Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Transcribing Scandinavian Song Texts into IPA

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Transcribing Scandinavian Song Texts into IPA

Article excerpt

Challenges when aiming for a higher degree of uniformity in the IPA transcription of the three Scandinavian languages: Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

[Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish] all have great strength, subtlety, and flexibility and all have been the vehicle of great works of literature. The languages of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Hans Christian Andersen deserve to be better known than they are.1


In recent years, there has been an increase in scholarship regarding the phonetics and singing diction of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish, although much of it has focused on singing in Swedish. Resulting articles and books often include a collection of song texts transcribed into the IPA by non-native diction teachers and/or singers, some of whom are of Scandinavian descent. Resources published by Scandinavian phoneticians and diction pedagogues are few, and with the growing interest in Nordic vocal repertoire outside Scandinavia, it is crucial that non-native singers and teachers have access to more detailed resources on pronunciation produced by native singers and teachers.

In the existing resources on Scandinavian singing diction, there are inconsistencies in chosen IPA symbols and differences in transcription presentation. There is no denying that systemizing the transcription of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish is a challenging task, requiring close collaboration between native speakers of each language; perhaps this is why native speakers of the Scandinavian languages have not published many works on the subject.

The authors of the present article argue that, in establishing a system of transcribing the vowels and consonants of Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish into the IPA, the following criteria should be met:

1. The process involves the cooperation of native speakers from all three countries.

2. The working group of native speakers consists of phoneticians and singing/diction teachers.

3. Non-native singers and teachers who will need and use this material will provide feedback during this systemizing process to result in clearer transcriptions.

4. Established and familiar transcription traditions form the foundation of this work, and since these languages are Germanic in nature, the standard IPA transcription practices for German seem ideal.

Since there is currently no apparent way to present sounds within and across the boundaries of these three languages, decisions regarding transcription must include consideration of the following: simplification of the system for application to singing as opposed to speech, accuracy, phonetic/phonological features, singing techniques, and transcription traditions.


Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish are historically related to Old Norse and are Germanic in nature; therefore, these Scandinavian languages share many structural and grammatical characteristics. Despite inherent (and apparent) similarities when written, however, these three Scandinavian languages differ significantly in regard to pronunciation. World languages such as French, German, Italian, and English (British and American) have a long tradition of a standardized pronunciation that has been described in phonetics books and transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). To a large degree the pronunciation of these languages in classical singing has been presented in diction books for singers with transcriptions of a selection of song texts. Singers unfamiliar with many foreign languages may profit immensely from these transcriptions, assuming they know how to read and interpret IPA. English speakers do not learn to speak many foreign languages, and this likely is the reason that teaching and learning IPA is so widespread in the preparation of singers in English-speaking countries. Unlike Italian, French, German, or English, the three Scandinavian languages do not possess a fully standardized system of transcribing words into IPA for singing. …

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