Anders Breivik


Following my post on Utøya last July, John Maidment asked me about the pronunciation of Breivik, and I gave an answer here. I’m still hearing the pronunciation with schwa from some broadcasters, including some Radio 4 newsreaders, so maybe that is what the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit is recommending.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the case, but BBC News is reporting that Breivik is claiming that he killed 77 people out of ‘self-defence’. This is a mis-translation of the Norwegian term, which is “nødrett”. Einar Haugen’s Norwegian-English Dictionary says “jus necessitatis (= case involving legal act of necessity); ytterste nødrett: ‘justifiable homicide’.”


  1. What, then, would be the Norwegian term for ‘self-defence’?

  2. Petr – “Selvforsvar” is the obvious one, but there’s also “nødverge”.

  3. I suspect the BBC were just carrying the press release; yesterday’s Guardian carried this:

    > On Tuesday, the court-appointed interpreters issued a correction to their translation of Breivik’s not guilty plea on Monday.

    > He is not claiming to have acted out of “self-defence”, as originally reported, but is using a defence under section 47 of the Norwegian penal code that states: “No person may be punished for any act that he has committed in order to save someone’s person or property from an otherwise unavoidable danger when the circumstances justified him in regarding this danger as particularly significant in relation to the damage that might be caused by his act.”

  4. Graham – thanks for this!

    Aakash Mehendale – I love this twisted legal jargon 🙁

  5. Going back to your July comment
    “The [œ] is rather different from the French vowel represented by the same IPA character, the French vowel having ‘close’ rounding, while the Norwegian one has ‘open’ rounding – the lips are much further apart”.
    The usual description eg in Lilias Armstrong and Peter MacCarthy is of French having open rounding for /œ/ in line with the usual IPA specification of the value of the symbol [œ]. Are you suggesting recent change?

  6. Is close rounding the type of rounding [u] has? I’m just confused, because I learned about different types of lip rounding from Wikipedia (maybe not the best place, I know) and the Wikipedia article entitled “Roundedness” lists two types of lip rounding: protruded and compressed. It says nothing about “close” or “open” rounding. I also consulted a phonetics textbook, however, which you would think would be better than Wikipedia, but it also said nothing about those types of lip rounding. I apologize if this question is too basic and/or off topic. I can ask it somewhere else.

  7. I queried the BBC’s pronunciation of Breivik with one of their journalists and they forwarded the following from the BBC Pronunciation Unit:

    “Our recommendation of Anders Behring Breivik is:

    AN-uhrsh BERR-ing BRAY-vik (-d is silent, -uh as ‘a’ in ‘sofa, -sh as in ship, -err as in merry, -ay as in say, stressed syllables in upper case)

    This is the anglicisation preferred by the Norwegian Embassy Press Office and reflects the Østnorsk (Standard East Norwegian) pronunciation, which is used in Oslo and surrounding areas. We rechecked this again with the Embassy Information Officer again today, who again reiterated her preference for this anglicisation.

    As you probably already know, there is a great deal of regional variation in Norwegian. The diphthong represented by the orthographic ‘ei’ in Norwegian is a classic example of this. In Standard East Norwegian, the ‘ei’ diphthong is somewhere between our English “-ay as in say” and “-igh as in high” (which is why native English speakers will often interpret this vowel as sounding more like “-igh as in high”). In other dialects of Norwegian, the ‘ei’ diphthong does sound quite similar to the English “-igh as in igh”.

    We also had to take into consideration that Norwegian has a different diphthong represented by orthographic ‘ai’, which sounds very similar to English “-igh as in high”. Although these two diphthongs may not sound like two different sounds to native English speakers, Norwegian speakers maintain a difference between those two sounds. If we were to recommend BRIGH-vik (-igh as in high), many Norwegian speakers could associate this with BRAIVIK not BREIVIK and consider this an incorrect pronunciation. (This distinction is akin to the difference between ‘day’ and ‘dye’ in English, i.e. they are separate sounds which are used to distinguish meaning between words). To maintain the difference between the Norwegian diphthongs ‘ei’ and ‘ai’, and to ensure consistency across BBC, we are recommending AN-uhrsh BERR-ing BRAY-vik.

    I hope this explains our recommendation. Ultimately, the choice about which pronunciation to use is an editorial one but, as always, we do our best to ensure that our advice is as accurate as possible and, in this case, I hope you are persuaded that we are following a more Standard Norwegian pronunciation as well as respecting the anglicisation preferences of a native speaker of Østnorsk.”

    As an Østnorsk speaker, I don’t think the anglicisation to BRAY-vik is successful.

  8. Jack – I think it was my wording that was wrong rather than that I was suggesting the French pronunciation has changed. As I recall my experience of Norwegian, which is a few years ago now, the lip opening is different from that of French. Perhaps not a bigger opening, but a different configuration of the lips, with greater protrusion in Norwegian than in French.

    John Frank – protrusion and compression are treated by Ladefoged and Maddieson (The Sounds of the World’s Languages, Blackwell 1996) as separate from rounding, and as I read Armstrong (The Phonetics of French, Bell 1932), open and close rounding for her refers to the degree of opening, not its manner.

    Does this answer you both, or am I still out of order?

  9. I see. That makes sense. Thank you.

  10. @Graham
    I think your explanation usefully helps to show something of what a tricky topic lip-rounding is.
    @ Janne
    As a native English speaking phonetician who worked half a dozen years in Norway I consider the BBC Pronunciation Unit’s advice to be excellent

  11. The BBC Pronunciation Unit’s advice seems to have got through to some newsreaders. A couple of nights ago I heard Huw Edwards utter something very close to [ɒnəʂ] for Anders.

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