Diacritic Symbols

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Diacritic Symbols

Post  Vincent Law on Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:14 pm

The main use of diacritical marks in the Latin-derived alphabet is to change the sound value of the letter to which they are added. Examples from English are the diaeresis in naïve and Noël, which show that the vowel with the diaeresis mark is pronounced separately from the preceding vowel; the acute and grave accents, which can indicate that a final vowel is to be pronounced, as in saké and poetic breathèd, and the cedilla under the "c" in the borrowed French word façade, which shows it is pronounced /s/ rather than /k/. In other Latin alphabets, they may distinguish between homonyms, such as French "there" versus la "the," which are both pronounced [la]. In Gaelic type, a dot over consonants indicates lenition of the consonant in question.

In other alphabetic systems, diacritical marks may perform other functions. Vowel pointing systems, namely the Arabic harakat ( ـَ, ـُ, ـُ, etc.) and the Hebrew niqqud ( ַ, ֶ, ִ, ֹ , ֻ, etc.) systems, indicate sounds (vowels and tones) that are not conveyed by the basic alphabet. The Indic virama ( ् etc.) and the Arabic sukūn ( ـْـ ) mark the absence of a vowel. Cantillation marks indicate prosody. Other uses include the Early Cyrillic titlo ( ◌҃ ) and the Hebrew gershayim ( ״ ), which, respectively, mark abbreviations or acronyms, and Greek diacritical marks, which showed that letters of the alphabet were being used as numerals. In the Hanyu Pinyin official romanization system for Chinese, diacritics are used to mark the tones of the syllables in which the marked vowels occur.

In orthography and collation, a letter modified by a diacritic may be treated either as a new, distinct letter or as a letter–diacritic combination. This varies from language to language, and may vary from case to case within a language.

In some cases, letters are used as "in-line diacritics" in place of ancillary glyphs, because they modify the sound of the letter preceding them, as in the case of the "h" in English "sh" and "th".

English is one of the few European languages that do not have many words that contain diacritical marks. Exceptions are unassimilated foreign loanwords, including borrowings from French and, increasingly, Spanish; however, the diacritic is also sometimes omitted from such words. Loanwords that frequently appear with the diacritic in English include café, résumé or resumé (a usage that helps distinguish it from the verb resume), soufflé, and naïveté. In older practice (and even among some orthographically conservative modern writers) one may see examples such as lite and rôle.

English speakers and writers once used the diaeresis more often than now in words such as coöperation (from Fr. coopération), zoölogy (from Grk. zoologia), and seeër (now more commonly see-er), but this practice has become far less common; The New Yorker magazine is one of the few major publications that still use it.

A few English words can only be distinguished from others by a diacritic or modified letter, including animé, exposé, lamé, maté, öre, øre, pâté, piqué, rosé, and soufflé. The same is true of résumé, alternately resumé, but nevertheless it is sometimes spelled resume in the US, and saké, which is more commonly spelled sake. In a few words, diacritics that did not exist in the original have been added for disambiguation, as in maté (from Sp. and Port. mate) and Malé (from Dhivehi މާލެ).

The acute and grave accents are occasionally used in poetry and lyrics: the acute to indicate stress overtly where it might be ambiguous (rébelp vs. rebél) or nonstandard for metrical reasons (caléndar), the grave to indicate that an ordinarily silent or elided syllable is pronounced (warnèd, parlìament).

In certain personal names such as Renée and Zoë, often two spellings exist, and the preference will be known only to those close to the person themselves. Even when the name of a person is spelled with a diacritic, like Charlotte Brontë, this may be dropped in less careful sources such as webpages. They also appear in some worldwide company names and/or trademarks such as for instance Nestlé or Citroën.

Vincent Law
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