Swedish has quite a peculiarity that I haven't found (yet) in other languages. There are some spellings that are pronounced all the same way. Currently the number of these spellings is disputed, but it seems that a minimum list was compiled. From this section in the Swedish Alphabet wikipedia article:

Garlén (1988) gives a list of 22 spellings (⟨ch⟩, ⟨che⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨ge⟩, ⟨gi⟩, ⟨ige⟩, ⟨j⟩, ⟨je⟩, ⟨sc⟩, ⟨sch⟩, ⟨sh⟩, ⟨shi⟩, ⟨si⟩, ⟨sj⟩, ⟨sk⟩, ⟨skj⟩, ⟨ssi⟩, ⟨ssj⟩, ⟨stg⟩, ⟨sti⟩, ⟨stj, ⟨ti⟩), but many of them are confined to only a few words, often loan words, and all of them can correspond to other sounds or sound sequences as well.

But like I said others say the list is much longer. Not only the number is under a dispute, however, since also the classification of the sound itself is "under fire".

From the Wikipedia article about the Sj-sound, represented with the IPA /ɧ/, has many classifications. From the same article:

The International Phonetic Association describes [ɧ] as "simultaneous [ʃ] and [x]", but this claim is disputed among phoneticians, including at least one former president of the IPA. Other descriptive labels include voiceless palatal-velar fricative, voiceless dorso-palatal velar fricative, voiceless postalveolar and velar fricative, or voiceless coarticulated velar and palatoalveolar fricative. The closest English phoneme is /ʃ/ ⟨sh⟩.

What is the current situation? In other words, was a consensus reached? I understand this is hard, but who knows. Also, what are the most important papers/resources about this topic?

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    so the Swedish "h", so to speak has 22 allophonic utterances? interesting!
    – nb1
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 7:14
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    @NikhilBellarykar Some say even more... But I don't know all of Swedish spellings to give an opinion on that! I thought it only was sk, sj and another or 2 spellings, not that much. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 9:15
  • This is the first time I hear about this dispute. However, I do understand that it can be kinda confusing. The "sound" can actually vary depending on the dialect a person speaks as well. The /ʃ/ can be for the average Swede a /ʃ/ but for a Swedish native speaker in Finland that can be a t͡s. Indeed the closest sound in English is [ʃ] like "shaft", but the [ɧ]-like sound in common dialects has no equivalent in English.
    – Midas
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 22:49
  • @Midas The /ʃ/ phoneme doesn’t correspond to [ts] in any Fenno-Swedish variant that I’ve ever heard. The most common realisation is [ʃ] or [ʂ], both of which are fairly uncommon in most of Sweden outside the north. Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 12:59
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    @Midas Just to be clear, when you talk about the /ʃ/ phoneme, you mean the ‘sje’ sound, right? So you’re saying that Fenno-Swedish speakers pronounce sju sjösjuka sjuksjöterskor as something like [t͡su̵ː t͡sœːt͡su̵ːka t͡su̵ːkt͡sœːtεɾskoɾ], with [t͡s] being the same sound(s) as found in hits or beats in English? I can confidently say that I have never heard that from any Fenno-Swedish speakers, whether their native language was Finnish or Swedish. It sounds completely foreign and alien to me. The /ɕ/ phoneme (as in köra) is commonly realised as [t͡ɕ] or [t͡ʃ] in Fenno-Swedish, → Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 11:33

3 Answers 3


The Handbook of the IPA (1999, and online here) does not indicate any problem with this symbol (and it's hard to see how it could be in dispute, being a symbol with an arbitrarily-defined value). [ɧ] is clearly defined by the IPA as a pulmonic articulation comprising simultaneous [x] and [ʃ]. I think the dispute is as to whether or not this symbol is an accurate representation of the Swedish phoneme commonly written as /sj/. This phoneme varies greatly in its realisation, both across dialects of Swedish and between the allophones within each dialect.

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    So the Wikipedia articles are in part wrong? In this case the problem is not the classification of the sound, but rather the IPA symbol itself?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 10:01
  • @Alenanno I don't understand how the problem could be with the symbol? As an IPA symbol it represents the articulation/phone that it represents and nothing more. But if the symbol is used to represent a phoneme, then there's a problem, but the problem is with the choice of symbol, not with the symbol itself. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 1:20
  • yeah I think that's what I meant, sorry. My wording was not clear. You said that they don't agree this is the best symbol to represent that particular sound in Swedish... Is it because this symbol is already used for other sounds in other languages and so it might be confusing?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 9:59
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    @Alenanno No, IPA symbols (as phonetic symbols) represent specific phones and so can be found (or not) in any number of languages. But IPA symbols can also be used to represent phonemes, and this is where there can be dispute. Phonemes are an abstraction across a set of phones, but one symbol has to be chosen to represent that phoneme. Its my understanding that in Swedish there has been uncertainty as to the phonetic realisation of the phoneme sometimes spelled /sj/, so it's not certain what's the best IPA symbol to use to represent the phoneme. Commented Feb 4, 2012 at 2:13
  • /ɧ/ is a phonemic label only, phonetically this sound in Swedish is [ʃ], a velar fricative/approximant ([x]/|ɰ]) w/or without labialization or a bilabial fricative/approximant [ɸ]. In my experience the velar and bilabial phones can occur in free variation within the speech of the same individual. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 22:09

The vast majority of Swedes represent this phoneme as [x], but there are a variety of other phonetic renderings as well. In addition, there are something like 40 ways to spell it, especially in foreign words.

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    Very, very few Swedes represent this phoneme as [x]. Essentially, the only Swedes I’ve ever heard pronounce it like that are people who speak Swedish as a second language, particularly those whose first language is from the Balkans or the Middle East (two groups that make up a sizeable portion of non-native Swedish speakers). I don’t recall ever hearing a single native speaker pronounce it as [x]. Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 7:32

There's an issue with the way IPA describes /ɧ/, one of the descriptions is/x͡ʃ/, see for a good overview: The article: "/ɧ/ in Amdo Tibetan: Descriptive and Historical Approaches" / Hiroyuki SUZUKI et al: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/onseikenkyu/23/0/23_76/_pdf


Issue 1: If we take /ɧ/, to indeed be the sj/7-sound used in Stockholm, it's not well described by /x͡ʃ/ - which is the co-articulation IPA manuals suggest. Better descriptions of the 7-sound - is /xʷ/ .. /xᶹ/ or /çʷ/ .. /çᶹ/ , or /xʍ/; The Symbol /ɧ/ is take to describe the Swedish sound, but on the other hand it's describes as a co-articulation of /x/ and /ʃ/, and nobody describes the sj/7-sound this way.

Issue 2: sj/7-sound varies by geographical dialects:

Often There's a confusion between what's called the Sj-ljudet or 7-ljudet (Sj-sound, 7-sound: "sju-ljudet" /ɧʉː/-sound), and /ɧ/, which is the main realisation right now. The 7-Sound eing realised in different regions using different sounds: Indeed as /ɧ/ (central) /ʂ/ .. /ʃ/ (north) /ɕ/ (finland).

So the IPA symbol, /ɧ/, should not describe how this sound is being pronounced across dialects, there's different symbols for that, I think that's where the confusion comes from, writing Swedish words in IPA for central Swedish, and then, talking about how to pronounce them in different dialects (and then saying *"/ɧ/ is pronounced as /ʂ/ in the north")

For dialect studies in Sweden, the LMA (Landsmålsalfabetet), is still being using AFAIK; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_Dialect_Alphabet, formed by Johan August Lundell in the 19th century

Issue 3: there's various orthographic combinations currently pronounced as /ɧ/ in the Stockholm dialect. This is an issue with Swedish orthography, which keeps etymological information, this is an issue with the current orthography, nothing to do with neither the IPA-symbol, description, dialects, etc. The most common ways to write it are: ⟨sj⟩u ⟨sk⟩ör ⟨skj⟩orta ⟨stj⟩ärna, and in loanword-spelling sta⟨ti⟩on, pen⟨si⟩on, ⟨ge⟩ni, ⟨ch⟩oklad,

Is a spelling reform a good idea? Would you prefering reading ɧoklad, staɧon ɧärna, ɧu? It's not a bad letter as such.

See also: https://www.reddit.com/r/linguistics/comments/o268qg/so_whats_the_deal_with_%C9%A7/

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    "If we take /ɧ/, to indeed be the sj/7-sound used in Stockholm" why would we do this? That symbol is defined by the IPA as a simultaneous velar postalveolar voiceless fricative, i.e. /x͡ʃ/. Whether that happens to be the sj/7-sound used in Stockholm is a question to be determined by experiment, not an axiomatic truth. That it was intended to cover the sj/7-sound used in Stockholm is a motivation for the definition, but one it can have failed to achieve
    – Tristan
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 13:36
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    Your second issue is not really an issue; it only becomes one if you conflate phonemes and phones, which you seem to be doing here. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, “/ɧ/ is pronounced as [ʂ] in the north” (apart from the fact that it’s an oversimplification) – one part is phonemic, the other phonetic. Dialects where /ɧ/ and /ɕ/ merge fully (so sköra and köra are homophones) arguably have no /ɧ/ phoneme at all, but aside from those, the phoneme is the same across dialects, regardless of its actual pronunciation. Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:05

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