At Nordstjernan, we've been working on addressing the tricky pronunciation of the title of our newspaper. Depending on what Swedish dialect you favor, it may be even trickier, even for proud Swedish Americans with a good accent. Some of us - most of us - just don't have the "stj" sound in our vocabulary but don't despair, deflecting to the easier pronunciation that sounds like "sh" works equally well and is actually more common, anyway. At least in America.

Nordstjernan, which means "the north star," has an old spelling, which isn't surprising given our start more than 142 years ago. That's interesting information, but it doesn't help us pronounce it correctly. So, we investigated how it might be spelled phonetically. Even the linguist we met with was curious about it.

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Steve Hartman Keiser is an associate professor of linguistics at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Not being of Swedish descent himself, he did a little research of his own and found our video (http://www.nordstjernan.com/video/5417/) on the history of Nordstjernan, which includes several people pronouncing the name. He made some curious observations about it:

- The Swedes (in the video) don't pronounce the letter r in Nordstjernan (at least not with an English /r/). Some of the Americans do.
- The vowel in "Nord" is between the American English "no" and "noodle." It is also a monophthong (a single pure sound) as opposed to the English diphthong: In English "o" is actually two sounds "oh-oo."
- The middle consonant is bizarre! And I mean that in a good way. I'd never heard of this sound before! It has proved baffling to phoneticians - including Peter Ladefoged, the pre-eminent phonetician of the late 20th century. It has its own wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sj-sound), its own unique symbol in the international phonetic alphabet, a symbol which as far as I know is only used to represent this Swedish sound. Most Swedes appear to produce this somewhat like the German pronunciation of the last sound in "Bach," though not so far back in the mouth. There's also lip-rounding involved, and some have suggested a double articulation with the back and front of the tongue. Whew! But maybe you knew this already. Anyway, for a number of reasons, "sh" is the best way to represent this sound for Americans.

And so we offer the phonetic spelling of \ˈnȯrd-shr-non\
We hope it helps!

Steve Hartman Keiser, PhD, is an associate professor of linguistics at Marquette University. His areas of emphasis lie in exploring the "how" and "why" of linguistic variation and change, and investigating the intersection of language use with aspects of social identity such as age, ethnicity, gender, history, region and religion.