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During a discussion with my son, we started to wonder how many "non-ASCII" (EDIT: roughly speaking, see below) letters there are in European languages. By "ASCII" here, I mean letters are the "basic" ones in alphabets, the ones you find in the center of a QWERTY or AZERTY keyboard, or the ones "commonly" recognized across European languages.

In French we have two such graphemes: æ and œ. In German there is ß.

Is there a place that references European alphabets through a "common core" and such additions?

Please note that I am not interested in diacretics (é, ł, ñ, ...) but in basic letters that are not present in other alphabets (or only in a very few, for languages that would be really close to each others, but still perceived as separate languages)

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  • French also has 15 accented vowels that are not part of ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, almost a century old now, and showing it).
    – jlawler
    May 19 at 14:29
  • @jlawler: yes, this is why I mentioned in my question "Please note that I am not interested in diacritics ..." I will clarify earlier nevertheless
    – WoJ
    May 19 at 14:31
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    @WoJ Where do you draw the line between a ‘non-ASCII letter’ and a ‘letter with diacritic’? Why is ñ (which is a ligature of two n’s but a separate letter in the alphabet) a letter plus diacritic, while æ, œ and ß (which are ligatures of ae, oe and sz or ss, and aren’t separate letters of the alphabet) are non-ASCII letters? Even an ASCII letter like w is a ligature of two u’s (or v’s). Would you consider å (a ligature of aa or ao) letter or diacritic? Or ð (d + stroke, but with non-decomposable shape)? And since you only specify European languages, what about the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets? May 19 at 19:20
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    Have a look at this article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latin-script_alphabets. The chart here is what you're looking for.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 19 at 19:36
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    By the way, G is C with diacritic.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 19 at 20:29

2 Answers 2

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If you restrict yourself to European languages using the Latin alphabet and if you ignore letters that can be graphically* decomposed into a base letter and a diacritical mark (accent, slash, cedilla, ogonok), then the number is small:

  • Æ, æ (some Scandinavian languages, French)
  • Œ, œ (French)
  • Þ, þ (Icelandic)
  • ð (Icelandic and Faroese)
  • ẞ, ß (German)
  • Ŋ, ŋ (some Sami languages)
  • Ʒ, ʒ (some Sami languages)
  • Ə, ə (Azeri (not really in Europe according to the usual definitions))

If you also consider languages of Africa (Ɓ, ɓ, Ɔ, ɔ, Ɛ, ɛ, Ɣ, ɣ, Ɩ, ɩ, Ʊ, ʊ, ǀ, ǁ, ǂ, ...) and North America (ʔ, ƛ, Ɬ, ɬ, Ʌ, ʌ, ...), there's a lot more.


* Note that users of these languages may not agree with the statement that a certain graphical combination of an ASCII letter and a diacritical mark (or another letter) is just a letter with an accent or just a combination of two letters and not a letter by itself. The distinction between individual letters and letters with accents has quite some similarity with the distinction between languages and dialects: it's a matter of national pride but scientifically pointless.

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  • ij is arguably a letter, distinct from the sequence ij, though they probably look the same in the font conjured up on SE.
    – user6726
    May 19 at 15:36
  • From a graphical point of view or from a font designer's point of view, "ij" plays in the same league as "ff", "fi", "fl": It may be styled differently from the individual letters, but this is in no way mandatory. Considering "ij" as a letter by itself is a political decision.
    – Uwe
    May 19 at 15:47
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A comprehensive list of characters for many European languages, including minority languages, can be found at Michael Everson's website "The alphabets of Europe". You can navigate through the language tree, and get a full alphabet for each language in the tree, including base letters, digraphs, letters with diacritic, and extra letters. The whole thing is sourced.

For a high level overview, see @Uwe's answer here.

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