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I worked with a native Danish translator, using a simplified version of IPA for transcribing Danish words into their pronunciation. They pointed out 3 sounds that weren't covered by the system (which was based on IPA), so I am wondering where in IPA these sounds are that I missed.

  • Blade. The "d" is pronounced like a halfway /l/ and /ð/.
  • Kage. "e sound sounds like ø (in Danish) but not fully" they said. "The breathy part is in the beginning. It's like when you get hit in the belly, and try to talk."
  • Måle. Same "e" sounding situation.
  • mand/mænd. were both transcribed as "mAn", where "A" is like in "cat", but that was because of a limitation of the system. They said æ is a different sound from "cat". Even though /æ/ in IPA is the "cat" sound. Words like æble don't sound like "cat", more like /e/, but still it was said to be a different sound to the translators native ear.

The question is, what is the correct IPA for these 3 sounds, the "d" in "blade", the "e" in "kage", and the "æ" in "mænd" or "æble"?

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    The Danish "soft d" is infamously hard to transcribe; my understanding is that it's something like a /ð/ that's lowered, lateralized, and velarized, so you'd just stack those diacritics onto the IPA symbol. (Or just write it as /ð/ and accept the broadness of the transcription.)
    – Draconis
    Jun 28 at 4:52
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    To complicate further, mand and mænd has “stød”, a unique Danish feature, similar but not equal to glottal stop. This mean that the vowel is constricted, like you hold your breath for a fraction of a second after starting the vowel. Stød is, however, not used in all dialects of Danish.
    – Stefan
    Jun 28 at 16:13
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There are quite a few conventions for transcription of Danish, and none of them correspond exactly to the standard IPA because (without employing a ton of diacritics) the IPA doesn't provide enough letters. Wikipedia has a comparison of some of the conventions here, and a description of underlying phonological units and corresponding allophones here.

  • Blade. The "d" is pronounced like a halfway /l/ and /ð/.

This sound is transcribed with "ð" by almost all conventions. It's been described as a "velarized laminal alveolar approximant". A narrow transcription in the standard IPA is [ð̠˕ˠ], or even more narrowly, [ð̻˗˕ˠ].

  • Kage. "e sound sounds like ø (in Danish) but not fully" they said. "The breathy part is in the beginning. It's like when you get hit in the belly, and try to talk."
  • Måle. Same "e" sounding situation.

Kage underlyingly has /jə/, which is now commonly realized as [ɪ]. So the sound in måle is not the same actually.

The sound in måle is transcribed with "ə" by almost all conventions. The actual quality may vary, which is expected given it's a reduced vowel. My impression is that it's higher than English /ə/ in the same position (as in sofa) - which is phonetically near [ɐ] - much like German [ə] and is pretty brief; it sounds to me pretty much like the release of a final consonant in French (compare e.g. mål and måle). So the superscript "ᵊ" may be a handy way to denote the brevity and possible variability. In addition, the schwa here may be fused with /l/ through a process known as schwa-assimilation, resulting in a syllabic consonant, [l̩].

  • mand/mænd. were both transcribed as "mAn", where "A" is like in "cat", but that was because of a limitation of the system. They said æ is a different sound from "cat". Even though /æ/ in IPA is the "cat" sound. Words like æble don't sound like "cat", more like /e/, but still it was said to be a different sound to the translators native ear.

Your informant likely isn't referring to [æ] in standard IPA but to æ in Dania transcription, or [æ] in "normalized" IPA, which is used in Danish books to describe the language but differs significantly from the standard IPA. The sound in mænd and æble is transcribed with æ in Dania and [ɛ] in the normalized IPA and is close to [e] in standard IPA (it's long in æble, by the way). (Normalized [æ] is closer to [ɛ] in standard IPA.) The sound in mand is close to [æ] in standard IPA and is transcribed with a in Dania and [a] in normalized IPA. Again, see the comparison on Wikipedia.

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  • Kage may nominally sometimes be [ɡ̊ʰæ̝ː.ɪ], but in actual speech it’s more likely to be [ɡ̊ʰæ̝ː.æ̝], with a single, reduplicated vowel. Similarly, to most speakers (particularly in younger generations), måle is more likely to have schwa assimilation and be [mɔ̹ː.l̩] with a syllabic lateral and no final schwa. (Also, you missed out mand, whose vowel is usually narrowly transcribed [a̝].) Jun 28 at 6:37
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Oh, you're right about the lateral assimilation! As for the kage thing, I bet you're right but I haven't read anything like it - except Basbøll may have said the height of assimilated /jə/ varies. As for mand, I don't know what you mean. Isn't it the sound "transcribed with a in Dania and [a] in normalized IPA"?
    – Nardog
    Jun 28 at 7:00
  • Oh, I think you’re right, I missed that – I read the entire paragraph as being about mænd. The Dania transcription for the vowel in mand is [a], though, not [æ] (that’s the vowel in mænd)… which I think is what you say at the end of the paragraph, but at the beginning it looks like you’re saying it’s [æ]. That part could probably be worded more clearly, I think. Jun 28 at 7:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Is it clearer now? I never said the vowel in mand was transcribed with æ in Dania.
    – Nardog
    Jun 28 at 7:17
  • I think it was still a bit unclear (and I think you mixed up some of the values of the normalized IPA somewhere, which didn’t help). I took the liberty of editing it quite substantially to make it clearer which parts refer to which sound/words; take a look and see if you disagree with anything. Jun 28 at 7:49
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Regarding blade, kage and måle, I have nothing to add to Nardog’s answer, except to note that among younger speakers, the schwa-assimilation that takes place in kage is more likely to yield what would in standard IPA be transcribed as [ˈɡ̊ʰæ̝ː.æ̝], with the schwa assimilating completely to the preceding vowel. (And also to add that your informant’s description of a simple schwa, requiring belly punches and whatnot, is somewhat fanciful!)

Regarding mand and mænd, a bit of clarification to Nardog’s answer seems in order.

To begin with, if mand and mænd are transcribed with the same vowel, then the system is quite unequivocally wrong, because these are two entirely different vowels.

As Nardog mentions, there are various conventions for transcribing Danish, some of which go against each other. For present purposes, there are four main varieties to deal with: Dania; standard IPA; the ‘normalised’ IPA used, mostly phonemically, in Danish works (such as those by Basbøll and Grønnum, and also in reference works like DDO); and Wikipedia’s ‘IPA for Danish’.

The vowel in mand is [a̝] in fairly narrow standard IPA – that is, it is somewhere in between IPA [a] and [æ]. This sound is transcribed [a] in both Dania and ‘normalised’ IPA, but Wikipedia opts for [æ]. This is the basic Danish vowel that comes closest to the (British) English CAT vowel, standard IPA [a].1

The vowel in mænd is [e] or [e̞] in narrow standard IPA – that is, it is just a tiny bit lower than standard IPA [e], but not much. In Dania, this is transcribed [æ], while ‘normalised’ IPA uses [ε] and Wikipedia uses [e]. This is the basic Danish vowel that comes closest to the (American) English LET vowel.2

The vowel in æble is the same underlying phoneme as in mænd, except long: phonemically, it’s /εː/, and it’s generally transcribed as just the long counterpart to /ε/. Phonetically, it tends to be slightly more open than its short counterpart, between [e̞ː] and [ε̝ː].

 


 

Notes

1 There is a Danish vowel that is narrowly transcribed as standard IPA [a], but it’s not phonemic: it’s the allophone of the phoneme /ε/ (the vowel in mænd, see above) which is found after /r/.

2 For some older speakers, the allophone of /ɛː/ found after /r/ can actually come closer to the LET vowel than this one does, but in most younger people, that allophone has shifted and become much more open and retracted, to the point that many now pronounce it more like [æ̠ː]. And of course, unlike the LET vowel, this allophone is inherently long.

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  • "[a̝] ... is somewhere in between IPA [a] and [æ]" - Source? The diagrams of both conservative and innovative varieties by Brink et al. and Grønnum place it halfway between cardinal [a] and [ɛ], i.e. [æ]. "This is the Danish vowel that comes closest to the (American) English LET vowel." That title belongs to the allophones of /e/ and /ɛː/ after /r/, which is halfway between cardinal [ɛ] and [e], much like the English DRESS vowel. The vowel in mænd is surely too high, especially compared to American DRESS.
    – Nardog
    Jun 28 at 22:50
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    To my ears, all Danish is just æ̝ː.æ̝ æ̝ː.æ̝:æ̝ː.æ̝: æ̝ː.æ̝, with the actual information hidden somewhere in the intonation... Jun 28 at 23:12
  • @Nardog One of the main problems in working with Grønnum (2005 [1998]) is that, although she claims that her main data represents the speech of “people born around 1985”, it doesn’t – at least not anymore. Vowels were changing when she wrote her book, and they’ve continued to change since, and few people born in 1985 recognise their own speech in her text. The ‘innovative’ varieties she describes are in fact quite conservative. That said, Grønnum herself describes the malle vowel as [a̝] (p. 419), while she uses (normalised) [æ] for the sound found in bær as well as the allophone of /e/ → Jun 29 at 9:20
  • → found after /r/. She notes this sound in narrow standard IPA as [ɛ], which is not quite true (at least not anymore) – it is in fact closer to [æ] than to [ɛ]. The post-/r/ allophone of /ɛː/ and /eː/ she does indeed give as /ε̝ː/, but this too is lower in most speakers, closer to regular [ɛː]. I don’t have an available source for these, since my source is Praat measurements made during the course of an acoustic analysis course at the University of Copenhagen, where the aim was explicitly to test Grønnum’s ‘cardinal’ vowel positions. [a̝] was in fact the only one we found to be accurate, → Jun 29 at 9:28
  • → lying about halfway between standard [a] (not found in Danish) and standard [æ] (found in Danish as the post-/r/ allophone of /ɛ/, or at least very nearly). The data was never published except as individual student papers handed in at the time. Acoustically, at least, the mænd vowel is much closer to the American DRESS/LET vowel than either of those, though I admit we didn’t measure a comparison between the two. It is a bit higher, but still closer than the post-/r/ allophone of /e/, which is acoustically completely different. Jun 29 at 9:31
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The best way to approach this problem is to get Hans Basbøll's The Phonology of Danish: he provides good IPA transcriptions of various degrees of minuteness along with spelling.

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  • Unfortunately $275 is out of the budget for answering this question, is there any way you could summarize it? I can't find it for free online. Jun 28 at 4:59

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