The Danish alphabet, like the Norwegian, consists of 29 letters. Three additional letters not found in the Latin alphabet round out the Danish and Norwegian alphabets: æ, ø and å. However, if you were to ask any Danish child how many letters are in their alphabet, they will tell you that there are 28 letters according to the “Alphabet Song”.
In Danish, the ABCs end with the words “otte-og-tyve skal der stå”, which mean “that makes twenty-eight”. So, where is the missing letter? What happened to the Danish alphabet along the way?
The three extra letters at the end of the Danish and Norwegian alphabets have their own history:
“Æ”/”æ” is a standalone letter, introduced in the 11th century, in place of “ae”.
“Ø”/”ø” was also introduced into the Danish alphabet in the 11th century, when Danish began to use the Latin alphabet and “ø” was interchangeable with “oe”. It became a standalone letter over time.
“Å”/”å” is the newest member of the Danish alphabet, added in 1948. There is evidence of the letter being used in Danish literature dating back to the 17th century, but it was not officially added to the alphabet until much later. “Å” replaces “aa”. Still, there are several names and geographical locations that continue to use “aa” instead of “å”.
Indigenous Danish words do not use the letters “C”, “Q”, “W”, “X” or “Z”. However, when the Danes adopt foreign words, and these become part of the official language, the original spelling is often times kept intact. Examples of such words are “center” and “bacon”.
So, where is the missing 29th letter in the Danish “Alphabet Song”? Could it just be that Danes can’t count? The answer lies within the letters “W” and “V”, which are both pronounced as “V” in Danish. Up until 1980, the letter “W” was considered a variation of the letter “V”. It had not earned its own place in the alphabet and was therefore not part of the Danish ABCs.
The Danes have yet to update their version of the “Alphabet Song”, but if you have the good fortune of visiting a Danish school, please ask them to sing the ABCs. You can sing along up until “R, S, T, U”. After that, let them take over and show you one of the reasons why the Danish language is constantly evolving and is so challenging for foreigners to learn.