: burin = buren
a = ɑ: baka
ø = ø: gøra = göra
y = ø: kyn = kön
i = e: liva = leva
ɛ = ɛ: bæra = bära

The vowel /ɞ:/ has merged with /o:/ in most dialects. In the Svealand dialects, that would later become the standard, lengthening was stopped by voiceless consonants that instead became geminates, but they still lowered the root vowel and /a/ was lengthened regardless.

The quality of lengthened /a/ varies between /a:/, /ɑ:/ and even /ɒ:/ depending on dialect. It also lenghtened before /rn/ but that happened after the back vowel shift so the result wasn't /o:rn/ but /ɑ:rn/

Short /o/ alternates with /u/ due to different results of a-umlauts in the dialects.


ja (:) = jɛ (:) hialpa = hjälpa
jo (:) = jø (:) miol = mjöl
jo:rC = ju:rC hiorter = hjort
ju: = jʉ: y: smiuga = smyga
arð = o:rd harþer = hård
ang = oŋ langer = lång
ald = ol: halda = hålla
orn = u:rn horn

The shift /ju:/ = /y:/ only happens after clusters. The glide /j/ eventually assimilated any singular coronal consonant before it and disappeared, elsewhere like in sm(j)ör, sn(j)ö or sn(j)äll it was elided.

/jo/ lengthened before rC some time prior to the back vowel shift and before the fronting.


u = o
i = e
a = a/ä

In most old Swedish dialects, the three unstressed vowels were pronounced more open after heavy syllables, a phenomena called "Vowel balance", this was eventually generalized. In some dialects, particularly Götamål, all final vowels where reduced to schwa much like in other contemporary Germanic languages, this is considered highly nonstandard today but was common in the Renaissance era scribal language..


Some other marked sound changes during this period is th-stopping, the sound [θ] merged with [t] around 1400 but the (somewhat etymologically confused) spelling in words with <th> was left well into the 18th century.

/ɣ/ was assimilated before /j/, høghia = höja, fylghia = följa

/t/ in unstressed syllables was first lenited to /ð/, and later dropped out. This only happened in the central dialects and didn't affect words where the /t/ was a part of the root, an exception being thæt that became modern Swedish det /dɛ:/. Good examples of this change are the neuter participles and definite articles, but the /t/ has returned in words like huset recently through influence from southwestern dialects and the spelling.

Likewise, consonants in lightly stressed pronouns and words became lenited and often dropped, hence taka = tagha = ta
and iak = iagh = jag /jɑ:/.

The cluster /rð/ became a retroflex flap [ɽ] in most of Sweden and Norway, it merged with older short /l/ but the spelling didn't change noticeably. In the southern dialects the dental fricative simply dropped leaving /r/.

The different masculine and feminine articles and adjectives had short and long /n/ respectively, long masculine /en:/ was preserved but feminine /en/ was lowered to /ãn/ and later dropped the nasal dropped leaving /a/, hence bokin = boka and en = e This also applied to neuter plural articles so barnin = barna.
This change is common but has been leveled out in standard Swedish leaving only common gender -en.

By this time, around the printing of the first Swedish bible, the foundations of the Swedish orthography were pretty solidified and would not change drastically. But spoken and written language continued to diverge and I will tackle the assibilation of velar stops before front vowels, yod-cluster reductions and some other things like retroflex consonants next time.
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