The History of Æ, Ø, and Å
Now that we have looked at now to digitize the usage of Æ, Ø, and Å in, let’s look at where these characters come from. The basic alphabet used in Norway is of course the same one that we use here in the U.S., with a few additions: The Latin alphabet.
The initial Latin alphabet contained 21 characters was modified by adding two letters: Y and Z, and later, during the Middle Ages, the I was added. The I was later split into I and J, and V was split into U, V and W. This produced the commonly known Latin alphabet today consisting of 26 characters. In addition to the actual characters on the alphabet, accents are used to denote variations of the individual character’s use. The reasons for the new additions were practical: the ability to pronounce “new” words and names often from foreign languages.
The Norsemen started to migrate towards the Latin alphabet in about year 1000, while the Old Norse language and its rune characters were still popular. In much the same way that additional characters were added to the Latin alphabet, the Norwegian alphabet was appended with the additional characters Æ, Ø, and Å. The reason for why these characters were added can be found in that all three characters are vowels. The traditional 21-character Latin language contained five vowels, while the Scandinavian languages contain nine. The “new” vowels were therefore added to accommodate the language.
been in use in the Nordic countries since the Middle Ages, and is probably the
oldest of the characters, as Norsemen started using both the Æ and the Ø in
about 700-800. The Viking runes were modified towards the Latin alphabet about
1000, and they looked like this:
The characters as we know them today have also been in use in Latin texts,
such as in the name of the most famous Roman emperor: Cæsar. The emperor’s
name today is mostly spelled Caesar. A step backwards? Not really. The
pronunciation, was different. The Romans would pronounce Æ as “I” so the
character was used to describe a different vowel. (It’s the same word as was
later adopted by the Germans to mean emperor: “Kaiser” – the Romans always
pronounced the C as a K.)
In German, the Æ was originally written as an A with a mini-E above it as an
accent. This mini-E later evolved into two dots, and this character is still in
use in Germany and Sweden today.
In German, the Æ was originally written as an A with a mini-E above it as an accent. This mini-E later evolved into two dots, and this character is still in use in Germany and Sweden today.
In Old English, the Æ was used to pronounce a sound between the A and E. The design of the character stems from being a ligature between of two known characters, and the new character therefore represents both of them as seen here:
In Sweden, the character is third in the alphabet, but in Norwegian, the letter was added to the end of the alphabet.
Ø came about much the same way as Æ at about the same time and one can see that the character is a ligature formed from O and E. It is has been claimed that the design of the character Ø was formed as a ligature of E and O where the center line of the E got combined with the O to form the new character like this:
Could there be another explanation for its formation? Well, it's known that the Germans used a mini-E above an O as an accent. The letter came to Sweden through the printing press technology, something that of course also stems from Germany. This German character later produced the Swedish character Ö and probably eventually evolved into the Norwegian Ø.
The Å was added to the language about 1200-1300, and is therefore the newest character in the Norwegian alphabet. The Å character itself is also of German design, even though it does not occur in the German language today, and the character as we know it today comes from Germany via Sweden. in Swedish, the character represents A and O, while in Norwegian it represents two As:
It was the last character to be added to the alphabet as Aa was used for a long time Norway, instead of the Å, and one can still see the use of the Aa in many names. There is for example a town in Northern Norway named Å. In dictionaries, the entries came first in the alphabet, but later on, the Aa entries came last. The Å was added to the alphabet in 1917-18 as the last character of the Norwegian alphabet.
The Norwegian language also uses different accents even though they are not
regarded as different characters. For example, a right-angled accent denotes
stressed vowels found in non-Norwegian names and words, something that changes
the pronunciation and sometimes also the meaning of the word. Whereas the word
“alle” refers to all or everyone, “allé” refers
to a wide street often with trees in the center.
A left-slated accent is used in only very limited circumstances, principally
to denote the adverb “òg” as opposed to the conjunction “og” and where
required in some foreign names and the French character à. Common uses are
"à jour" (up to date) and "vis-à-vis" (next to).
The hat-sign accent is used where required in foreign names where the vowel
needs to be stressed, and where different pronunciations yield different
meanings. For example, the word “fôr” means animal feed, and “for” has
the same meanings as in the U.S. The verb "fôre" means to feed
animals or to put in a lining in a garmet, while the word "fore" means
that you are going to start something or that you up to something. If written in
long-hand, this accent is written as a line instead of as a hat, but its use is
being phased out, and is no longer required.
The use of Æ, Ø, and Å is decreasing. In fact, by looking at Norwegian first names one can see that after increasing from the 1900s, fewer and fewer names contain Æ, Ø, or Å now. Currently, the use of Æ, Ø, or Å in first names applies to only about five percent of boys and only about one percent of girls. This graph from the Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway illustrates the usage:
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