Michael Everson, previously discussed here and here, has a page on The Alphabets of Europe:

The main function of these pages is to present a catalogue of European alphabets. The characters which are, and in some cases were, used to write each of the languages of Europe (as far as it has been possible to find information on them), are included here. Some of Europe’s languages (particularly in the Caucasus) still have no tradition of writing, though other information on such languages is provided here when it is available. Likewise, some languages have used, or continue to use, one or more than one writing system, which may also be reflected here.

The Genetic index of languages goes from Maltese (Afro-Asiatic) to Moksha (Finno-Ugric), the Alphabetic index from Abaza to Yiddish; all language pages are pdf files. (Via the amazing aldiboronti at Wordorigins.)


  1. I’m surprised that he’s not using the codes in the Ethnologue and linking back, though he mentions it when discussing sign languages.

  2. So glad to finally see the word alphabets used correctly. I know none of you in academia have no clue what I could possibly be describing, but the last time I heard the word was in the following context: “My child is so smart. He knows all his alphabets.” The mother meant letters.

  3. Well, alphabet(s) ‘letter(s)’ is Standard Indian English, like dacoit(y) ‘bandit(ry) and prepone ‘move a future event closer to the present’.

    Michael’s link is still up. Quick, without looking, what are the nine top-level language families spoken in Europe, disregarding Nostratic and similar dubious ideas? Michael lists only seven, because he demotes three of them to children of an unlikely top-level family. I certainly didn’t come close to getting all nine.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    prepone ‘move a future event closer to the present’.

    Set for an earlier date.

  5. David Marjanović says

    nine top-level language families spoken in Europe

    If your Europe is large enough…

    Northwest Caucasian (though even Johanna Nichols doesn’t doubt [North] Caucasian anymore)
    Northeast Caucasian
    Mongolic (Kalmyk)

  6. Trond Engen says

    9? Then you must mean “native” to Europe.

    8 families: Indo-European, Uralic, Turkic, Afro-Asiatic, Basque, Mongolic, Northeast Caucasian, Northwest Caucasian. For the 9th, I didn’t think Kartvelian made the cut at Caucasus range, but what else could it be? Eskimo-Aleutic is on Greenland, but that’s America.

  7. Georgia is culturally Europe and Greenland is politically Europe, even if neither of them is geographically European or belongs to the EU. (Georgia is part of the Council of Europe, and Georgian government buildings fly the EU flag aspirationally, though.) Inside Georgia, all politicians agree they are European, based on their early adoption of Christanity and their roots in the Kingdom of Colchis (source of Jason’s Golden Fleece). The tourist trade, though, describes the country as on the border, which is certainly geographically correct.

    As for the numbers, I miscounted; I should have said ten families.

  8. The European flag was adopted by the Council of Europe long before it was used by the EU. Flying it is often linked with EU aspirations, but makes sense flown by a Council of Europe member without them.

  9. David Marjanović says

    It’s actually really weird that the EU took the flag of the Council of Europe and got away with it.

    Similarly weird is the fact that the flag was originally an attempt to smuggle in Catholicism through the backdoor: it’s the aureole of St Mary. But few enough people know that that apparently nobody objected – in other words, the attempt has fallen flat. In American terms: beware of fighting in the War on Christmas – you might lose.

  10. The text says that “Europe” includes Anatolia and Transcaucasia, which contradicts the map (which is therefore sketchy in both the old and the new senses).

    Greenland is America? Well, 45 thinks so, but its first human population was European. “Mr. Lennon, how do you find America?” “Make a left at Greenland.”

  11. Palaeo-Eskimos were in the northwest corner of Greenland from the -25C on, so they handily beat both Danes and Inuit by an Irish mile (1.27 standard miles = just over 2 km). But perhaps I should be talking about German/Austrian miles (slightly different, but both close to 7.5 km) instead.

  12. @David Marjanović: Wikipedia says that the flag design was always meant to represent Europe itself, not just the Council:

    The design was conceived in 1955, and officially adopted later that year by the Council of Europe as a symbol for the whole of Europe. The Council of Europe urged it to be adopted by other European organisations, and in 1985 the European Communities (EC) adopted it.

  13. January First-of-May says

    But perhaps I should be talking about German/Austrian miles (slightly different, but both close to 7.5 km) instead.

    The Russian mile (7 verst) is also very close to 7.5 km. I wonder if it was related in some way.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Ha, there never was just a single German mile!

    Interesting about the flag, I had no idea.

    Geologically, Greenland is its own continent that first broke off from North America, then gave up and broke off from Europe instead. The Baffin Sea is an ocean, but doesn’t have a midocean ridge anymore.

  15. PlasticPaddy says

    I think there are basically two conflated units, I. e., the mile which is 1000 paces and the league which is the distance covered at brisk walking speed in one hour. Some of the longer “miles” look more like leagues.

  16. Southern Germany used the Austrian mile (7.585 935 360 km), but the mile of the German Empire was the Prussian mile, so that became the “German mile” (7.532 km until metricated as 7.5 km).

  17. Whenever I see the title of this post I mentally sing it to the melody of “Lullaby of Birdland.”

  18. David Marjanović says

    two conflated units

    Ah, definitely. Both “mile” and “league” are rendered as Meile in German, and up to just now I had no idea there was a difference.

  19. “the fact that the flag was originally an attempt to smuggle in Catholicism … But few enough people know that that apparently nobody objected – in other words, the attempt has fallen flat.”

    That is a theory rather than an established fact. It hardened the anti-EU stance of the Rt Hon Rev Dr Ian Paisley, founder of both the Ulster Free Presbyterian Church and the Democratic Unionist Party, which held the balance of power in the UK Parliament from 2017 until last week with hilarious consequences.

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