How To Identify Any Language At A Glance

Interesting article from “The Week” magazine, on how to identify any language at a glance. Welsh duly gets a mention!



I can never tell Irish and Scottish Gaelic apart, so it’s useful to know about the grave accent in Scottish Gaelic.

I knew that Norwegian and Danish are difficult to tell apart, but wasn’t aware that the double “a” (instead of å) was a marker for Danish. I will have to look out for it. Since Norway achieved independence from Denmark (only later to enter into a “union” with Sweden), the two written languages have apparently diverged somewhat, and if one happens to know some of the different words, one could spot it that way: e.g. “money” - “penger” in Norwegian Bokmål, “penge” in Danish.
“milk” - “melk” in Norwegian Bm, “mælk” in Danish.

But more interesting would be distinguishing between Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk. These are two different writing systems for the same language (although Nynorsk is supposed to be closer to some of the Norwegian dialects).

Here is the ever-interesting Alexander Arguelles on the subject: Nynorsk:


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The bit about the pairs of letters in Gaelic not sounding like you would expect etc has got me curious… :smile:

With due respect, but (apart from the mention of Chinese and Japanese), this seems to apply to Latin alphabet based languages only - although no doubt similar patterns exist in Cyrillic, Thai, Sanskrit and other alphabet systems. Anyone read Georgian, but?

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I find it interesting that he groups Irish, Scots Gaelic and Welsh together, and then says that Welsh isn’t anything like the other two. So why are they grouped with them? (I am aware of the whole P-celtic and Q-celtic split, but he doesn’t even touch on that.) And while he’s at it, why not include the Welsh dd, since he has ff and ll? I think the dd is even more noticeable than the other two.

Interesting article, though.


As the article puts it, “sometimes used”, and the example is “Kierkegaard”.

As far as I know, it was abolished in a spelling reform a long time ago in favor of “å” (not sure whether this was the same spelling reform that got rid of capitalising all nouns à la German), but it survives in some proper nouns such as family names and placenames.

Some placenames you will sometimes see spelled with Å, sometimes with Aa, while others (most?) are more consistently one or the other – more commonly the “modern” Å, I believe.