How to say "Yes" in Norwegian

Did you know that when Tor takes a sharp intake of breath, he is not doing some strange kind of yoga exercise, he is simply agreeing with you! “H” in Norwegian means “Yes” ! Here we explore this rather strange phenomenon in the Norwegian language...

  The sharp intake of breath that we Norwegians sometimes do in the middle of a conversation, have you noticed it? I call it  


The affirmative “H”

It is hard to believe that Norwegian — the language of long words, and flawless logic — allows “Yes”, “that’s right”, “exactly” and many others, to be pronounced like this:  



It’s certainly not intuitive.  

When I travel, my affirmative "H!" becomes the object of many misinterpretations…  

People often wonder what on earth is going on first time they hear me do it.

The person they are talking to seems to be gasping for breath — it is slightly freakish! They look at me strangely, as if there is something wrong with me.   Or they turn around quickly to look behind them as if someone is sneaking up on them…  

Here’s a funny story: I was ordering food at a restaurant in London.

The waitress asked me if I liked my wine… and I answered "HH!", doing a sharp intake of breath.  

Thinking that something bad was rushing up behind her, the waitress jumped forward to avoid whatever it was, and spilled my wine over both of us.  

When she looked behind her and realized there was no danger in sight, she stared at me and snarled: “What was that sound for?” “I was was just telling you that I liked the wine!”, I answered.  

Years later, still in London, one of my best friends told me he thought I had pretty bad asthma sometimes…  


How to say “H” like a Norwegian

Everyone uses it more or less frequently: little kids, old ladies, even World Ski Champions — with or without asthma! 


  If the speaker’s mouth is slightly open from the start, then chances are you’ll just hear the “H!”  

- Er det du som heter Yngvil?
- H.
- Har du sett den filmen?
- H.
- Har han gått?
- H.


Sometimes you can sort of "detect" the word “ja” in there…  

If the speaker’s mouth starts out closed, however it’s a whole other ballgame…  

Lips and tongue and throat add other smacking and snorting sounds to the "H", and that’s when you might start wondering if something is wrong with a person:  

- Er du snart ferdig med å kikke på facebook??
- H! ( sounds more like "-PTKH!")
- Skal vi gå snart?
- H


And if two old ladies on the bus are gossiping about something? The emphatic H-H WITH voice will probably make you want to call for an ambulance!  

- Er’e SANT?
- H!
- Sa’an virkelig det?
- H!
- Rett opp i ansiktet på deg ?
- H!


Gasp of fear or Affirmative "H"?

So how do you tell the difference between:   “H”  =  “I agree with you” “H” =   “I am having an asthma attack”   or “H”  =   “There’s a werewolf behind you!” ?  

The following is not "medically proven", but I would say that in the case of a fear reaction or an asthmatic breath a person’s chest is tight, their shoulders would rise, and a tenser “H” is heard…  

But the affirmative "H!" ? It's all about Deep Breathing … If you’re good at it, you sound like you’ve been doing Yoga for years -  


Uniquely Norwegian?

So, is Norway the only country with this unique sound, then?..  

No, the Swedes do the same thing (of course) and so, I believe, do the Irish! Apart from those two, I don’t know any other country where expressing that you agree with someone sounds as if you’re scared to death. (except perhaps in North Korea.)  

Do you know of anywhere else? Let us know!  Use the comment window below.  

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