The Languages of Europe


There are three main language families in Europe. The largest is the Indo-European language family, with six sub-families represented in Europe. The second is the Finno-Ugric family, with three languages represented in Northeast Europe and eastern Europe. The third family is represented by one language spoken in the northwestern Spain in the Pyrennees mountains, Basque.




Indo-European is the largest language family in Europe.  Indo-European languages are spoken throughout Europe, western Asia and, because of colonization, throughout North and South America and Oceania. Each sub-family of Indo-European represents a different part of the larger, Indo-European family of languages. 


Indo-European Sub-Families in Europe
(you will be expected to know the first 3 families and at least one example from each of those three families)



The official languages of these countries came from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.  All use the Latin alphabet, which is what we use in English. The main languages from this group are as follows. There are a few others spoken by fewer people.



Official language of:
Italian Italy
Spanish Spain (and countries throughout North and South America)
French France, Belgium, Switzerland (and Canada, Haiti and Northern Africa, etc.)
Portuguese Portugal (and Brazil, Angola and former colonies)
Romanian Romania
Catalan Spain, Andorra




All these languages borrowed the Latin alphabet, but some use old Norse runic symbols for letters not supplied by the Latin alphabet.



Spoken in:
English Great Britain (UK), U.S.A., Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.
German Germany, Austria, Switzerland
Dutch The Netherlands (Holland)
Flemish Belgium
Norwegian Norway
Swedish Sweden
Danish Denmark




Slavic European languages either use the Latin alphabet, like English, or the Cyrillic alphabet, like in Russian.  Which alphabet they use depends on whether the national languages developed under western Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Catholicism, based in Rome, transcribed local languages in the Latin alphabet.  Orthodoxy transcribed local languages in Cyrillic alphabets, which are based on the Greek alphabet. There are more official Slavic languages than those mentioned below.



Spoken in: Details
Russian Russia, Kazakhstan, other former Soviet Central Asian republics Cyrillic alphabet
Ukrainian Ukraine Cyrillic alphabet
Polish Poland Latin alphabet, largely Catholic
Czech Czech Republic Latin alphabet, Catholic influence
Slovak Slovakia Latin alphabet, Catholic influence
Serbo-Croatian Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia Croatia is largely Catholic and so uses the Latin alphabet. Serbia is largely Orthodox Christian and so uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Bosnia is largely Muslim but uses the Latin alphabet.
Bulgarian Bulgaria Cyrillic alphabet
Slovenian Slovenia Latin alphabet, largely Catholic




Ireland is the only country in Europe where a Celtic language (Irish) is an official language, but it is a co-official language with English.  Welsh is a co-official language with English in the British republic of Wales.  Breton in spoken in the French province of Brittany. Scots Gaelic is spoken by very few people in northwestern Scotland. Celtic languages used to be spoken throughout Europe and what is now Turkey but most are now either extinct or seriously endangered.



Greek is written in the Greek alphabet. It is the official language of Greece and one of the official languages of Cyprus (with Turkish).  Albanian is written in the Latin alphabet and is the official language of Albania.






These languages are related to some minority languages spoken in Russia, and distantly related to Turkic languages.  The languages below are written in the Latin alphabet.


Official language of:
Finnish Finland
Estonian Estonia
Hungarian Hungary



BASQUE  Basque is spoken in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.  It is a "language isolate", which means people do not know of any other languages to which it is related.  It is thought that it was the language of the original inhabitants of Europe.

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Copyright 2004 Alfia Wallace