As a first entry on this blog, the name of the aforementioned, much-loved super sub is perhaps as good a start as any, representing as it does an example of how previously unfamiliar, non-native pronunciations can adapt into common awareness and usage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær presented commentators and fans with a linguistic headache on joining Manchester United in 1996. Stig Inge Bjørnebye and Jan Åge Fjørtoft had already established a Norwegian presence in the Premier League but, aside from their shared palatal approximants [j] and “slahsed o’s” [ø], their’s were names that didn’t present a sizeable challenge. It is the second syllable of Solskjær that is of nascent intrigue to
English speakers, tempting us to strike our tongues against the hard back of our mouths to create the voiceless velar plosive [k].

Ultimately, we soon acclimatised to the Norwegian pronunciation, producing a voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] or /sh/ sound, on sight of the written /k/. With the following [j] or /yuh/ sound, the next issue lay in the pronunciation of the “ash” vowel [æ] and the final /r/. From scouring the blogosphere, I have learned that the true, Norwegian pronunciation – [ʃæ:r] -involves a trilling of the final /r/, such as in the Spanish word for ‘dog’ – ‘perro’ [ˈpe̞ro̞] – or in the Scottish dialectal pronunciation of words such as ‘curd’.

The temptation back then – and perhaps still today – was to overdo the pronunciation.

Brian Moore, amongst others, comes to mind immediately, with his initial pronunciation of Solskjær’s name involving a rather earnest /ay/ sound at the end (expect further comment on Moore et al in future). This rather poorly recorded clip of Barry Davies commentating on Solskjær’s dismissal against Newcastle in the 1997/1998 Premier League season is an (admittedly stretched) example.

A player such as Solskjær – beloved by those who watched him at Old Trafford, then and now – has tremendous potential to introduce foreign languages, accents and dialects into the British game. This, perhaps more than other aspects of the modern, global game, is an uncanny yet edifying boon for football fans.

More on the Norwegian language (pick me up if I’ve gone wrong)


The man himself


(This blog post was originally posted on the old Language of Football blog back in Summer 2012)