Norwegian Language Blog

As Easy As ÆØÅ Posted by on Sep 30, 2012 in Language

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!

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Balu Ertl:

    My favorite one is the small village with only a single letter long name: Å 🙂

  2. Craig Brown:

    Haha well i guess this is a small victory ehh??

  3. John Carringer:

    Maybe it is 12 % bigger, but some of the letters are not used much, and at least two are redundant.