Identifying European languages

An overview

Like living species, languages evolve. One language spoken by two different groups may gradually become so distinct between the groups that it is no longer mutually intelligible, and two new languages are born. As such, it’s possible to construct a ‘family tree’, illustrating how we think languages are related to each other. The broad relationship between European languages is generally pretty well accepted, and many similar variations of their family tree can be found with a quick Google. Below, I’ve made my own offensively oversimplified version, with the aim of drawing attention only to the languages discussed here. I’ve missed off countless branches (including those leading to some modern-day Asian languages), as well as many minor or extinct languages, so if you’d rather have a look at a more complete version elsewhere then feel free, I don’t care. Honestly I don’t. I swear.

The Romance languages

French, Spanish and Italian are probably fairly easy to recognise for most people, because they have a certain ‘French-ness’, ‘Spanish-ness’ or ‘Italian-ness’ about how they look. Portuguese may be a bit harder, especially when trying to distinguish it from Spanish, and Romanian is definitely the most obscure.

The Germanic languages

I won’t cover English, as I assume you know what it looks like. If not, fair play for getting this far.

The Slavic languages

I find the Slavic languages a nightmare to tell apart; most of them look very similar to me even when comparing longer sections of text. Often the only thing that can help me distinguish them is the presence of a certain character which may not even appear in the text.

The Baltic languages

Latvian and Lithuanian — the Slavic languages’ closest genetic relatives.

The Finno-Ugric languages

A group that, as covered above, is genetically pretty isolated from all the other languages here.


Greek: Η γλώσσα είναι ένα δομημένο σύστημα επικοινωνίας που χρησιμοποιείται από τον άνθρωπο, συμπεριλαμβανομένων ομιλίας, χειρονομιών και γραφής. Οι περισσότερες γλώσσες έχουν ένα σύστημα γραφής που αποτελείται από γλύφους για να εγγράψει τον αρχικό ήχο ή χειρονομία και τη σημασία του. A lot of long, curvy letters. Looks like Greek, basically. Some people confuse uppercase Greek with Cyrillic, but in Greek you’ll see Δ (delta), Λ (lambda) and Σ (sigma). Cyrillic has more of a ‘backwards letters’ feel than uppercase Greek.


Albanian: Një gjuhë është një sistem i strukturuar i komunikimit i përdorur nga njerëzit, duke përfshirë fjalimin, gjestet dhe shkrimin. Shumica e gjuhëve kanë një sistem shkrimi të përbërë nga glica për të shkruar tingullin origjinal ose gjestin dhe kuptimin e tij. Albanian contains a lot of ë. Like a lot of ë. There are consonant combinations including h (commonly dh, sh and xh), and including j (gj and nj).


Maltese: Lingwa hija sistema strutturata ta ‘komunikazzjoni użata mill-bnedmin, inkluż diskors, ġesti u kitba. Il-biċċa l-kbira tal-lingwi għandhom sistema tal-kitba komposta minn glifi biex jinkitbu l-ħoss jew il-ġest oriġinali u t-tifsira tiegħu. Maltese, as a Semitic language, appears structurally similar to Arabic in that nouns and adjectives will be preceded by the definite article (often il-, which may transform to in-, ir-, it-, and various other forms before certain words). This is the equivalent of the Arabic ‘al-’. However, much of the vocabulary has been influenced by Italian, which leads to some of the same features discussed earlier, notably double consonants like tt and zz. If you see ħ, you’re looking at Maltese, although the letters ġ and x are also very common.

That’s it

Congratulations if you made it to the end because I barely did. Hope you found it useful.



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