In researching the Danish language, I've read about a series of stops [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊]. What are those? Apparently they are different from the commonplace voiced stops [b d ɡ] and the voiceless stops [p t k] because analysts have gone to the effort of using a voiced letter with a voiceless diacritic. What phenomenon does this represent; some sort of partial voicing?

Danish also has a contrasting series of stops, which at least one source analyzes as [b̥ʰ ɡ̊ʰ] (I'm leaving out the third member because it's different and out of the scope of this question). What are those? How can a partially voiced stop be aspirated? I thought only voiceless stops could be aspirated.

Note: This is not a question about the behavior of Danish stop phonemes. This question is from a purely phonetic standpoint. I'm trying to figure out what sounds these symbols represent, in general and/or specifically in Danish: [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊ b̥ʰ ɡ̊ʰ]

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    This is not going to be easy to answer, without an indication of who claimed this or what words exemplify the distinctions. [b̥ d̥ ɡ̊] vs. [b d ɡ] is a partially phonological claim not a purely phonetic one. You can't assume that "totally unvoiced [b d g]" would be written as [p t k], the [b,p] difference is not only a difference in voicing. I myself use [d̥] to indicate a non-neutralized devoicing of /d/ to something close to /t/ (but distinct), a sound that lacks vocal fold vibration. Danish is a classic case of the abstractness of transcriptions.
    – user6726
    Feb 9, 2020 at 5:36
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    @Ergative Man thanks for creating the "danish" tag. Feb 9, 2020 at 6:06
  • @user6726 I realized I had misunderstood something initially, and have edited the question accordingly. There are only two stop series in question, not three. Unlike what I had written originally, none of the sources list a voiced stop series [b d g], phonetically speaking. Feb 9, 2020 at 6:21
  • @user6726 The linked page gives examples of words. It's a bit convoluted, though. It is a dictionary's explanation of its own pronunciation symbols. Only the rightmost column of the chart is IPA. The symbols I mentioned are found in that column. Feb 9, 2020 at 6:23
  • @San Kauffman you're welcome :) Feb 9, 2020 at 14:40

1 Answer 1


Danish has no voiced plosives but two series of voiceless plosives, aspirated and unaspirated. These are typically transcribed with <p, t, k; b, d, ɡ> rather than the more phonetically representative <pʰ, tʰ, kʰ; p, t, k>, and even when phonetic precision is called for, with <pʰ, tˢ, kʰ; b̥, d̥, ɡ̊> or <b̥ʰ, d̥ˢ, ɡ̊ʰ; b̥, d̥, ɡ̊>.

This is purely conventional; the ring diacritic means they are voiceless, not partially voiceless. I don't know if some realizations of these phonemes may in fact be partially voiceless, but even if so, that's not what is symbolized by the diacritic.

This is because pretty much all modern linguistic description of Danish is influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of Otto Jespersen (1860–1943), who put forth a transcription scheme called Dania, first presented in 1890, which preserved greater correspondence with Danish orthography than with the IPA, which was still in early development.

Dania-influenced IPA transcriptions, like the one used in Den Danske Ordbog, also differ from impressionistic (language-independent) IPA in vowel symbols, with <e> representing a sound more like [ɪ], <æ> representing a sound more like [ɛ], and so on.

Comparisons of Dania, its derivations, and IPA transcriptions with various degrees of narrowness can be found in Hans Basbøll's The Phonology of Danish (2005, OUP), Appendix 1, and on Wikipedia.

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    To be clear, are you saying that the sounds transcribed as [b̥ʰ ɡ̊ʰ b̥ d̥ ɡ̊] are actually all pronounced voiceless: [pʰ kʰ p t k] ? Feb 14, 2020 at 4:35
  • Yes. It's just a pure convention.
    – Nardog
    Feb 14, 2020 at 8:07
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    I just tried pronouncing to myself some simple words like pige, bøger, brød, kød, god, ko etc. etc. and I am having a hard time describing all of what I hear as voiceless. Feb 14, 2020 at 8:32
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    The difference is in the voice onset time.
    – Nardog
    Feb 14, 2020 at 8:52
  • partially voiced stops are described for other languages, too
    – vectory
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:21

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