My blog

I said shhhh!

Last week I was debating with friends whether there were 5 or 7 continents. After that fruitless debate, we then switched over to debating which language was the most difficult to learn. One was arguing that Polish would be up there on the list (because of the number of noun conjugations) while another friend was arguing that Chinese was considered the most difficult. We also discussed the Pirahã language and how they can’t count.

This all got me thinking about how many letter combinations produce the “sh” sound in Norwegian. It’s one of things that I think is a bit crazy about the language. There are actually two different “sh” sounds: “sj” and “kj”. The “sj” sound is the same as the “sh” sound in English (e.g. in the word “she”). The “kj” sound doesn’t really exist in English, though the start of the word “huge” comes close. (In some Norwegian dialects, the “kj” sound is pronounced more like “tch”.)

Last week I counted about 6 different letter combinations that produce the “sj” or “kj” sound, but when I poked around the net, I found a couple I had missed. I now count 9 different ways:

sk followed by an “i” or a “y” - sky (cloud)
skj - skje (spoon)
sj - sju (seven)
kj - kjole (skirt)
ki - kiosk (kiosk)
ky - kylling (chicken)
tj - tjue (twenty)
rs - norsk (Norwegian)
s followed by l [most dialects] - slott (castle)

There’s been some discussion that the “kj” sound is slowly being replaced by the “sh” sound and that within a generation, the “kj” sound will no longer exist in Norwegian. I’m not sure if it will be going away that quickly, but if it does, we’ll have some problems counting. The words sjuende (seventh) and tjuende (twentieth) are only distinguished by the difference in the “sj” and “kj” sounds. Sjuende is pronounced shoo-end-eh while tjuende is pronounced hu-end-eh (think of the first part of the word “huge”).

So does that make Norwegian the 7th most difficult language in the world ... or was it the 20th?