As Easy As ÆØÅ Posted by Bjørn A. Bojesen on Sep 30, 2012 in History, Language, Music, Television
Alt er større i USA. Everything is bigger in the US. That’s what we Scandinavians often think when we’re suffering from an attack of mindreverdighetskompleks (inferiority complex). The Americans have got bigger cars, houses, plains, trees and burgers than us. But wait… Is that always so? Norwegian komikere (comedians) Fridtjof Stensæth Josefsen and
Jakob Schøyen Andersen, of the TV2 programme Kollektivet (The Shared House), have made the shocking discovery that
the Norwegian alphabet is about 12 % BIGGER than the English alphabet!
If you haven’t already seen their music video, watch the YouTube video below. (And use the occasion to rehearse the pronunciation of Æ, Ø, Å!)
Funny, huh? 🙂
As a matter of fact, there are many languages with longer alphabets than Norwegian – Russian, for example, has 33 letters. (But let’s not ruin the fun by nitpicking!)
Æ and Ø have been used in both Norway and Denmark since the Viking ages. Ø is also used on Færøyene (the Faroe Islands), while Æ is employed in Icelandic and ocassionally in Greco-Latin (= English) words to make them look posh: encyclopædia. The letters emerged as mediæval monks experimented with fancy ways to join A+E as well as O+E. (These combinations were used to express special sounds to which the Latin alphabet did not cater.) The monks in Sweden (and Germany) preferred to write the E part above the other letter, creating the Swedish Ä and Ö.
This Swedish inclination to put accents above letters can also be seen in Å, which was invented in Sweden to express a rounded A sound – more or less like the awe part of awesome. (Å pretty self-explanatory letter, don’t you think? 😉 ) Back in the Viking Ages, the Å sound was pronounced as a long A sound (as in far, faar away) in all the Scandinavian countries. For many centuries, it was therefore writen AA in Norwegian and Danish – even after the pronunciation had changed. ”Båten til Ålesund” (the boat to Ålesund) was written ”baaten til Aalesund”.
In 1938, however, AA was officially replaced by Å in the Norwegian alphabet (in 1948, even in the Danish alphabet).
Æ – Ø – Å!