Trivia Teaser

In 1854, Britain allied with France to fight Russia in which war?

Crimean War
First World War
Boer War
War of the Roses

There's always a diacritic


By Miranda

I'm making a creme for my souffle, my coffee's in the cafetiere, the pate comes from the cafe, the decor of which betokens an elite chateau ambience. While the attache has written a communique in detail, with detachment far from mediocre, I've made a flambe of a kepi and epee, just for the felicity of it, as I become a genie of macrame in my spare time.

Of which I don't have much.

Which accounts for my reluctance to spend such time as I have laboriously researching foreign languages when I'm writing in English.

Yes, the point I'm making with the creme, souffle, cafetiere, pate, cafe, decor, elite, chateau, communique, detail, detachment, mediocre, flambe, kepi, epee, felicity, genie and macrame is that, IN THEIR NATIVE FRENCH, they each take a diacritic or two to assist with their FRENCH pronunciation.


In English, we do not have these little guides to pronunciation. In English we do not seem to have any difficulty with discriminating between the LEAD Black Caviar might extend over other runners in twenty-five races and the LEAD weighting her saddle...

And, were I writing in French, I should indeed pay attention to the correct assignment of diacritics, as is proper.

But these are words the English language has borrowed. None is particularly obscure, all in frequent use. So why do we have to observe (sometimes) the exotic diacritics? And why does English have this cultural cringe with respect to French? It's far less often that we make a point of observing German or Spanish markers. El Nino, for example, was un-tilded faster than the melting of Greenland's ice cap. Is English still getting over its colonisation way back in the time of the Norman Conquest?

Are you particularly attached to any of these imports?


14 Responses to

There's always a diacritic

April 17, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Actually, Miranda, any aid to correct pronunciation is a help to me. Being an avid reader, but without higher academic education, there are hundreds of words I understand and could use in a written sentence, but never having used those words verbally, I hesitate to try. The word "segue" came into fashion not long ago, and I thought it would be pronounced "seeg" as in "league"; but no - it's pronounced "segway"! I'm so glad I didn't try it in conversation.

April 17, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Since I am originally from Europe I am most familiar with the diacritics of some european languages and find it frustrating that my keyboard doesn't seem to be able to produce them - or I simply cannot figure out how to do it, one or the other. It makes me cringe every time I see the german word being written as 'Doppelganger' instead of 'Doppelgänger' or 'uber' instead of 'über', for example. At least have the decency and spell it out, as it Doppelgaenger or ueber, for that is what it stands for ;)

April 17, 2013 at 8:55 PM

I am currently working on my resume, which is quite apt without the diacritics, since I will be coming out of retirement.

April 18, 2013 at 5:39 AM

Australians see diacritics as an affectation. Use them when you're being 'proper' but otherwise, they're not necessary. ***I agree with Valkyrie, it would be a big help if they were readily available on the keypad. *** Beauregarde, when I wonder about pronunciation I check the word on ''... they will speak the word - very useful. Solved a long-term dispute between my sister and I about the pronunciation of chortle.

dawson said:
April 18, 2013 at 11:05 AM

You probably all know this but if you are creating a document, find Insert on your computer, then Symbol. Choose you Font and then select as a Subset, such as: Basic Latin Latin-1 Latin Extended-A or Latin Extended-B Have fun with ć ü é è æ œ etc. and write words like "onomatopœia." There are all sorts of symbols & letters from languages other than English and may be useful.

daffydill said:
April 18, 2013 at 2:29 PM

I have downloaded pages from Google which show how to type diacritical marks using ALT or CTRL combined with other keys. It is quite simple to use.

pdiaco said:
April 18, 2013 at 6:12 PM

It's only when you study other more developed languages (eg Greek, Mandarin, French)that you realise how sloppy the English vocabulary is. Not only is there no guide to pronunciation of a word but also there are far too many words that are spelt the same but have many different meanings. Google Translate has great difficulty translating English to other languages. In Mandarin words may be spelled the same too but are pronounced differently up to four ways, with four accent marks guiding the listener or reader (and machine Translators)) to the precise meaning of the each word.

Mo said:
April 19, 2013 at 5:19 PM

It's the variety of meanings / words that sound the same but have different spellings & meanings etc. that make word play and crosswords such fun. Is that why the English sense of humour is not appreciated by others?

3femmes said:
April 22, 2013 at 7:37 AM

Very clever NannyMouse. Best wishes job hunting.

kragzy said:
April 24, 2013 at 11:06 AM

It used to be smug about the fact that other languages need diacritics when English, sourced from so many languages, can survive without them. I used to think we English-speakers were pretty smart until I tried to learn Chinese. No diacritics there. Instead a different hieroglyphic for every word. Now that's hard!!

pdiaco said:
April 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Source - Phonology: Most aspects of the English phonological system cause difficulties for Chinese learners. Some English phonemes do not exist in Chinese; stress and intonation patterns are different. Unlike English, Chinese is a tone language. This means that it uses the pitch (highness or lowness) of a phoneme sound to distinguish word meaning. In English, changes in pitch are used to emphasize or express emotion, not to give a different word meaning to the sound. English has more vowel sounds than Chinese, resulting in the faulty pronunciation of words like ship/sheep, it/eat, full/fool. diphthongs such as in weigh, now or deer are often shortened to a single sound. Chinese learners find it difficult to hear the difference between l and r, and so may mispronounce rake and rice as lake and lice. Southern Chinese speakers have a similiar difficulty in distinguishing l and n. A major problem is with the common final consonant in English. This feature is much less frequent in Chinese and results in learners either failing to produce the consonant or adding an extra vowel at the end of the word. For example, hill may be pronounced as if without the double ll but with a drawn out i, or as rhyming with killer. The difficulties of pronouncing individual English words, compounded by problems with intonation, result in the heavily accented English of many Chinese learners. In some cases, even learners with perfect grammar may be very hard to understand.

origenes said:
July 17, 2014 at 12:27 AM

I suggest that you start debating this issue instead to shorten the scroll time

keight said:
July 17, 2014 at 1:06 AM

No wonder English is so hard for non-English people to master. Consider the letter combination of "OUGH". It is used in the words THROUGH, DROUGHT, TOUGH, THOUGH and BROUGHT all with different pronunciations.

keight said:
July 17, 2014 at 1:21 AM

Forgot about TROUGH