Relative Differences of European Languages


I recently came across this fascinating chart that graphically shows the “lexical distance” between among the languages of Europe. It’s a really neat diagram, but unfortunately it doesn’t use ISO language codes in its abbreviations, so some of the languages can be hard to figure out. I already had a sense of some of these distances, but not others. One of the more interesting things to look at is the distance between the major Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian) and the less-known Romance languages that lie between them (Catalan, Romansh, Sardinian, etc). It shows that you can go between Spanish and French using only connections between close languages: Spanish -> Catalan -> Italian -> Romansh -> French. Italian seems to stand midway between Spanish and French. As for English, there are no languages connected with a small lexical distance; the closest is Frisian.

I decided to go through the effort of figuring out what each language in the chart is, and made out some tables below to show the result. I’m not 100% sure on all of them because there are some ambiguities: “Sr” and “Srb” both could be either “serbian” or “sorbian”. I resolved which was which by looking at language trees to see what language neighbors they are closer to; “Sr” was closest to “Pol” (polish) and “Cze” (Czech), and both of those are in the West Slavic language family which includes Sorbian. The difficulty of deciphering non-standard abbreviations really highlights the advantages of using a standard.


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Bre br bre Breton
Ga gd gla Gaelic
Ir ga gle Irish
We cy cym Welsh


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Cat ca cat Catalan
Fre fr fre French
Glc gl glg Galician
Ita it ita Italian
Por pt por Portuguese
Pro oc oci Provençal/Occitan
Rm rm roh Romansh
Rom ro ron Romanian
Spa es spa Spanish
Srd sc srd Sardinian


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Bok nb nob Bokmål (Norwegian)
Dsh da dan Danish
Dut nl nld Dutch
Eng en eng English
Fa fo fao Faroese
Fri fy fry Frisian
Ger de deu German
Ice is isl Icelandic
NN nn nno Nynorsk (Norwegian)
Swe sv swe Swedish


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Est et est Estonian
Fin fi fin Finnish
Hun hu hun Hungarian


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Lat lv lav Latvian
Lit lt lit Lithuanian


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Alb sq sqi Albanian
Grk el ell Greek


Chart ISO 639-1 ISO 639-2/T Language name
Blr be bel Belarusian
Bul bg bul Bulgarian
Cro hr hrv Croatian
Cze cs ces Czech
Ma mk mkd Macedonian
Pol pl pol Polish
Rus ru rus Russian
Slo sl slv Slovene
Sr wes Sorbian
Srb sr srp Serbian
Svk sk slk Slovak
Ukr uk ukr Ukranian