Special characters (diacritics) used in European languages

by Jakub Marian

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The “Basic Latin Alphabet”, as defined by ISO, consists of the following 26 letters and their uppercase variants (and is identical to the standard English alphabet):

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

However, English is the only major modern European language that uses the basic Latin alphabet, without any additional letters formed by adding diacritical marks or completely new symbols. Although the letter “é” may be used in words like “café” and “fiancée”, it is usually replaced by “e”. Similarly, the diaeresis (two dots) is sometimes used, e.g. “naïve”, but such usage is rare. Such rarely used symbols are written in parentheses in the following map.

On the other hand, some basic Latin letters (e.g. W and X) are only used in recent loanwords and not in “native” words in many European languages (such letters are written in square brackets in the following map).

The following map shows a list of special characters used for each national European language (regional and other languages are not included, because there are simply too manythey would not fit into the mapand because they often do not have completely established orthographies; this applies also to Catalan, although it is official in the microstate of Andorra, because Andorra is just a passive user of Catalan, without having any regulating power).

Note that not all of the characters shown in the map are considered “letters” of the alphabet; for example, the character “á” is a distinct letter of the Czech alphabet, but it is treated just as a modified “a” in the Spanish alphabet. Conversely, not all “letters” of the respective alphabets are shown in the map; some digraphs (such as “ij” in Dutch or “dž” in Serbo-Croatian languages) are considered letters of the alphabet, even though they can be produced by typing two separate characters.

Special characters used in European languages

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