The letter Å represents various sounds in several languages. It is a separate letter in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, North Frisian, Walloon, Chamorro, Lule Sami, Skolt Sami, Southern Sami, and Greenlandic alphabets. Additionally, it is part of the alphabets used for the Alemannic and the Austro-Bavarian dialects of German.
Though Å is derived from an A, with an overring, it is considered a separate letter. It developed as a form of semi-ligature of an A with a smaller o above it to denote a long and darker A, similar to how the umlaut mark that distinguishes A from A, and O/O from O, developed from a small e written above the letter in question.
1. Scandinavian languages
The å in Scandinavian alphabets represents two sounds, one short and one long.
- The short version represents IPA /ɔ/.
- In Swedish, the long version represents IPA /oː/. In Danish and Norwegian, the long version is pronounced IPA /ɔː/.
1.1. Scandinavian languages Use in names
In some place names, the old Aa spelling dominates, more often in Denmark than in Norway where it has been abolished in official use since 1917. Locals of Aalborg and Aabenraa resist the Å, whereas Ålesund is rarely seen with Aa spelling. Official rules allow both forms in the most common cases, but Å is always correct. Å as a word means "small river" in Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian and can be found in place names.
Before 1917, when spelling with the double A was common, some Norwegian place names contained three or four consecutive A letters: for instance Haaa now Håa, a river and Blaaaasen Blååsen, the blue "blå" ridge "ås").
In family names, the bearer of the name uses Aa or Å according to their choice, but since family names are inherited they are resistant to change and the traditional Aa style is often kept. For instance, the last name Aagaard is much more common than Ågård. The surname Aa is always spelled with double A, never with the single å. However, given names - which are less commonly inherited - have largely changed to the use of the Å. For instance, in Norway more than 12.000 male citizens spell their name Håkon, while only around 2.500 are named Haakon.
Company names are sometimes spelled with the double A by choice, usually in order to convey an impression of old-fashionedness or traditionality. The double A, representing a single sound, is usually kept in initials e.g. for people whose first, middle, and/or last name begins with the double A. Accordingly, a man named "Hans Aagard Hauge" would spell his initials "H. Aa. H." not "H. A. H." or "H. Å. H.", while a woman named Aase Vestergaard would spell her initials "Aa. V." not "A. V." or "Å. V.".
1.2. Scandinavian languages Danish and Norwegian
Correct alphabetization in Danish and Norwegian places Å as the last letter in the alphabet, the sequence being Æ, O, Å. This is also true for the alternative spelling "Aa". Unless manually corrected, sorting algorithms of programs localised for Danish or Norwegian will place e.g., Aaron after Zorro.
In Danish the correct sorting of aa depends on pronunciation - if the sound is pronounced as one sound it is sorted as Å regardless of the sound is a or å; thus, for example, the German city Aachen is listed under Å, as well as the Danish city Aabenraa. This is § 3 in the Danish Retskrivningsreglerne.
1.3. Scandinavian languages Swedish
In the Swedish and Finnish alphabets, Å is sorted after Z, as the third letter from the end, the sequence being Å, A, O.
1.4. Scandinavian languages International transcription
Alternative spellings of the Scandinavian Å have become a concern because of globalization, and particularly because of the popularization of the World Wide Web. This is to a large extent due to the fact that prior to the creation of IDNA system around 2005, internet domains containing Scandinavian letters were not recognized by the DNS system, and anyway do not feature on keyboards adapted for other languages. While it is recommended to keep the Å intact wherever possible, the next best thing is to use the older, double A spelling e.g. "www.raade.com" instead of "www.råde.com". This is because, as previously discussed, the Å/Aa indicates a separate sound. If the Å is represented as a common A without the overring e.g. "www.rade.com" there is no indication that the A is supposed to represent another sound entirely. Even so, representing the Å as just an A is particularly common in Sweden, as compared to Norway and Denmark, because the spelling Aa has no traditional use there.
Because the Finnish alphabet is derived from the Swedish alphabet, Å is carried over, but it has no native Finnish use and is treated as in Swedish. Its usage is limited to loanwords and names of Swedish, Danish or Norwegian origin. In Finland there are many Swedish-speaking as well as many Finnish-speaking people with Swedish surnames, and many Swedish surnames include Å. In addition, there are many geographical places in the Finnish coastal areas that have å in their Swedish names, such as Kråko and Långnas. The Finnish name for Å is ruotsalainen O "Swedish O", and is pronounced identically to O, which has the value.
In Emilian-Romagnol, å is used in words such as frått fruit, brått ugly, tåt everything, såppa soup, ståpid stupid, dåppi double. It is also used to represent the open-mid back unrounded vowel "man, woman".
4. Walloon writing
Å was introduced to some eastern local variants of Walloon at the beginning of the 16th century and initially noted the same sound as in Danish. Its use quickly spread to all eastern dialects, but the cultural influence Liege and covered three sounds, a long open o, a long close o or a long a, depending on the local varieties. The use of a single å letter to cover such pronunciations has been embraced by the new pan-Walloon orthography, with one orthography for words regardless of the local phonetic variations. The Waloon use of Å became the most popular use outside a Scandinavian language, even being used in the International Phonetic Alphabet drafted by Otto Jespersen.
In standardized writings outside the Liege area, words containing å are written with uh, a or o. For example, the word måjhon house, in the standardized orthography is written mojo, mahon, mohone, maujon in dialectal writings.
The Istro-Romanian alphabet is based on the standard Romanian alphabet with three additional letters used to mark sounds specific only to this language: å, l and n.
Å and å are also used in the practical orthography of Chamorro, a language indigenous to the people of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. The Chamorro name for Guam is "Guåhån," and its capital is called "Hagåtña".
7. Symbol for ångstrom
The letter "Å" U+00C5 is also used throughout the world as the international symbol for the non-SI unit ångstrom, a physical unit of length named after the Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångstrom. It is always upper case in this context symbols for units named after persons are generally upper-case. The ångstrom is a unit of length equal to −10 m one ten-billionth of a meter or 0.1 nm.
Unicode also has encoded U+212B Å ANGSTROM SIGN. However, that is canonically equivalent to the ordinary letter Å. The duplicate encoding at U+212B is due to round-trip mapping compatibility with an East-Asian character encoding, but is otherwise not to be used.
8. Other uses
The logo of the Major League Baseball team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is a capital "A" with a halo. Due to the resemblance, Angels fans are known to stylize the name as "Ångels". The logo of the Stargate series similarly features a stylized A with a circle above it, making it resemble an Å as in Stargåte; in Norwegian, "gåte" means "riddle". Similarly, Cirque du Soleils Koozå production also uses this character in its logo, although it is pronounced by the main singer as a regular "a".
British producer and singer Låpsley uses å in her stage name.
A related phenomenon is the metal umlaut, which unlike the previous examples is intentional use of diacritics.