Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns, just like Swedish. They are used to differentiate two-syllable words with otherwise identical pronunciation. For example, in many East Norwegian dialects, the word “bønder” (farmers) is pronounced using tone 1, while “bønner” (beans or prayers) uses tone 2. Though the differences in spelling occasionally allow the words to be distinguished in written language, in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike, since written Norwegian has no explicit accent marks. In most eastern low-tone dialects, accent 1 uses a low flat pitch in the first syllable, while accent 2 uses a high, sharply falling pitch in the first syllable and a low pitch in the beginning of the second syllable. In both accents, these pitch movements are followed by a rise of intonational nature (phrase accent), the size (and presence) of which signals emphasis/focus and which corresponds in function to the normal accent in languages that lack lexical tone, such as English. That rise culminates in the final syllable of an accentual phrase, while the utterance-final fall that is so common in most languages is either very small or absent.
There are significant variations in pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary. The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a “singing” quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.
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