When I use multiple languages with Babel (e.g., with \usepackage[german,french,latin,english]{babel}), I realize that english is the default language because it is the last listed, but what does Babel do when it encounters a non-English word? How does it hyphenate it? Does it look for the word in, in my case, a German, French, or Latin hyphenation dictionary? If so, what if the same word is in multiple dictionaries, although it may be syllabicated differently? How would it hyphenate it then?

Is there an order of precedence is the multilingual documents for hyphenation purposes?

  • TeX can't read and doesn't understand languages; it just typesets whatever you pass to it using the rules you specify. If you have, say, a German word, use \foreignlanguage{german}{Götterfunken}. By the way, ngerman should be preferable, as it conforms to the new orthography for German.
    – egreg
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:34
  • @egrag: Thanks, but I'm typesetting 19th century German. Should ngerman still be used for that?
    – Geremia
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:50
  • Oh, no! In that case the old orthography is definitely what you need.
    – egreg
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:15
  • Since you have some responses below that seem to answer your question, please consider marking one of them as ‘Accepted’ by clicking on the tickmark below their vote count (see How do you accept an answer?). This shows which answer helped you most, and it assigns reputation points to the author of the answer (and to you!). It's part of this site's idea to identify good questions and answers through upvotes and acceptance of answers. Oct 24, 2016 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


As far as I understand it, Babel will hyphenate every word using the rules for the current (declared) language. It doesn't look for the word in any dictionary, in the usual sense, but applies rules according to hyphenation patterns which are specific to each language. These are described in files such as frhyph.tex, dehyphn.tex or dehypht.tex.

  • I don't have the files frhyph.tex, dehyphn.tex or dehypht.tex. Where should they be located?
    – Geremia
    Apr 12, 2014 at 22:51
  • They're in MiKTeX2.9\tex\generic\hyphen. For TeX Live, they're in texmf-dist\text\generic\hyphen.
    – Bernard
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:04
  • @Geremia If you have a fairly recent TeX distribution, you don't need to worry about the hyphenation files; they are already included in the format you're using.
    – egreg
    Apr 12, 2014 at 23:16
  • @egreg: Yes, I have bleeding-edge TeXLive.
    – Geremia
    Apr 13, 2014 at 1:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .