General Question

troubleinharlem's avatar

Why can't Scandinavians pronounce the letter 'w'?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7976points) November 18th, 2010

This is a question that my mom asked me to ask for her language class – does anyone know why the letter w is not pronounced?

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20 Answers

Jude's avatar

I’m not sure about the Scands.. The Dutch pronounce “W’ like “V”. A good friend of mine’s last name was Wezenbeek and her Mom always said “Vezenbeek”

deni's avatar

If you never learn to make a certain sound as a kid sometimes you can’t make it as an adult. Like those tribes in Africa that use the clicking and clucking….they’re just different sounds. We have no need for those sounds so we can’t make them. Maybe the same thing?

DominicX's avatar

It’s not that they can’t. Every human is capable of articulating the sounds in any language; it’s just difficult for people to make certain sounds that do not appear in their language. Scandinavian languages do not contain the /w/ sound to my knowledge, so they pronounce it with the closest pronunciation to it, the /v/ sound usually. It’s the same thing for English’s /th/ and the /dh/ sound becoming /s/ and /z/ in many foreign accents.

squirbel's avatar

When you do not learn a syllabary as a child, you have difficulty as an adult creating those sounds. If you introduce a child to the various syllabaries of the world as a young toddler, they will be able to pronounce those languages later in life, when they set their mind to learning them.

Scandinavians have trouble pronouncing our “W”; Koreans have trouble with our “F”; Japanese have trouble with our “L”; and just as we Americans have trouble with Koreans soft gutteral ㄱ which sounds like a k and a g at the same time, or the ㅍwhich sounds like p and b all at once.

Source: I enjoy the study of languages, and I’m an auto-didact currently working on Japanese and Korean.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Vhat you mean, “can’t”?

Dey certainly can, dey just refuse to. Ve don’t use the letter “v” enough, so vhy double it?

As my Svedish grandfather used to say, “Vaste not, vant not.”

But I think the other real answer is that in most Germanic languages, the W is explicitly pronounced as V.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
crazyivan's avatar

Same reason we can’t make that groovy clicking sound they make in native Zulu languages I would expect…

Jeruba's avatar

It’s a very narrow view to say they “can’t” pronounce it. Rather, the letter “W” is pronounced differently in different languages. In English we say it the way you know it. In some other languages, the letter “W” stands for the sound that we pronounce as “V.”

The French might just as well ask why you, @troubleinharlem, can’t pronounce the letter “R” (assuming you don’t speak French like a native), or the Germans why you can’t say ”ü” properly, or the Xhosa why you can’t click that “X.”

The answer is not just that different languages have different sounds but also that the letter symbols of the Roman alphabet (the one we use) do not have exactly the same values in all languages.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Jeruba dot’s vhat I chust said.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@Jeruba: Uhm, I’m sorry for offending you for saying “can’t” instead of “won’t”.

My mom is reading this, you guys, so be nice!

squirbel's avatar

Rather than getting onto the original poster about her use of the word “can’t”, why don’t we talk about progressive things?

By now, it’s obvious that Scandinavians “have difficulty”, just as others have difficulty.

Why be petty?

posted at the same time as the above, for historical purposes.

Jeruba's avatar

@CyanoticWasp, yes, it is. Your response wasn’t posted when I began composing mine, and it took me longer.

@troubleinharlem, you didn’t offend me, and it isn’t “can’t” OR “won’t.” It’s “don’t.” In their languages, the letter “W” means the “V” sound.

You are asking for a precise answer here, and I’m trying to give it precisely.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Vell okay den.

squirbel's avatar

@Jeruba Let’s look at it this way.

If the Scandinavian is learning English, and has to pronounce this sentence in English properly, how would one fare if he couldn’t pronounce the English sound “W” properly?

“Whenever Wendy walks with her Weimaraner, she shouts “WoW” for no reason whatsoever.”

We aren’t discussing ability in one’s own language, that’s already understood.

Jeruba's avatar

@squirbel, I think our disconnect here is simply that we are answering two different questions, and it isn’t clear which one the OP meant to ask.

You are answering the question of why Scandinavians’ pronunciation of English doesn’t sound like that of a native speaker when it comes to the “W” sound, for one. You are looking at the letter “W” and thinking of an English sound. So we agree that the answer is because that’s not a sound that’s native to their language, just as a French “R” isn’t native to ours.

I am answering the question of why Scandinavians say what sounds to us like a “V” when they read the letter “W.” And the answer is because that’s how they spell the sound that we say as “V.” In other words, I am looking at the letter “W” and thinking of it as a symbol that means different things in different languages.

crazyivan's avatar

Pronunciation is much harder than we realize day to day. Think about how long it takes children to learn complex sounds like “L” or “R” in Enlgish. This act becomes exponentially harder the later in life you try to master it. Since languages do not all use the same sounds many of us never bother mastering formulating some sounds.

In the same way that a Scandanavian who is trying to learn Enlgish will struggle with Vs, a person who speaks Japanese as a first language might have trouble mastering the unfamiliar “R” soung. In the same way many native English speakers have a great deal of difficulty pronouncing the double “R” in Spanish or any of the unfamiliar sounds Jeruba mentioned above.

These differentiations take place very quickly. Look at the differences that already exist between British and American English and consider that this essentially all happened in a time frame in which we had cross-continental communication. It’s actually quite remarkable that we can learn foreign languages at all.

squirbel's avatar

@crazyivan Japanese can pronounce “R” – it’s the “L” they have difficulty with. When they attempt the “L” sound, they pronounce “R” instead…hence the term “engrish”. Just posting this for those who read this thread later.

@Jeruba You may be right.

Adagio's avatar

Probably for the same reason you can’t/don’t I assume make all the click sounds involved in some other languages.

seazen's avatar

And the Russians pronounce V like W.

danishya's avatar

in Denmark we pronounce the w like any english speaker… there are really few word in dainsh there starts with a w and the word there are, are some we have taken from english… i had never heard the it should be difficult to pronounce w…

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