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Review of  The Phonology of Norwegian

Reviewer: Alexandra Livanova
Book Title: The Phonology of Norwegian
Book Author: Gjert Kristoffersen
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Subject Language(s): Norwegian Bokmål
Issue Number: 12.826

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Gjert Kristoffersen, (2000), The Phonology of Norwegian,
Oxford University Press, 366 pp. GBP 60.

Alexandra Livanova, University of St. Petersburg, Russia

Kristoffersen's book, which is a part of the Oxford
University Press series on the phonology of the world's
languages, uses its almost four hundred pages to the full.
The twelve chapters it consists of cover all the facets in
the phonology of Norwegian and give its complete
theoretical overview.

1. INTRODUCTION gives a full account of the peculiar
language political situation of Norwegian for those not
specializing in just Norwegian (and such are the majority),
making the following contents comprehensible for all
interested in the Norwegian phonology without being
specialists in Norwegian. For the specialists in Norwegian
it will be in its place to mention that Kristoffersen
grounds his research mostly on urban varieties of Standard
East Norwegian, but also takes into account different
dialect data. It provides also a historic account of
earlier research, also mentioning the purely phonetical
works. Transcription conventions declared in the
Introduction built on IPA, which should not be a sensation
but a norm if you do not happen to be acquainted with the
lot of Norwegian descriptions of Norwegian phonetics
competing in usage of their own symbols and signs (mostly
based on Norwegian orthographic conventions). I happen to,
so I wholeheartedly greet Kristoffersen's approach.

clear picture of phoneme inventory in stressed and
unstressed syllables and their phonetic realization, their
formant structure included (which is very positive because
very little has been published on that topic) as well as
phonological structure of Norwegian. Disputed as the
phonemic status of [ae] and central vowels are discussed,
as well as quantitative alternations induced by stress

3. PHONOTACTIC CONSTRAINTS are discussed on the basis of
word morpheme structure. Roots and affixes are dealt with
in detail. Not all problem areas are found the answer for,
but all problem areas seem to be mentioned; thus it is the
most complete description of the domain we have met with.

4. WORD PHONOLOGY. This chapter deals with phonological
(but not prosodic) features which interact with morphology.
Its theoretical base is lexical phonology as developed
since Kiparsky (1982). It can be argued that the primary
claim - that morphological and phonological rules interact
- has given growth to a lot of theories, and many of them
are of earlier date; the material being the same, they vary
very unsubstantially; but then again, the others not being
any better, this one is not any worse. Why not? The most
interesting part though seems to be the implication of
laryngeal contrasts (as f.eks. proposed in Lombardi 1995)
for the Norwegian, with a conclusion that in competing
basic features "aspiration" and "voice" it is the first one
that is relevant for capturing the phonological structure
behind laryngeal activity. Very thorough is presented of
retroflex consonants (this is a crucial point in for
Norwegian phonology), e-lowering and some other minor

5. SYLLABLE STRUCTURE. This is a significant issue for
Norwegian where syllable weight plays an important role in
stress realization. The chapter begins with treatment of
syllable structure in general, discussing different
approaches, and stressing the sonority hierarchy as a
feature determining intrasyllabic phonotactics and
syllabification rules in the sense of Clements (1990). The
adapted model of the prosodic hierarchy used in the book is
as follows: prosodic/phonological word; foot; syllable;
mora. Then the approach chosen is applied to the Norwegian.
The most capturing part appears to be the one dealing with
moraic or geminate interpretation of final single
consonants following short vowels (pp. 118-120). In this
chapter though, only the unmarked constraints on syllable
structure in simplex words, are discussed. The marked
structures are extensively discussed in Chapter 8. The
analyses presented in the chapter allows for quite a few
exceptions ("deviant syllable types conditioned by
morphology", p. 139) dealt with later in Chapter 8; maybe
it could be advisable to mention alternative disyllabic
forms for imperative of the verbs whose root ends in
obstruent + sonorant here for those interested in the
widely discussed phenomenon just to see that the author has
no intention to omit the subject at all.

contradictory topics in the Norwegian phonology, and once
again Kristoffersen gives an example of fair and full
account of previous research, and beautifully logical
substantiation for his own theory based on Metrical Theory,
arguing with elegance the other published metrical analysis
of Norwegian stress, Rice (1999). Kristoffersen argues in
this chapter that two foot-building rules are necessary to
account for syllable prominence in simplex words (Left Edge
Foot Assignment and Main Stress Rule). He claims that
"stress placement is quantity sensitive in Norwegian, but
independent of vowel length and consonant gemination" (p.
154); "the location of stress can be predicted almost
solely by means of a moraic trochee placed at the right
word edge" (p.157). We are sure that this claim will arouse
many a competing paper on the subject, multiplying the rows
of new phonological analyses. The author does not avoid
difficult matters and does not try for any price to find a
synchronic base for all observed processes, but points back
to some diachronic explanations. That is positive too; we
should not press the reality into our schemes but apprehend
that it has built itself through centuries.

7. CYCLIC STRESS ASSIGNMENT handles the question of stress
placement in morphologically complex words, based mostly on
the principle discussed in Booij (1994, 1995) and some
other works, and rejecting existence of additional lexical
levels. It is demonstrated that The Main Stress Rule (vowel
length and consonant gemination being the only observable
phonetic cues of secondary stress) applies cyclically,
triggered by suffixes of mostly foreign origin. Stresses in
compounds are demoted by the Compound Stress Rule with its
two versions (marked and unmarked) showing on the cyclic
level where all and the phonological effects of the
morphological rules are accounted for. The whole chapter is
crystal clear in the argumentation; I would like to stress
the passage about the unstressed be- prefix in verbs
(pp.180-181) that also implies witty explanations for some
phenomena in Norwegian sociolects (e.g. the possibility of
initial primary stress in 'betong and not in be'tone).

8. CYCLIC SYLLABIFICATION The chapter deals with two
problematic aspects in Norwegian phonology: closed syllable
shortening in VC-final stems and syllabification of
sonorants. The analysis uses approaches in It� (1988) and
Rubach and Booij (1990), but the conclusions are rather
deviating, and are inspired also by study of different
sonority levels as they trigger different syllabification

9. TONAL ACCENTS in Norwegian are possibly one of the most
discussed and most controversial area of the language's
phonetics and phonology. The scope of literature would take
as many pages as there are in the chapter under review.
Kristoffersen chooses not to discuss different meanings but
to follow his own path as presented in previous chapters.
Some of decisions presented could be disputed, as tone
distribution in particle compounds of verbs and nouns, but
they are consistent anyway. For non-native speakers of
Norwegian this contribution is especially priceless it adds
lots of data to those available through the three
pronouncing dictionaries of Norwegian.

10. INTONATION AND RHYTHM. This chapter first handles the
relationship between tonal accent and intonation. The
result is that with the two accentual melodies, lexically
determined and connected with the initial part of the
utterance, contrasts in intonational meaning must be
expressed at other places, which accounts for the widely
parodied Norwegian intonational rise (change of intonation
caused by particles and negation; "calling contour", etc.).
As for rhythm, the syllabic trochee is proposed as a
prosodic template.

investigated in Norwegian. The chapter deals with different
theoretical approaches based on research in other
languages; a lot of important observations and provisory
decisions are given, but the problem is still there. The
chapter contains a lot of new useful data as regards
Norwegian material.

12. ORTHOGRAPHIC CONVENTIONS Even this least of all
interesting issue is dealt with on the same high level as
the previous chapters.

The work is carried out within the mainstream of Lexical
Phonology; one also finds some applications of Optimality
Theory. Some could find it strange the author not choosing
the latter, now so popular approach, and not giving too
many explanations for his choice. I would like to stress
that it seems like some of us tend to grab any new theory,
while it mostly concerns difference in terms. If the
approach chosen allows for non-contradictory successive
decisions (and it is absolutely the case), it is much
better then indulging in popular theories.

One more good thing to be mentioned about the whole work,
is that the author does not escape discussions, and seeks
to apply every prominent recent research result or
theoretical approach lanced by the others. I would like to
stress once more that the book presents the most complete
treatment of Norwegian phonology then ever, and is in
itself a thing a university teacher of Norwegian has only
dreamt of. The book treats such a tremendous scope of
problems, we have to read it thoroughly a couple of times
to present some criticism on the same high scholarly level.
Adding such criticism would have made this review too

Anyway, as a representative for St.Petersburg
Scandinavianists, I could wish that the works of such
individuals as Jurij Kusmenko, Yury Kleiner and Anatoly
Lieberman were taken into account too. We are in a
situation in Russia that only a little part of our works
appear in English/German, but also those few works would
for sure be of interest for Western Scandinavianists. The
book being theoretically loaded to that extent, it was
obviously a difficult task for the typesetters. A very
funny misprint on p.320: Norw. moenje "minium (paint)" is
translated as "minimum", and on p.324 we see a new part of
speech: "madjective". In the end, I would like to
congratulate Gjert Kristoffersen upon his splendid work and
thank him for the pleasure of reading and rereading it.

BOOIJ, G. 1994.Lexical Phonology: A Review. Lingua e stile
39: 525-55.

BOOIJ, G. 1995. The Phonology of Dutch. Oxford.

CLEMENTS, G.N.1990. The Role of the Sonority Cycle in Core
Syllabification. Kingston and Beckman (eds.) Papers in
laboratory phonology I. Cambridge, 283-333.

KIPARSKY, P. 1982. Lexical morphology and phonology The
Linguistic society of Korea (ed.), Linguistics in the
Morning Calm. Selected Papers from SICOL-1981, 3-91.

KLEINER, YURY. 1999. Syllables, Morae and Boundaries.
Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics and
Semiotic Analysis 4: 1-17.

KLEINER, YURY. 1997. The Privileged Position a Quarter
Century Later. NOWELE 31-32 (Germanic Studies in Honour of
Anatoly Liberman): 153-73.

IT�, J. 1988. Syllable Theory in Prosodic Phonology. New

KUSMENKO, J.; RIESSLER, M. 2000. Traces of Sami-:
Scandinavian Language Contact in Scandinavian Dialects. //
Gilbers et al. (eds.), Languages in Contact, Amsterdam (in

LIBERMAN, A. North-Western European Language Evolution
(NOWELE) 31-32. Odense, 157-73.

LOMBARDI, L. 1995. Laryngeal Features and Laryngeal
Neutralization. New York: Garland.

RICE, C. 1999. Norwegian. H. van der Hulst (ed.), Word
Prosodic Systems in the Languages of Europe, Berlin, 545-

RUBACH, J. and G. BOOIJ 1990. Syllable structure assignment
in Polish. Phonology 7: 121-58.

Alexandra Livanova, associate professor, Scandinavian
Department, University of St. Petersburg, Russia, has
responsibility for teaching spoken and written Norwegian on
all educational levels, and for theoretical courses in
Norwegian phonology, semantics, lexicology, culture and
translation related problems. The two first mentioned are
the main interests (in Semantics - secondary functions of
locative terms as "opp/ned" etc.; in Phonetics,
contemporary changes within articulation of Norwegian).