EU languages


As they were still pagans, the Slavs did not have their own alphabet, but read and communicated by means of tallies and sketches. After their baptism they were forced to use Roman and Greek letters to transcribe their Slavic words, but these were not suitable ... At last, God, in his love for mankind, sent them St Constantine the Philosopher, called Cyril, a learned and righteous man, who composed for them 38 letters, some (24 of them) similar to Greek, but some (14 of them) different, suitable for expressing Slavic sounds.
Chernorizets Hrabar (10th century), On the letters
Such was the beginning of the Bulgarian language and alphabet. Bulgarian (български, [′bəlɡɐrski]) was the first Slavic language to have a written form. Initially referred to as Old Church Slavonic, it started to appear in writing during the 9th century by means of the Glagolitic alphabet, devised by Saints Cyril and Methodius, which was gradually replaced over the following centuries by the Cyrillic alphabet, developed in the 10th century in medieval Bulgaria.
Its alphabet is not the only thing that sets Bulgarian apart from the other Slavic languages. Belonging to the southern branch of the Slavic languages, Bulgarian has grammatical features which are considered by linguists as atypical and innovative for its group. These include the dropping of noun cases and the use of position and prepositions to indicate grammatical relationships, the development of a suffixed definite article, and the retention and further elaboration of the proto-Slavic verbal system.
Nowadays, Bulgarian is the mother tongue of around nine million people, most of whom live in Bulgaria, where it is the official language. It is also spoken by Bulgarian communities in the region (in Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Turkey), as well as by Bulgarian immigrant communities elsewhere in the world (for example, in the United States). It is closely related to Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Slovenian.
With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union in 2007, the Cyrillic alphabet became the third official alphabet of the EU.


Czech is a West Slavic language with around 12 million native speakers, of whom more than 10 million live in the Czech Republic. The language developed from western dialects of the Proto-Slavic language at the end of the 10th century. Literature written in Czech can be traced back to the 12th century. Czech is similar to and mutually intelligible with Slovak and, to a lesser extent, Polish and Sorbian. As for the Slovak language, the mutual level of understanding is estimated at 95 %, although since the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, younger generations often fall into the traps of many false friends as they are much less exposed to the language of their neighbouring country.
As in most Slavic languages, many words (especially nouns, verbs and adjectives) have a number of forms (inflections). In general, Czech rules of morphology are extremely irregular, and numerous forms have official, colloquial and sometimes semi-official variants. Czech may seem intimidating to non-native speakers as some words do not have vowels: zmrzl (frozen solid), ztvrdl (hardened), scvrkl (shrunk), blb (fool), vlk (wolf) or smrt (death). A popular example of this is the phrase strč prst skrz krk meaning stick a finger down your throat. On the other hand, compared to English or the Romance languages, Czech has a rather simple set of tenses: present, past and future. Moreover, Czech does not have any articles, so the major source challenge for students of the Czech language is the declination of words into seven grammatical cases. 
Czech uses a Latin alphabet to which the following letters are added: áčďéěíňóřš,ťúůý and ž. By far the most complicated letter for non-native speakers learning Czech is the infamous consonant ř, a phoneme that is said to be unique to Czech. If a foreigner learning Czech masters the tongue twister Tři sta třicet tři stříbrných stříkaček stříkalo přes tři sta třicet tři stříbrných střech (333 silver sprinklers were spraying over 333 silver roofs), they might as well be given a Czech passport!
The Czech vocabulary is very rich and allows for a playful use of language. For historical reasons, the foreign language that most enriched Czech was German (knedlík – Knödeltaška– Tasche; šunka – Schinken; etc.). The most famous word that has been taken from the Czech language into other languages is robot. It has been in English since 1923 when the Czech writer Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. was translated into English and presented in London and New York. Published in 1920, R.U.R. is an abbreviation of Rossum’s Universal Robotsrobot itself comes from the Czech robota (servitude, forced labour). Other words originally from Czech that have spread into different languages include pilsnerpolka and pistol


Danish is a North Germanic (Scandinavian) language derived from East Norse, and is spoken by around six million people. It shares many similarities with Swedish and Norwegian, as spoken in the neighbouring Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway, and a native speaker of Danish often understands the other Scandinavian languages. When Danish Vikings colonised parts of modern-day Britain, they left behind not only a lasting impression on the locals, but also on the language. Hence a number of British words derive from Danish (Scandinavian), including sky, egg, cake, knife, husband and house.
Although the international importance of Danish has declined somewhat, and despite the fact that it is a relatively small language, knowledge of Danish – in geographical terms – is quite widespread, as the language is also taught in the Faroe Islands (as a second official language) and in Greenland (as a foreign language). Furthermore, Danish holds the status of minority language in the bordering German region of South Schleswig.
Historically, Danish has been influenced by other European languages, especially German in the Middle Ages and subsequently, to a lesser extent, French and Italian. Since the second half of the 20th century, it has mainly been influenced by English. Although a small country, there are a number of regional dialects in Denmark. However, during the last century the dialects have been disappearing faster than in most other countries. The Danish alphabet is characterised by the distinctive letters Æ (æ), Ø (ø) and Å (å).


I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective. (Mark Twain, The Awful German Language, 1880)
Nonetheless, believe it or not, German is the second most widely known foreign language in the EU (after English).
German (Deutsch) is a West Germanic language and one of the world's major languages. Around the world, German is spoken by around 100 million native speakers and also around 30 million non-native speakers. German is the main language of around 90-95 million people in Europe (as of 2004), or 13.3 % of all Europeans, being the second most widely spoken native language in Europe after Russian, above French (66.5 million speakers in 2004) and English (64.2 million speakers in 2004).
Standard German (Standarddeutsch, also Hochdeutsch or Schriftdeutsch) is considered a pluricentric language. It differs regionally, especially in vocabulary, but also in some instances of pronunciation and grammar and spelling. This variation should not be confused with the variation of local dialects. In German linguistics, only the traditional regional varieties are called dialects, not the different varieties of standard German.
Standard German is the/an official language in Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Switzerland (with French, Italian and Romansch), Belgium (with Dutch and French) and Luxembourg (with French and Luxembourgish).
It is used as a local official language in German-speaking regions of Denmark, Italy and Poland and is also a minority language in many other parts of the world.


Greek culture has its roots in the Mycenaean and Minoan civilisations, around 1600 BC, with the development of the so-called Linear script. The Greek language has a documented history of 3 500 years (the longest of any Indo-European language), making it the world’s oldest documented surviving language. Athenian democracy (5th century BC) was the first ever form of direct democracy. Universal ideas, knowledge, arts and philosophy (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) established and flourished in Ancient Greece, and Greek civilisation was then spread to Persia, Egypt and India under Alexander the Great (4th century BC). The Romans conquered the country in 146 BC, though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life. The Greco-Roman civilisation formed the basis for European culture.
At the decline of the Roman Empire (5th century AD) Constantine founded Nova Roma (Constantinople), giving birth to the Byzantine Empire, which preserved the Greek language, Hellenic values and Orthodox Christian principles for another millennium. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 until the Greek Revolution (1821), so becoming the first of the Ottoman Empire’s peoples to secure recognition as an independent sovereign power (1832). After having experienced both World Wars in the 20th century, Greece joined the European Union in 1981.


English is the primary language of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various Caribbean and Pacific island nations. It is also an official language of India, the Philippines, and many sub-Saharan African countries. It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and the most widely taught foreign language. Because of this, English has often been referred to as a ‘world language’ and the ‘lingua franca of the modern era’.
English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialects of the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons – Germanic tribes who migrated from Germany and Denmark to Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries. The word English (Englisc) is derived from the name of the Angles. An example of Old English is preserved in the poem Beowulf. English was further influenced by Old Norse and the Viking invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries. Then, in 1066, the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror added the influence of Old Norman, producing Middle English, of which the best known work is Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
The Normans greatly influenced the rich vocabulary of English, which can be roughly divided between words that are ‘Germanic’ and those that are ‘Latinate’ (Latin-derived, either directly or from Norman French or other Romance languages). There are many Germanic and Latinate synonyms, enabling the speaker to express a variety of different meanings and nuances – you can be loving (Germanic) or amorous (Latinate), hungry (Germanic) or famished (Latinate).
An exception to this is that the nouns for animals often have a Germanic name, and those of the meats they produce a French-derived one. Examples include: deer and venisoncow andbeefswine/pig and pork; and sheep and mutton. The Anglo-Norman-speaking upper classes were the consumers of the meat produced by the Anglo-Saxon lower classes.
Many English words are of French origin due to the Anglo-Norman language spoken by the upper classes in England in the centuries following the Norman Conquest. However, the majority (83 %) of the 1 000 most common English words, and all of the 100 most common, are Germanic. In addition, many words in subjects such as the sciences, philosophy and mathematics come from Latin or Greek, as well as Arabic. Many nautical terms come from Dutch, while Low German also contributed various everyday terms. Numerous English words are based on Latin because this was the language of the Christian Church and of European intellectual life. Today, English is the most commonly used language in the sciences.
Modern English, including the works of William Shakespeare, dates from around 1550. Then, when the United Kingdom became a colonial power, English was the lingua franca of the colonies of the British Empire. The expansion of the British Empire and the influence of the United States spread English throughout the world, and many English dialects, English-based creole languages and pidgins have developed.
Two educated native dialects of English are widely accepted as standards throughout the world. The first, based on educated southern British, is referred to as ‘Received Pronunciation’, and is also called the Queen’s English, Oxford English or BBC English. The second, based on educated Midwestern American, is General American, spoken in most of the United States and much of Canada. British English has many dialects, including Cockney, Scouse and Geordie. In addition, English speakers have many different accents, which often reveal where the speaker comes from.
Grammatically, English is an intonation language, the pitch of the voice being used to convey surprise or irony, or to change a statement into a question. It is a strongly stressed language, certain syllables, both within words and within phrases, being relatively prominent/loud when pronounced while the others are not. English grammar has minimal inflection, and the spelling of words often diverges considerably from how they are spoken.
Due to its use throughout the world, English is constantly being influenced by other languages, culture, the fields in which it is used and world events. As well as giving loanwords to other languages, it also adopts its own, some of which become false friends, for example libraryfrom Old French librairie (bookshop) and lecture from Lektüre in German (reading or reading matter). Furthermore, English coins new words throughout each age, for example cyberspace, a neologism popularised by William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer. It is true indeed thatthe English language is forever evolving.


Spanish (or Castilian) is a Romance language derived from Latin which belongs to the Italic subfamily within the Indo-European group. It is the official language of Spain, Mexico and many countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, as well as Equatorial Guinea in Africa, while it enjoys constitutional protection in the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is an official language of most international organisations and international treaties (such as the UN, NAFTA or OAS). It has around 450 million speakers, including over 50 million in the United States, as well as over one million in the Philippines, Marianas and the Sahara. Due to its medieval origins in the region of Castile (Land of Castles), Spanish is also called Castilian.
The Spanish language was shaped by the different peoples living in the Iberian Peninsula. The first dwellers on record (the Iberians, Tartesians, Celts and Basques) and those who traded with them or founded colonies (the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks) left a wide lexical and toponimical stratum (words such as perro – dogizquierdo – left). From the 3rd century BC the country underwent a long process of Romanisation, and Latin was superimposed over the old Iberian and Celtic languages, which, with the exception of Basque, were abandoned. Latin would conform and shape the language, but the Germanic invasions of the 5th century and the subsequent Muslim invasion after the fall of the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo also helped to forge modern-day Spanish. Arabic (4 000 words) is, together with Latin, the main lexical source of Spanish (words such as almohada – pillowalcalde – major; albañil – mason).
Although the Spanish Middle Ages tend to be depicted as a bellicose period of reconquest, the language speaks of a different reality. In the 13th century, King Alfonso X set up the Toledo School of Translators which would be visited by scholars from all over Europe and would prolong the extraordinary translation activity carried out during the golden period of Muslim Córdoba (where the whole of Greek philosophy and its legacy had been translated and reinstated in Europe as a prelude to the Renaissance). Both in Toledo and in Córdoba, Christians, Arabs and Jews exchanged knowledge and lived in mutual harmony. Another key date in the history of the country and the language is 1492. This marked the capture of Granada under Isabella and Ferdinand (a wedding which represented the union of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragón), the discovery of America, and the expulsion of the Jews. When the Crown of Spain was assumed by the Flemish‑born emperor Charles V under the Habsburgs, the spread of Spanish reached its zenith. Being polyglot himself, Charles V chose Spanish as the language of what was to be, formally and for two centuries, the first European empire. When the Habsburg dynasty collapsed in the 18th century due to monumental debt, an inflationary crisis and an inability to follow the trends bringing the centre of gravity to northern Europe, Spanish had become a suitable instrument of communication for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, and the travels of Cervante’s Don Quixote had spread enthusiasm about a new type of literature – the modern novel – across the new and the old world.
Spanish continues to be a vibrant instrument of communication across the world today. Che Guevara spoke Spanish in the forests of Bolivia; a plethora of talented writers wrote in Spanish – the magic realism of Macondo, Uqbar and other places dazzled audiences in the 1950s and 1960s; it is the delirious language mumbled by the characters in the comedies by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar; it mixes with English in the streets of New York, Miami or Los Angeles and bursts into the hilarious Spanglish of Ilan Stavans – a language which, under the pressures of globalisation, reacts with a type of ironic glee and which, miraculously, has somehow assumed a life of its own. No one knows where it is going from here, but it is continuing on its adventurous path with exciting exploits along the way.


Estonian (eesti keel), the official language of Estonia, the smallest and northernmost of the three Baltic countries, is spoken by approximately one million people. It belongs to the group of Finno-Ugric languages and is closest to Finnish, the language spoken in Finland, its neighbour across the Gulf of Finland. The language is rich in vowels (a, e, i, o, u, õ, ä, ö, ü). The sounds can occur in speech with three different lengths: kadus, katus, kattus. Nouns have fourteen cases, and the root also changes: tuba (a room), toa (of a room), tuppa (into a room), but there are neither articles nor gender. Verbs have no future tense but only the present and three past tenses. There is no such verb as to have, the meaning of it being expressed by the verb to be. For example, a literal translation of the sentence Mul on autowould be A car is on me. For this reason, those teaching Estonian to foreign students need to be very patient as it takes some time before the students no longer say such things as I am a book in their language class!
Estonia was under the influence of German culture for a long time, and from the 13th century the upper class was exclusively German speaking. This is also reflected in the language, although sometimes the common roots are hidden in different spellings: paber (das Papier, paper); prillid (die Brille, spectacles); kleit (das Kleid, dress); naaber (der Nachbar, neighbour); kohver (der Koffer, briefcase); lärm (der Lärm, noise); lustlik (lustig, joyous). There are also many translation loanwords, e.g. ülesanne (task) is a direct translation of the German word Aufgabe (üles – auf (up)anne being derived from the verb andma – geben (to give)). Many words are similar to Finnish words, yet these may also include false friends. For example, halb in Estonian means bad, but in Finnish cheaplinn in Estonian is a city, but in Finnish a castle and, in some contexts, a prison.
Estonians love their language, and language issues can always trigger heated public discussions. We are also fond of our wild natural environment: the seaside with lovely sandy beaches, thick forests where elks are fairly common and one can even meet a bear, moorlands rich in wild berries and mushrooms.
Every five years we gather to have a ‘Song and Dance Celebration’, which is a tradition going back to the 19th century. At the last such celebration in 2009 there were more than 34 000 performers who sang and danced for an audience of over 200 000 people. The party is always in the middle of summer, the warmest season, which is too short, yet sometimes quite hot. The winter is quite cold, the autumn hopelessly long and dark, and the spring with its white nights when the sun sets only for a couple of hours is indescribable.
Estonia declared its independence on 24 February 1918. That meant a war, the War of Independence against Soviet Russia and also against the Baltische Landeswehr, an army formed by the Baltic German nobility. A peace agreement was concluded two years later in Tartu. For the first time in history, Estonians finally had their own state. This period was short-lived; in 1940, the country was occupied by Soviet Russia. Independence was declared for the second time on 20 August 1991. On 1 May 2004 Estonia joined the European Union.


Finnish belongs to the rather small Finno-Ugric language group, like for example Estonian and Hungarian, so it is not related to most languages in Europe (the Indo-European languages). Finnish is the main language of Finland, spoken by around five million inhabitants.
It is a synthetic language, which means that it expresses grammatical relationships by adding endings to the words. A word may have several endings one after another to express different things (e.g. plural, case ending, possessive suffix for nouns). Instead of using prepositions, there are 15 cases for nouns, adjectives, numerals and pronouns; verbs, too, have various endings according to the same principle. In Finnish, verbs do not have a future tense; future is expressed by using the present tense. One peculiarity in the Finnish language is that the negation word ei (not) is inflected in the three persons (singular and plural) as if it were a verb.
Finnish does not have a gender system, which makes it easy to refer to persons without knowing whether they are male or female. For the pronoun he/she there is only the word hänfor both, there are no differences in the names of professions, and adjectives do not have to be inflected according to gender.
As Finnish is spelt phonetically, it is rather easy to learn how to pronounce and write it. The sound system of Finnish differs somewhat from the other European languages. It does not contain difficult sounds – except some diphthongs, such as  and öy that may not be easy for non-Finnish speakers. Several sounds used in other European languages did not originally exist in Finnish, but in loanwords (if pronounced carefully), for example bgfch, etc. In Finnish there is only one sibilant, s.
The style normally used to address people in Finnish (for example in letters) is rather simple and direct, with few complimentary expressions, and titles are not used much in contemporary Finnish.


French is a Romance language spoken as a first language by around 136 million people worldwide. Around 190 million people speak French as a second language, and an additional 200 million speak it as a foreign language. Most native speakers live in France. The rest live mainly in Canada, particularly in Quebec, as well as in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and certain US states, such as Louisiana. As a result of France's extensive colonial ambitions between the 17th and 20th centuries, French was introduced in America, Africa, Polynesia, East Asia and the Caribbean. Most second-language speakers of French live in Francophone Africa.
French is a descendant of Latin, as are national languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian. Its closest relatives are the langues d'oïl and French-based creole languages. Its development was also influenced by the native Celtic languages of Roman Gaul and by the Germanic language of the Frankish invaders.
Prior to the mid 20th century, French served as the pre-eminent language of diplomacy among European and colonial powers as well as a lingua franca among the educated classes of Europe. Today, French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which are part of the so-called Francophonie, the community of French-speaking countries. It is an official language of all United Nations agencies and a large number of international organisations. In the European Union, 129 million (26 % of the total population), in the 27 Member States speak French, of which 65 million are native speakers and 69 million claim to speak French either as a second language or as a foreign language, making it the third most widely spoken second language in the EU after English and German.
Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Maupassant, George Sand, Sartre, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Léopold Senghor, Tahar Ben Jelloun are just a few key names reflecting the richness of French literature and, far beyond that, of literature written in the French language. In the field of music, Debussy, Ravel and Saint-Saëns are numbered among the most famous French composers, while symbols of the so-called Chanson française include big names such as Édith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Juliette Gréco, Léo Ferré, Jean Ferrat, Georges Brassens, Alain Bashung and MC Solaar.
Do you speak Verlan?
Something very special about the French language is an argot featuring inversion of syllables in a word, which is common in slang and among young people. It is based on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words. The name verlanitself is an example: it is derived from inverting the syllables in l’envers (the inverse, pronounced [lan-ver]). Hence,
méchant > chan-mé
jeter > tej
lourd > relou
vas-y > zi-va
This requires practice of course, and a word that has been put the other way round can sometimes be subject to a double ‘verlan process’, leading to funny neologisms such as:
femme (1) > meuf (2)> feumeu(3)
Nantemain, à vous de ouej!

Irish (Gaelic)

Irish (Gaelic) is a Celtic language, as is Scottish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic (Manx), Welsh, Breton and Cornish. The Gaelic languages come from Old Irish, and the other three Celtic languages come from British. The Celtic languages are believed to have come from Common Celtic, which itself came from Indo-European.
We cannot be sure when Irish first came to Ireland, but many scholars believe that it was over 2 500 years ago. It is certain that there were other languages spoken in Ireland before Irish but by the start of the Christian era, Irish was spoken all over Ireland and was spreading through Scotland, the west coast of Britain and the Isle of Man. The oldest remains of Ancient Irish are inscriptions on Ogham stones from the 5th and 6th centuries. Old Irish was first written in the Roman alphabet before the beginning of the 7th century, which makes Irish the oldest written vernacular language north of the Alps.
During the Middle Irish period (900-1200 AD) some loanwords came from the Scandinavian language – words like pingin (penny), and margadh (market) – but Scandinavian had little effect on the syntax of the Irish language. This was a period of strife and conflict but, despite that, the Gaelic literary culture never failed and there are many manuscripts that survive from the Middle Irish era.
The Anglo-Norman conquest of the12th century started a period of multilingualism in Ireland, but Irish remained in the ascendancy and, gradually, the Normans began to speak Irish. By the start of the 16th century most of the people of Ireland were Irish speakers again. Among the words that the Anglo‑Normans introduced into Irish are giúistís (justice), bardas(corporation), cúirt (court), garsún (boy), but there are many more. The dates of Classical Modern Irish are 1200-1600. This was not the ordinary speech of the period, but a cultivated standardised language developed in the lay schools for scholars and poets throughout Ireland and Scotland. The spoken language of the same period is called Early Modern Irish, but the speech of the people underwent many changes during the whole of this period.
Although the majority of the people knew Irish, English was necessary for administrative and legal affairs. Irish therefore never became an administrative language, and the Irish-speaking community never again achieved political independence. The status of Irish as a major language was lost. But Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population and, for a time, of the working classes in towns.
From the middle of the 18th century, as the penal laws were relaxed and a greater social and economic mobility became possible for the native Irish, the more prosperous members of the Irish-speaking community began to adopt an anglicised way of life and to take up English. This increased during and after the Great Famine (1846-1848). The Irish language was on the point of extinction.
During the 19th century, however, many educated people began to take a keen interest in the fortunes of the Irish language. Revival movements began in both Dublin and Belfast. The most significant and successful of these movements was The Gaelic League, Conradh na Gaeilge, which sought to preserve Irish as the national language of Ireland and to extend its use as a spoken tongue. The League also wished to promote the study and publication of existing literature, as well as to cultivate a modern literature in Irish.
Recent developments have promoted the use of Irish. The Official Languages Act 2003 is an Act of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) of Ireland. The Act sets out rules regarding the use of Irish by public bodies, establishes the office of the Language Commissioner to monitor and enforce compliance by public bodies with the provisions of the Official Languages Act, and makes provision for the designation of official Irish language versions of place names and the removal of the official status of English place names in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking areas). Significantly, Irish was granted the status of an official and working language of the European Union on 13 June 2005.


Hungary has great literature, with many poets and writers, although not many are well known abroad due to the limited prevalence of the Hungarian language. Sándor Márai has growing popularity nowadays in Europe; Imre Kertész won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002; Péter Eszterházy is well known and popular in Austria and Germany; and Magda Szabó has also recently become well known in Europe.
Hungary is well known for its water sports, e.g. swimming, canoeing and water polo (despite its lack of large areas of water). Many important mathematicians, such as János Bolyai, Paul Erdos and John von Neumann were Hungarian. Hungarians are proud of their inventions such as the match, ballpoint pen, electronic railway engine and the BASIC programming language.
Hungarian cuisine includes many pork and beef dishes, which are often flavoured with paprika. Hungary also produces wine, including Tokaji from Tokaj.
Hungarian (magyar) is a Finno-Ugric language unrelated to most other languages in Europe. There are around 14.5 million native speakers, of whom 9.5-10 million live in modern-day Hungary. Since Hungarian is a null subject language, the subject does not have to be explicitly stated. The order of words in a sentence is determined not by syntactic roles, but rather by pragmatic, i.e. discourse-driven, factors. Hungarian is an agglutinative language. Most grammatical information is given through suffixes. Hungarian also has postpositions.


Italian is the language dove 'l sì suona (Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, Hell, XXXIII).
The Italian language belongs to the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European language family. It is the official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland. Italian is spoken by around 58 million people in Italy, 30 000 in San Marino, 840 000 in Switzerland, another one million in other European countries, and approximately five million in North and South America. The Roman alphabet is used for Italian and the pronunciation of the language follows the spelling very closely.
Historically, Italian is a daughter language of Latin. Italy’s history of fragmentation and colonisation by foreign powers determined a considerable linguistic diversification and led to the formation of various dialects. Northern Italian dialects are the Gallo-Italian – including Piedmontese, Ligurian, Lombard, and Emilian – and Venetian. Further south, the major dialects are Tuscan and various others from Umbria to Sicily. Sardinian, spoken on the island of Sardinia, is sufficiently distinct from other dialects to be considered by some a Romance language in its own right. The Rhaeto-Romance forms, similar to the dialects of northern Italy, are spoken in the border region between Italy and Switzerland and, in the case of Friulian, in north-eastern Italy. It is not known exactly when Italian became distinguishable from its parent tongue; however, no text in Italian is recorded before the 10th century AD.
The idiom of Florence, one of the Tuscan dialects of Italian, became dominant from the end of the 13th century to the middle of the 14th century, largely owing to the growing prestige of the city of Florence and the literary works written in the Florentine dialect during that period. These literary works included Dante's Divine Comedy and the vernacular writings of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Thus, although Italian had – and still has – a great many dialects, it was the culturally important idiom of Florence that over time gave rise to modern standard Italian.
Italian is often described both as the language of art and music and as the language best suited to singing. Since the Renaissance, its cultural importance has been considerable. Internationally, it continues to be used mainly in music and opera, gastronomy, as well as in some sports, and in the design and fashion industries.


Lithuanian, which is a mother tongue of about 3.6 million people, belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo‑European family. According to the famous French linguist Antoine Meillet, ‘Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant.’ Researchers of Indo-European languages say Lithuanian is the most archaic of all the living Indo-European tongues. In this respect it compares to the earliest Indo-European texts written 2 500-3 000 years ago.
Lithuanian has a highly archaic grammatical structure. It still employs the early schemes of word building and inflection where case, person, and other grammatical categories are expressed through word endings, and it has preserved the old declension patterns. The vocabulary of the Lithuanian language contains numerous words inherited from the proto-language of Indo-Europeans.
The Lithuanian language has two dialects: Highland Lithuanian and Lowland Lithuanian (Samogitian). There are significant differences between standard Lithuanian and Samogitian. Lithuanian uses the Latin alphabet, with additional diacritical marks. It has 32 letters:
a ą  b c  č d  e ę ė f  g h i  į y j k  l m n o  p r  s š  t u ų  ū v z  ž
Lithuanian first appeared in print in the form of a catechism in 1547. The first Lithuanian dictionary was printed in the 17th century. Between 1864 and 1904 the printing and teaching of Lithuanian was banned – Russian, Polish or Latin had to be used instead. After this ban was lifted in 1904, there was a resurgence of Lithuanian literature.
Today the Lithuanian government has an established language policy, and the use and protection of the Lithuanian language are regulated by the special Law on the State Language. The implementation of this Law is controlled by the State Language Inspectorate which can impose administrative penalties for violations of linguistic norms set by the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language.


Latvian belongs to the Eastern Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is one of three living Baltic languages (the others being Latgalian Latvian and Lithuanian). The Latvian, Latgalian Latvian and Lithuanian languages have retained many features of the nominal morphology of the proto-language.
Latvian is spoken in Latvia, Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, Venezuela and elsewhere by over 1.5 million people.
Latvian is an inflecting language with many analytical forms. There are two grammatical genders in Latvian (masculine and feminine) and two numbers, singular and plural. Nouns decline into seven cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative. Primary word stress, with a few exceptions, is on the first syllable. There are no articles in Latvian. Basic word order in Latvian is subject – verb – object; however, word order is relatively free.
Latvian in western orthography was first written using a system based upon Germanic phonetic principles, while Latgalian Latvian was written using Polish orthographic principles. At the beginning of the 20th century, this was replaced by a more phonetically appropriate system, using a modified Latin alphabet.
Out of over 6 700 world languages only around 200 have more than a million speakers so Latvian is one of the relatively few of these languages which is surviving. It seems to be a difficult language; one third of Russian youngsters living in Latvia have not mastered it according to a recent study from the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences (BSZI).


What do the words habibi, skarpan, bonswa, indipendenza and helikopter have in common?
They are all Maltese words! But their origins are different! All the words in the Maltese language reflect the history of the people. The very foundation of the language, the vocabulary related to agriculture, numbers, religious rites, old proverbs, etc. all have Semitic origins.Habib is friendsuq is market, and inhobbok is I love you. The Maltese language originated from Siculo-Arabic (the Arabic dialect that developed in the Maltese islands and Sicily between the 9th and 14th centuries). Phonetically it is largely similar to Arabic, although Maltese uses the Roman alphabet. Then came contact with Sicily, so the next generation of words are of Sicilian origin: skarpan from skarpanu (shoe repairer); miskin from miskinu (poor guy), etc. After a long period of settlement by the Knights of the Order of St John on Malta, Napoleon invaded in 1798, and with him came the French influence in words such as bonswa (good evening), bongu (good day) and karawett (peanut). Although after the French, the British ruled Malta for 164 years, the linguistic impact was minimal, since in the 19th century Italian was thelingua della cultura. At that time, Malta was developing its legal structure, and so we haveavukatsentenzaappellgurijamagistrat, etc. Recently, due to technology, tourism and Hollywood blockbusters, English has dethroned Italian as the lingua franca of the western world. This is also reflected in Maltese by the inclusion of many loanwords such as helikopter,kompjutertaxi and film.
The Maltese language is a living monument to the Maltese people and their thousand-year history. It is not easy for a foreigner to learn Maltese since the plural of a word depends on its origin, and some structures of the original language are kept, thus sometimes making their sense difficult for a non-native to understand. But if you know a bit of Italian, a bit of English and have a decent grasp of Arabic, then you can always haggle for a good price with the fisherman in Marsaxlokk or ask the glass-blowers in Mdina about the glass-making process.
Maltese is a living heritage passed on to the native speakers through the darker and brighter episodes of the island’s history. If you are looking sad or gloomy, than you have a wicc laskri(Lascaris face). Jean Paul Lascaris was a French Grand Master between 1636 and 1657 who was said always to have had a sad look on his face! Or if you think the world revolves around you: who do you think you are …. ir-Re Gorg? (King George). If you are a traitor, the Maltese will call you gakbin, just as the Jacobins were in the French revolution. Actually the Jacobins were not traitors, but the Maltese nobility spread the rumour that these were traitors in order to prevent the locals replicating the French Jacobins’ behaviour!
Any word has its own history, as does every bastion, temple and church. But no matter what your level of Italian, English or Arabic, you will always manage to communicate with the Maltese people. A smile will be a good introduction.  :-)


It is spoken by 22 million people, not only in the Netherlands, but also in Flanders (Belgium), Suriname (South America) and the Antilles and Aruba (the Caribbean). Afrikaans, spoken in South Africa, is also derived from Dutch. The grammar of Afrikaans has become greatly simplified, but speakers of Dutch and Afrikaans can understand each other reasonably well. Nonetheless, on Dutch television subtitles are provided when Afrikaans is spoken.
The Dutch Language Union (Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname) is the organisation which coordinates policy on the language and, for example, is responsible for its spelling, to which minor adjustments have been made from time to time.
A particular feature of spoken Dutch are its many harsh sounds and for that reason it is sometimes said to be unsuitable for poetry. This does not hold water; poets such as Neeltje Maria Min, Koos Schuur and Hans Lodeizen – to name but a few – have convincingly proved otherwise. Dutch also has a thriving narrative literature, examples of which have been translated into numerous world languages in recent decades. Successful authors include Hella Haasse, Cees Nooteboom, Harry Mulisch and many others.
There are obvious differences in the way in which Dutch is spoken in the north and south of its home range in Europe, for example in the pronunciation of the letters w and g. In the north, gapproximates to the final sound in the Scottish loch, whereas in the south it has a softer sound. The dividing line does not coincide with the political border between the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders), but runs further north, where several major rivers, including the Rhine, Maas and Waal, cross the Netherlands from east to west. Thus the provinces of North Brabant, Limburg and Zeeland in the southern Netherlands are linguistically closer to Flanders.
Strictly speaking, ‘Holland’ refers only to two provinces on the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, but many northerners tend to use ‘Holland’ and ‘the Netherlands’ interchangeably. Natives of Limburg meanwhile think of Holland as being the area north of the major rivers, and if they refer to somebody as a Hollander (Dutchman), it may convey some pejorative overtones. For historical reasons, there are also some unequivocal cultural differences between Holland on the one hand and Brabant and Limburg on the other.
Returning to the Dutch language in general, its consonants are closer to English than to German (e.g. maken/make vs. machenpan/pan vs. Pfanne). In sentence structure, however, it is closer to German (e.g. as regards the position of the verb in the sentence). On the other hand, Dutch has almost entirely lost its case system. It still has two genders – common (masculine/feminine) and neuter – although the north and south do not always agree on their use (de koffer vs.het koffer). Moreover, in the north the last vestiges of the distinction between masculine and feminine, as expressed in pronouns and possessive adjectives, have more or less disappeared, so in that region it is not unusual for people to refer to a cow as hij (he).
Diminutive forms are frequently used in Dutch: een kopje koffie (literally small cup of coffee), het spoorboekje (the railway timetable, which may be a bulky publication), eenretourtje (a return ticket). Dutch has influenced other languages, particularly in the field of shipping (French: bâbord, tribord, matelot; English: skipper, yacht), military affairs (boulevardis derived from bolwerk) and on occasion, politics (apartheid).
The language is taught at 225 universities outside the Netherlands and Flanders, so can hardly be said to be in terminal decline. It may not have as many speakers as English, French, Spanish, German, Polish or Italian, but among the ‘smaller’ languages it is still one of the largest, and so it could rightfully adopt a higher profile than it has done of late.


Polish is the official language of Poland and the most widely spoken West Slavic language. Polish was a lingua franca from 1500-1700 in small parts of Central and large parts of Eastern Europe due to the political, cultural, scientific and military influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Nowadays around 40‑48 million people worldwide speak Polish as their mother tongue. ‘Standard’ Polish is still spoken somewhat differently in different regions of the country, although the differences between these broad ‘dialects’ are slight. The Polish alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but uses diacritics, such as kreska (graphically similar to the acute accent, e.g. ź), kropka (superior dot, e.g. ż) and ogonek (like an inverted comma added at the bottom of a letter, e.g. ę).
Polish culture has been influenced by both east and west. Today, these influences are evident in Polish architecture, folklore, and art. Poland is the birthplace of some world famous people, including Pope John Paul II, Marie Sklodowska Curie, Kazimierz Pulaski, and Nicolaus Copernicus. Many world renowned Polish film directors include Academy Awards winners Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Writers Henryk Sienkiewicz, Wladyslaw Reymont, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska have each won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Notable foods in Polish cuisine include sausage (kielbasa), beetroot soup (barszcz), dumplings (pierogi), tripe soup (flaczki), cabbage rolls (golabki), various soups and potato dishes, and many more. Traditional Polish desserts include doughnuts (paczki), cheesecake (sernik), gingerbread (piernik), and others.


Portuguese is a Romance language that evolved from the Galician-Portuguese language, itself descended from Latin, which was spoken in the mediaeval Kingdom of Galicia, a territory now divided between northern Portugal and Galicia and Asturias in Spain. Portuguese also absorbed influences from the Romance and Arabic languages spoken in the areas that were conquered by the Portuguese Reconquista. It was spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial empire that included Brazil in South America, Goa and other parts of India, Macau in China, Timor in South East Asia and the five African countries that make up the Portuguese-speaking African countries, referred to as the PALOP lusophone area (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa): Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique. Portuguese was used as the exclusive lingua franca on the island of Sri Lanka for almost 350 years. During that time, many creole languages based on Portuguese also appeared around the world, in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Today, Portuguese is one of the world's major languages, ranked seventh according to the number of native speakers (between 205 and 230 million). In addition to Portugal and Brazil, it is spoken in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor and (since 2007) Equatorial Guinea, as well as in the former territories of Portuguese India (Goa, Daman, Isle of Anjediva, Simbor, Gogol, Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli) and in small communities that were part of the Portuguese Empire in Asia, such as Malacca in Malaysia, and, in East Africa, Zanzibar in Tanzania.
The system of sounds in Portuguese is more similar to the phonologies of Catalan or French than those of Spanish or Italian in a number of ways. Nevertheless, the grammar, structure and vocabulary of the Portuguese and Spanish languages are so similar that phonetic differences do not impede intelligibility between them to any significant extent. Portuguese comprises two internationally recognised standards, European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.
Portuguese is termed ‘the language of Camões’, after one of Portugal's best-known literary figures, Luís Vaz de Camões.


Romanian is an Indo-European language belonging to the family of Romance languages, with more than half of its vocabulary being traced back to Latin, the remainder representing Slavonic, Greek, Turkish or other words left behind by the migrating people who had contact with Romania. Modern words have been borrowed from different languages such as French, Italian, German and English. Romanian grammar is also based on Latin, having preserved only five cases (nominative, genitive, accusative, dative and vocative) and all three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter). The Romanian alphabet has 31 letters, including five special letters with diacritical signs: aâîş and ţ. The Romanian language is also an official language in the Republic of Moldova and in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and is also spoken in certain parts of Serbia, Ukraine, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece.
Romania is a country which encompasses most geographical features, from high alpine peaks (at 2 544 m the Moldoveanu in the Carpathians is the highest mountain in Romania) to the sea (Black Sea). Most people have heard something about Romania and its cities. Who has not heard of Bucharest, the capital city or ‘little Paris’, as we like to call it, or Sibiu, a beautiful city that was named European Capital of Culture in 2007, together with Luxembourg, to name just a couple? But Romania is especially known for its people, from writers and artists to sportsmen and businessmen (Mircea Eliade, Constantin Brâncuşi, George Enescu, Gheorghe Zamfir, Nadia Comăneci, Gheorghe Hagi, Ion Ţiriac, Ilie Nastase, and many more). To find out what the world would have missed if Romania didn’t exist, watch A World without Romania on


The Slovak language is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Slavic languages (together with Czech, Polish, Silesian, Kashubian and Sorbian). It uses a Latin alphabet with only small modifications (four diacritics (´,ˇ,¨, ^) placed above certain letters).
Slovak is based on several principles. The main one is the phonemic principle – ‘Write as you hear’. The second is the morphological principle, which means that forms derived from the same stem are written in the same way, even if they are pronounced differently. The third is the etymological principle, which can be seen in the use of i after certain consonants and of yafter other consonants, although both i and y are pronounced in the same way. Finally, there is the rarely applied grammatical principle, under which, for example, there is a difference in writing (but not in pronunciation) between the basic singular and plural forms of masculine adjectives.
The Slovak language uses no articles. The verb agrees in person and number with its subject. Adjectives, pronouns and numerals agree in person, gender and case with the noun to which they refer. Nouns are always preceded by their adjectives – the exceptions being botanical and zoological names. The word order is relatively free since strong inflection enables the identification of thematic roles (subject, object, predicate, etc.) regardless of word placement. The accent (stress) in the standard language is always placed on the first syllable of a word (or on the preceding preposition). This is not the case in certain dialects however, which sometimes makes them difficult for speakers of standard Slovak to understand.
Slovak is spoken by around 5 million people in Slovakia. In addition, it is also spoken in other countries such as Canada, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and the United States.


Slovene or Slovenian (slovenski jezik or slovenščina, not to be confused with Slovak orslovenčina) is, alongside Croatian and Serbian, an Indo-European language belonging to the Western subgroup of the South Slavic branch of Slavic languages. Slovene is spoken by approximately 2.4 million speakers worldwide, the majority of whom live in Slovenia, but also by Slovene national minorities in Venetian Slovenia and other parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy (more than 100 000 speakers), in Carinthia and other parts of Austria (25 000 speakers). It is also spoken in Croatia, especially in Istria, Rijeka and Zagreb (11 800-13 100 speakers), in south-western Hungary (3 000-5 000 speakers), in Serbia (5 000 speakers), and by the Slovene diaspora throughout Europe and the rest of the world (around 300 000 speakers), particularly in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia and South Africa.
Like all Slavic languages, Slovene traces its roots back to the same proto-Slavic group of languages that produced Old Church Slavonic. The earliest known examples of a distinct, written Slovene dialect are from the Freising Manuscripts, known in Slovene as Brižinski spomeniki. The consensus estimate about their date of origin is between 972 and 1093 (most likely before 1000). These religious writings are among the oldest surviving manuscripts in any Slavic language.
Literary Slovene emerged in the 16th century thanks to the works of Reformation activists Primož Trubar, Adam Bohorič and Jurij Dalmatin. During the period when present-day Slovenia was part of the Austro‑Hungarian Empire, German was the language of the elite, and Slovene was the language of the common people. During this time, German had a strong impact on Slovene, and many Germanisms are preserved in contemporary colloquial Slovene. Many Slovene scientists before the 1920s also wrote in foreign languages, mostly German, the lingua franca of science at the time. The cultural movements of Illyrism and Pan‑Slavism brought words from Serbo-Croatian and Czech into the language. For example, Josip Jurčič, who wrote the first novel in Slovene published in 1866, used Serbo-Croatian words in his writing.
During World War II, when Slovenia was divided between the Axis Powers of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Hungary, the occupying forces attempted to suppress the Slovene language.
Following World War II, Slovenia became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Slovene was one of the official languages of the federation. In the territory of Slovenia, it was commonly used in most areas of public life. One important exception was the Yugoslav army in which exclusively Serbo-Croatian was used, even in Slovenia. National independence has revitalised the language; since 1991 when Slovenia gained independence, Slovene has been used as an official language in all areas of public life. It also became one of the official languages of the European Union upon Slovenia's accession in 2004.
The distinctive characteristic of Slovene, and that which the Slovenes are most proud of, is dual grammatical number. Where other languages use plural to describe the action of two people or the state of two things, Slovene has the dual form. The beauty of it is best seen in the sphere of love and romanticism, because it clearly refers to only two people.
Slovenes often assert that their language is endangered, despite the fact that it now has more speakers than at any point in its history. In an interview in the summer of 2003 for Slovenia’s principal daily newspaper Delo, British linguist David Crystal said:
No, Slovene is not condemned to death. At least not in the foreseeable future. The number of speakers, two million, is big. Welsh has merely 500 000 speakers. Statistically, spoken Slovene with two million speakers comes into the upper 10 per cent of the world's languages. Most languages of the world have very few speakers. Two million is a nice number: magnificent, brilliant. One probably would think this number is not much. But from the point of view of the whole world, this number has its weight. On the other hand, a language is never self-sufficient. It can disappear even in just one generation.


Swedish (svenska) is the mother tongue of around nine million people. Derived from primitive Norse – the language of the Vikings – it belongs to the North Germanic language group, together with Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic and Faroese. The Swedish alphabet consists of the 26-letter Latin alphabet plus the three letters å, ä, and ö.
Swedish is the main language of Sweden. In Finland, Swedish is one of the two official languages. It is the mother tongue for 5-6 % of the population in Finland, primarily along the coast and on the Åland islands. In the European Union, Swedish has been an official language since 1995.
From the time of the Hanseatic League to the early 20th century, Low German and, later, High German gave a large number of loanwords to Swedish for areas such as warfare, trade and administration, while upper‑class French was a major influence, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since World War II there has been a significant influx of English loanwords.
Modern spoken and written Swedish is less formal than most European languages. For example, du (singular second person pronoun) has become the standard way of addressing one another, even in formal and official contexts. Neither general titles such as herr (Mr), fru(Mrs) or fröken (Miss) nor professional titles are used to address people.
Swedes use the simple and informal greetings Hej! (Hello) and Hej då! (Goodbye), both when addressing their superiors or talking to friends.