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Nordic Alphabets

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The Nordic languages - please bear with me as I incorrectly include Finnish, to avoid more complicated phrasing - use a number of additional characters that do not appear in English, and thus not in ASCII, on international keyboards, etc.. Apart from the characters themselves, their placement (sort order, as appearing in encyclopedias) within the otherwise Latin alphabet is of interest.

The Alphabets Edit

Danish and Norwegian Edit

Their (common) alphabet consists of the standard ASCII A...Z, followed by ÆØÅ (lowercase æøå).

Norwegian, especially Nynorsk, also makes use of diacritic signs, in particular on the vowels aeo so as to result in éèêóòâô. They are, however, not considered characters in their own right.

Finnish and Swedish Edit

Their alphabet starts A...Z, and appends ÅÄÖ (lowercase åäö); the Finns usually drop the W from this.

Nonetheless, the Å (A-ring) is accepted into use only in Swedish, not actual Finnish, to the point of the Finns literally calling it the "Swedish O". On the other hand, the Finnish alphabet is occasionally extended to include the W again and - in a very formal setting - ŠŽ.

Icelandic Edit


Note the lack of CQWZ, which still appear on Icelandic keyboards, as they are used in some proper names of Icelanders; the Z got officially abolished in 1973. The most unusual characters are the Eth (uppercase Ð, lowercase ð) and the Thorn (Þþ). (Otherwise, the lowercase characters look "as expected".)

A quick tutorial (for those who know English pronunciation sufficiently well) how to pronounce the Icelandic special characters:

  • Đ as in "father", Æ as in "eye", Þ as in "three", and Ö like in German (or, failing that, as in "nerd").
  • A as in "apple", Á as in "ow"; E as in "egg", É as in "yes"; I and Y as in "pick", Í and Ý as in "green"; O as in "hot", Ó as in "oh"; and Ú as in "moon".
  • There doesn't seem to be a good English analogon for the Icelandic U, which should be pronounced like the short German Ü ("müssen"). Failing that, try the French U ("duc"; it matches the long German Ü, as in "müde").

Transliteration Edit

Technical note: Transliteration is the representation of words in one script - here, a Nordic alphabet - in another - here, ASCII - on the basis of replacing the characters and character groups, i.e., focused on the original spelling. Transcription does the replacement so as to primarily focus on pronunciation.
Warning: This section is work in progress.

Known correct and unambiguous transliterations are: Æ and Ä as "Ae"; Ö as "O"; Ð as "D"; Þ as "Th".

Å originated as "Aa", and is usually transliterated like that. However, Swedes often transcribe it as just "A", as the pronunciation of Å has generally approached that of A in Swedish.

Š and Ž are usually transliterated as "Sh" and "Zh", but in older loanwords, Š often becomes just "S".

Guidelines in Editing this Wiki Edit

The visible text in this Wiki should, if at all possible, use the proper spelling of Nordic terms, using the appropriate special characters.

In order to aid readers with no easy means to enter these characters, a properly transliterated version should be added to the Wiki.

If the text in question is (the title of) an entire page, we did so far add a redirection (example: "Skutskar" is a redirection to the "Skutskär" page). Note that doing a full-text search for the transliteration does find the redirection (and provides a link to the target page), in spite of it not appearing in any actual text.

Otherwise, the current procedure is to add the transliteration invisibly to texts which can be considered "authoritative" for the term in question so that a full-text search for the transliterated version will find it there. The ASCII template provides a simple means to do so, for example, to add "Arni Thor Reynisson" to the section on "Árni Þór Reynisson" within the "Prologue Characters" page.

The jury is still out on the question whether (and how) to add "typically mis-transliterated" versions of such terms, like for readers who don't know better than reading "Þor" as "Dor" or "Por".

Entering Nordic Characters Without a Matching Keyboard Edit

Modern Operating Systems (OSes) often support Unicode so as to properly display virtually all characters in use around the world (and then some), but they still are poorly designed to allow the user to enter characters beyond those of his primary language the computer is configured to. Often the easiest and most portable method is to copy-paste them over, so here's the full Nordic range for your perusal:

DK/NO: ÆØÅ æøå / Nynorsk: ÉÈÊÓÒÂÔ éèêóòâô / FI/SE: ÅÄÖŠŽ åäöšž / IS: ÁÐÉÍÓÚÝÞÆÖ áðđéíóúýþæö

MSDOS / Windows Edit

There is a fair number of methods to enter special characters on a Windows platform. Please see this page for further instructions.

Apple Edit

Virtually all of the above Nordic characters except some Icelandic ones (and the - very rare - Finnish Š and Ž) can be entered into a Macintosh with the basic accent codes. Icelandic requires use of the accent codes of the "U.S. Extended Keyboard" feature.

X11-based Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) Edit

X11 is the basis of most GUIs running on unixoid OSes like Linux, the variants of BSD, or Solaris.

(The following instructions have been verified on a Linux system running KDE.)

xmodmap and the AltGr Modifier Edit

xmodmap (see its manpage) maintains the list of modifier keys (Shift, Control, ...) and the effect they have on the characters generated by other keys. In theory, it would be possible to define an additional modifier key that "switches" the entire keyboard to a new "plane" that can then be filled with the characters one needs.

Unfortunately, xmodmap handling nowadays is fraught with enough quirks to make this all but impossible. The still-usable remains is that the AltGr modifier key is commonly already serving a "plane" of special characters which includes some of the Nordic characters.

In particular: AltGr-A = æ, AltGr-O = ø, AltGr-P = þ, AltGr-D = ð; also keep the Shift modifier pressed for the corresponding uppercase character. AltGr-f yields đ, a character sometimes used instead of the usual lowercase Eth "ð".

Compose Key Edit

The so-called "Compose Key", usually defaulting to pressing Shift and the right Control key simultaneously, allows one to subsequently press two keys. The resulting character will usually be one that looks more or less like the two keys' characters joined.

In order to produce accented characters like ä, î, ø, ù, ý, ž, press the key for the accent first (that would be "^/`´< for the example ones), then the one for the letter to be accented. The remaining Nordic characters are: ae=æ, *a=å, dh=ð, -d=đ, th=þ.

In the case of KDE, the Desktop Configuration (Hardware -> Input Devices -> Keyboard -> Advanced) allows to define other keystroke(s) as the Compose Key.

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