Å

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"A-ring" redirects here. For the ring of Saturn, see A Ring.
For other uses, see Å (disambiguation).
Å in Helvetica and Bodoni

Å (lower case: å) represents various (although often very similar) sounds in several languages. It is considered a separate letter in the Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish alphabets, as well as in the North Frisian, Walloon, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Chamorro, Istro-Romanian, Lule Sami, Skolt Sami, Southern Sami, and Greenlandic alphabets. Additionally, it is part of the alphabets used for the Alemannic and the Bavarian-Austrian dialects of German.

Though Å is derived from an A with a ring, it is considered a separate letter. It developed as a form of semi-ligature of an A with a smaller o above it to denote a long and darker A, similar to how the umlaut mark that distinguishes Ä from A, and Ö from O, developed from a small e written above the letter in question.

Scandinavian languages[edit]

Closeup on Å, Ä, and Ö on a Swedish keyboard.

The letter Å in Scandinavian alphabets represents two sounds, one short and one long.

  • The short version represents IPA /ɔ/.
  • In Swedish, the long version represents IPA /oː/. In Danish and Norwegian, the long version is pronounced IPA /ɔː/.

Origin[edit]

In historical linguistics, the Å-sound originally had the same origin as the long /aː/ sound in German Aal and Haar (Scandinavian ål, hår, English eel, hair).

Historically, the letter Å derives from the Old Norse vowel á. This was a long /aː/ sound, but over time, the vowel developed to an [ɔ] sound. Medieval writing often used doubled letters for long vowels, and the vowel continued to be written Aa. In Old Swedish the use of the ligatures Æ and Œ that represented the sounds [æ] and [ø] respectively were gradually replaced by new letters. Instead of using ligatures, a minuscule E was placed above the letters A and O to create new graphemes. They later evolved into the modern letters Ä and Ö, where the E was simplified into umlauts. This construction was also applied to construct a new grapheme where an "aa" previously had been used. A minuscule O was placed on top of an A to create a new letter. It was first used in print in the Gustav Vasa Bible that was published in 1541 and replaced Aa in the 16th century.[1]

In an attempt to modernize the orthography, linguists tried to introduce the Å to Danish and Norwegian writing in the 19th century. Most people felt no need for the new letter, although the letter group Aa had already been pronounced like Å for centuries all over Scandinavia. Aa was usually treated as a single letter, spoken like the present Å when spelling out names or words. Orthography reforms making Å official were carried out in Norway in 1917 and in Denmark in 1948. It has been argued that the Å only made its way to official Danish spelling due to anti-German and pro-Scandinavian sentiment after World War II. Danish had been the only language apart from German and Luxembourgish to use capitalized nouns in the last decades, but abolished them at the same occasion.

In a few names of Danish cities or towns, the old spelling has been retained as an option due to local resistance, e.g. Aalborg and Aabenraa; however, Ålborg and Åbenrå are the spellings recommended by the Danish Language Board.[2] Between 1948 and 2010, the city of Aarhus was officially spelled Århus, however in a controversial decision the local authorities have chosen to revert to the old spelling.

Icelandic and Faroese are the only Scandinavian languages not to use the letter Å. The Old Norse letter á is retained, but has become a diphthong, pronounced [au] in Icelandic and [ɔa] in Faroese. The short variation of Faroese á is pronounced [ɔ], though.

Use in names[edit]

In some names of geographical places, the old Aa spelling dominates, more often in Denmark than in Norway (where it has been abolished in official use since 1917). Locals of Aalborg and Aabenraa resist the Å, whereas Ålesund is rarely seen with Aa spelling. Official rules allow both forms in the most common cases, but Å is always correct.

Before 1917, when spelling with the double A was common, some Norwegian place names contained three or four consecutive A letters: for instance Haaa (now Håa, a river) and Blaaaasen (Blååsen, 'the blå/blue ås/ridge').

In family names, the bearer of the name uses Aa or Å according to their choice, but since family names are inherited they are resistant to change and the traditional Aa style is often kept. For instance, the last name Aagaard is much more common than Ågård. The surname Aa is always spelled with double A, never with the single letter Å. However, given names - which are less commonly inherited - have largely changed to the use of the Å. For instance, in Norway more than 12 000 male citizens spell their name Håkon, while only around 2500 are named Haakon.

Company names are sometimes spelled with the double A by choice, usually in order to convey an impression of old-fashionedness or traditionality. The double A, representing a single sound, is usually kept in initials e.g. for people whose surname begins with the double A. Accordingly, a person named "Hans Aagard Hauge" would spell his initials "H. Aa. H.", not "H. Å. H."

Place in alphabet[edit]

The fact that Å is a common letter in Swedish while having no native use in Finnish has led to it being used as a concise symbol for the Swedish language, as in this campaign to rid Finnish schools of Mandatory Swedish. The phrase reads "Away with enforced Swedish".

Correct alphabetization in Danish and Norwegian places Å as the last letter in the alphabet, the sequence being Æ, Ø, Å. This is also true for the alternative spelling "Aa". Unless manually corrected, sorting algorithms of programs localised for Danish or Norwegian will place e.g., Aaron after Zorro. In Danish and Norwegian books, a distinction is made between foreign and local words; thus, for example, the German city Aachen would be listed under A, but the Danish city "Aabenraa" would be listed after Z, Æ and Ø.

In the Swedish alphabet, Å is sorted after Z, as the third letter from the end, the sequence being Å, Ä, Ö.

International transcription[edit]

Alternative spellings of the Scandinavian Å have become a concern because of globalization, and particularly because of the popularization of the World Wide Web. This is to a large extent due to the fact that internet domains containing Scandinavian letters are not recognized by the DNS system, and do not feature on keyboards adapted for other languages. While it is recommended to keep the Å intact wherever possible, the next best thing is to use the older, double A spelling (e.g. "www.raade.com" instead of "www.råde.com"). This is because, as previously discussed, the Å/Aa indicates a separate sound. If the Å is represented as a common A without the ring (e.g. "www.rade.com") there is no indication that the A is supposed to represent another sound entirely. Even so, (mis-)representing the Å as just an A is particularly common in Sweden, as compared to Norway and Denmark.

Finnish[edit]

In the Finnish alphabet, Å is carried over from the Swedish alphabet, but has no native use and is treated as in Swedish. Its usage is limited to names of Swedish, Danish or Norwegian origin. In Finland there are many both Swedish- and Finnish-speaking people with Swedish surnames, and many Swedish surnames include Å. The Finnish name of Å is ruotsalainen O ("Swedish O").

Emiliano-Romagnolo[edit]

In the Emiliano-Romagnolo alphabet, the letter å is used to transcribe the open-mid back unrounded vowel [ʌ].

Emiliano-Romagnolo distinguishes between long and short vowels, and å is always long. For example, the words bån, meaning good, and månt, meaning mountain, are pronounced [bʌːŋ] and [mʌːŋt].

Walloon writing[edit]

Å was introduced to some local variants of eastern-Walloon dialect at the beginning of the 20th century, initially to note the same sound as in Danish. Its use quickly spread to all the eastern-Walloon dialects, through the cultural influence of the city of Liège, and covered three sounds, a long open o, a long close o, or a long a, depending on the local varieties. The use of a single å letter to cover those pronunciations has been embraced by the new pan-Walloon orthography, that systemizes a unique orthography for words that are the same, regardless of the local phonetic variations.

In non-standardized writings outside the Liège area, words containing the å letter are written with au, â or ô depending on the pronunciation. For example the word måjhon (house) in standardized orthography is written môjo, mâhon, mohone, maujon in dialectal writings.

Istro-Romanian[edit]

The Istro-Romanian alphabet is based on the standard Romanian alphabet with three additional letters used to mark sounds specific only to this dialect: å, ľ and ń.

Chamorro[edit]

Å and å are also used in the practical orthography of Chamorro, a language indigenous to the people of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. The capital of Guam is also called "Hagåtña".

Symbol for ångström[edit]

The letter "Å" (U+00C5) is also used throughout the world as the international symbol for the non-SI unit ångström, a physical unit of length named after the Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström. It is always upper case in this context (symbols for units named after persons are generally upper-case). The ångström is a unit of length equal to 10−10 m (one ten-billionth of a meter) or 0.1 nm.

Unicode also has encoded U+212B angstrom sign. However, that is canonically equivalent to the ordinary letter Å. The duplicate encoding at U+212B is due to round-trip mapping compatibility with an East-Asian character encoding, but is otherwise not to be used.[citation needed] [clarification needed]

On computers[edit]

Danish keyboard with keys for Æ, Ø and Å.
On Norwegian keyboards the Æ and Ø trade places.
Character Å å
Unicode name LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A WITH RING LATIN SMALL LETTER A WITH RING ANGSTROM SIGN
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 197 U+00C5 229 U+00E5 8491 U+212B
UTF-8 195 133 C3 85 195 165 C3 A5 226 132 171 E2 84 AB
Numeric character reference Å Å å å Å Å
Named character reference Å å
EBCDIC family 103 67 71 47
ISO 8859-1/9/10/13/14/15 197 C5 229 E5
alt code Alt+143 Alt+134
Mac keycode Option+ Shift+a Option+a
TeX \AA \aa

Incorrect and playful uses of Å[edit]

The logo of the Major League Baseball team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is a capital "A" with a halo. Due to the resemblance, Angels fans are known to type the name as "Ångels". From the point of view of a Scandinavian speaker this can make for weird impressions - "Ångels" would be pronounced something like "Oongels" (with an "o" sound similar to that in "door"). The logo of the Stargate series similarly features a stylized A with a circle above it, making it resemble an Å as in Stargåte, which has the unfortunate pronunciation "Star Goat".

A related phenomenon is the metal umlaut, which unlike the previous examples is intentional use of diacritics.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pettersson (1996), p. 139
  2. ^ Orthography rules, §3.2, sproget.dk (in Danish)

References[edit]

  • Pettersson, Gertrud (1996), Svenska språket under sjuhundra år: en historia om svenskan och dess utforskande, Lund: Studentlitteratur, ISBN 91-44-48221-3

External links[edit]