Crossword puzzle


Jack Windsor Lewis’ blog 151 mentions the fact that ‘ch’ is counted as a single letter when alphabetising Welsh, Spanish (but not Portuguese) and Czech. Double ‘ll’ is likewise a single ‘letter’ in both Welsh and Spanish (as an example, lomo comes before llegar in a list of Spanish words), and ‘aa’ (increasingly old-fashioned alternative to ‘’) in Danish and Norwegian, where it is given the last place in the alphabet.

This leads me to ask: how are these letters treated in crosswords compiled in the relevant languages? Do the ‘ch’ ‘ll’ or ‘aa’ occupy a single box, or are they spread over two boxes as they would be in English crosswords?

Some years ago I had a dispute with a very reputable linguist on the question of whether Korean orthography was a syllabary or an alphabet. I maintained that it was an alphabet since each ‘block’ making up a syllable was transparently made up of individual strokes whose phonological value was constant. His counter argument was that in Korean crosswords, the whole syllable is necessarily placed within one box, and that therefore the writing system is a syllabary.

We agreed to disagree.


  1. I don’t think ch and ll are considered single letters in Spanish any more. Anyway, in Spanish language crosswords I have only ever seen them spread across two boxes.

  2. Well, Daniels and Bright (1996) agree with Graham : they define Hankul as “a phonemically based alphabet”; Taylor (1979), on the other hand, calls it an “alphabetic syllabary”.

    Daniels, Peter & Bright, William (1996) : The World’s Writing Systems, Oxford University Press.

    Taylor, Insup (1979) : “The Korean Writing System : An Alphabet ? A Syllabary ?”, in Processing of Visible Languages 2, eds Paul A Kolers, Merald E Wrolstad and Herman Bouma. New York : Plenum.

  3. In Welsh crosswords, ch and ll occupy a single box each, so the word for small, “bach”, would take up three boxes, not four; the same is true of dd, ff, ng, ph, rh, and th (although, as ph only occurs as a result of initial-consonant mutation, it’s unlikely to be ever written in a crossword).

  4. Welsh seems to follow through the logic of the digraph=single-letter idea much more consistently than Spanish (even before they stopped doing it at least ten years ago). However, the wacky alphabetisation thing is a nuisance, and not as straightforward as you might think either, since NG is not always a letter but sometimes the conjunction of a (morphologically separate) N and G, which might be pronounced separately in careful speech (just as in English “ng” can represent either /?/ or /ng~/?g/), or then again might not. I wonder if one day Welsh will cave in and abandon this charming but essentially pointless convention.

  5. What of Nederlands (Dutch) ? Does the “ij” ligature occupy one cell or two, does anyone know ?

  6. In Serbian Latin alphabet there are two digraphs – lj and nj (they represent the palatal lateral aproximant and palatal nasal, respectively), and they are both written in the same box in crosswords.
    Also, when it comes to vertical shop signs etc. in those cases the two letters are written side by side.

  7. “as an example, lomo comes before llegar in a list of Spanish words”

    As a more telling example (because the same words with the same spelling occur in both English and Spanish, and they often occur together in the same list), an alphabetical listing of South American countries will put Colombia before Chile if it’s in Spanish, but Chile before Colombia if it’s in English.

    We are not entirely free from such anomalies in English: standard practice in the UK, but not, I think in the USA, is to treat surname beginning Mc or M’ as if they were written Mac. So, in an index I have in front of me I see Ma, McBane, McElhaney, MacFarlane and McKay appeariing in that order.

    Lukas: “I dont think ch and ll are considered single letters in Spanish any more”. Although that is theoretically true, I don’t see much sign of it having a practical effect yet (any more than I see the disappearance of all the circumflexes that were abolished in French about 20 years ago.) Incidentally that doesn’t affect Spanish crosswords, which already put C H and L L in separate boxes before the reform.

  8. And now for a really abstruse question … Do Catalan crosswords distinguish between LL and L.L?

  9. It may be possible to find out online. According to JSTOR, “La Vanguardia is one of the first online papers to feature an interactive crossword puzzle, in both Spanish and Catalan.”

    La Vanguardia is at

  10. A Catalan-speaking friend has helped me to track down the on-line Catalan crucigrama. at

  11. Unfortunately, that page only seems to have a Castilian crossword – unless I’m missing something.

  12. Oops : OK, I’ve asked Warren (my Catalan-speaking friend) to check …

  13. You can find crosswords in Catalan at

    I haven’t found any with words in l.l (at least, not words that I’m sure have l.l), but quite a few with words in ll, such as “nivell”, and such words always have the LL in two boxes. See for example

    (My guess is that the contents of this URL change, so it may be different after today.)

  14. Sorry, Warren now reports : “There is only Castilian.

    LaVanguardia has a Google-translated-to-Catalan site but I get only error messages from the crosswords.”

    That will teach me to believe JSTOR !

  15. I see from his blog on Tuesday 17 March 2009 ( that John Wells agrees with me – the Korean writing system is alphabetic.

  16. Dutch ij normally occupies a single cell in crosswords. In fact, it is not uncommon for Dutch crosswords to merge ij with y, allowing ‘hobby’ to share one cell with ‘dijk’. Also the solution would be published all-caps using Y for both Y and IJ. This helps in aligning text-based solutions.

  17. Norwegian officially replaced aa with in 1917 and Danish did the same in 1948. Since then, aa is only retained in some surnames, and would use two crossword boxes.

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