A diacritic is a mark near or through a character that changes its phonetic value or significance. For example, diacritics appear above the letter "e" in the word "résumé," distinguishing the noun from the verb "resume." Diacritics are more common in various European languages than they are in English.
The following are some common diacritics:
- Áá — An acute accent is a symbol placed over a vowel in some languages, especially French and Italian.
- Àà — A grave accent is placed over a vowel in some languages, especially French, and Italian.
- Ââ — A circumflex is placed over a vowel in some languages, especially French.
- Ää — An umlaut, represented by two dots above the vowel, is used in some languages, especially German and Nordic languages like Swedish and Finnish.
- Ññ — A tilde is used in Spanish.
- Åå and Øø — These symbols are used in Scandinavian writing.
- Çç — A cedilla is used in French.
Sounds unique to Eastern European languages were once written with two letter combination called "digraphs." In De Ortographia Bohemica (1412), Jan Hus proposed the use of diacritics in place of digraphs. Eight characters with diacritics are included in International Morse Code: Ä, Á, Å, Ch (a Czech digraph), É, Ñ, Ö, and Ü. This system also includes the twenty-six characters of the Latin alphabet, numerals, and punctuation. It was developed by Friedrich Clemens Gerke in 1848 and was adopted as an international standard in 1865.
IBM introduced Extended ASCII, an eight-bit encoding standard, with the original PC in 1981. This set includes 37 characters with diacritics, both upper case and lower case. Latin-1, a slightly revised version of the IBM character set, was adopted as an international standard in 1987. Unicode, implemented by the Windows operating system since 2000, includes Latin-1 as well as a comprehensive collection of Nordic, Eastern European, and even Asian characters.
All the major style guides advise the writer to select a widely available reference work and to follow the spellings given in this work. Modern computer software allows dictionary and encyclopedia spellings to be reproduced exactly. Guidance that suggests dropping off technically difficult diacritics may be disregarded as outdated. Better known names, for example "Istanbul" or "Zurich," are often spelled without diacritics in English even though diacritics are part of the local language spelling. Lesser known names are generally spelled in the manner of the original language. Diacritics are not normally used for sports figures or for Vietnamese names. These are just rules of thumb, and each case should be checked separately in an appropriate reference work.
|Merriam-Webster||American Heritage||Oxford||Webster’s New World||Random House||Encyclopedias|
|Be·neš, Edvard||Be·neš, Eduard||Beneš, Edvard||Beneš, Edvard||Be·neš, Ed·u·ard||Edvard Beneš||Eduard Beneš|
|Koś·ciusz·ko, Tadeusz Andrzei Bonawentura||Kos·ci·uśz·ko or Kos·ci·us·ko, Thaddeus||Kosciusko, Thaddeus||Kosciusko, Thaddeus||Kos·ci·us·ko, Thaddeus||Tadeusz Kościuszko||Thaddeus Kosciusko|
|Mit·ter·rand, François (-Maurice)||Mit·ter·rand, François Maurice||Mitterrand, François||Mitterrand, François (Maurice)||Mit·ter·rand, Fran·çois (Mau·rice Ma·rie)||François Mitterrand||François Maurice Mitterrand|
|Tō·jō Hideki||To·jo, Hideki||Tojo, Hideki||Tojo, Hideki||To·jo, Hi·de·ki||Tōjō Hideki||Tōjō Hideki|
|Vö·rös·marty, Mihály||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||Mihály Vörösmarty||Mihály Vörösmarty|
|Wa·łe·sa [sic.], Lech||Wa·łę·sa, Lech||Wałęsa, Lech||Wałęsa, Lech||Wa·łę·sa, Lech||Lech Wałęsa||Lech Wałęsa|
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names sets U.S. government usage in geography. The “conventional” name is the name BGN deems suitable for English language usage. The “approved” name is the official name in the local language.
|Merriam-Webster||American Heritage||Oxford||Webster’s New World||Random House||Encyclopedias||U.S. Board on Geographic Names|
|Plo·iesti or Plo·esti||Plo·ieş·ti or Plo·eş·ti||Ploieşti||Plo·ieş•ti or Plo·eş·ti'||Plo·eş·ti||Ploieşti||Ploieşti||N/A||Ploiești|
|Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City Formerly Sai·gon||Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City||Ho Chi Minh City||Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh|
The following are Western European (Latin-1) diacritics:
- The acute accent: Áá, Éé, Íí, Óó, Úú.
- The grave accent: Àà, Èè, Ìì, Òò, Ùù.
- The circumflex: Ââ, Êê, Îî, Ôô, Ûû.
- The umlaut: Ää, Ëë, Ïï, Öö, Üü.
- The tilde: Ãã, Ññ.
- Scandinavian accents: Åå and Øø.
- The cedilla: Çç.
Latin-2 diacritics are used with Eastern European languages:
- Ąą Ęę Ţţ.
- The acute: Áá Ćć Éé Íí Ĺĺ Ńń Óó Ŕŕ Śś Úú Ýý Źź.
- The circumflex: Ââ Îî Ôô.
- The breve: Ăă Čč Ďď Ěě Ňň Řř Šš Ťť Žž.
- The umlaut: Ää Ëë Öö Üü.
- The cedilla: Çç Şş.
- The stroke: Đđ Łł.
- The double acute: Őő Űű.
- The s sharp: ẞß
Turkish is encoded as Latin-5, while the Nordic languages are encoded as Latin-6.
- ↑ Controls and Latin-1 Supplement, Unicode, Inc.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Oxford Dictionaries
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Webster’s New World College Dictionary
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Random House Dictionary
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Encyclopædia Britannica
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Columbia Encyclopedia
- ↑ This name is not given either online or in the Collegiate, but only in Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1995).
- ↑ U.S. Board on Geographic Names
- ↑ Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary (1997) gives "Hue or Hué." The variant has a French (not Vietnamese) diacritic over the e.
The following references may be consulted to determine proper spelling, including the correct use of diacritics:
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Recommended by The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary. This is an abridged version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, which is recommended by CMOS, MLA, and the American Psychological Association.
- Random House Dictionary. Recommended by CMOS and MLA.
- Webster's New World College Dictionary. Recommended by the Associated Press.
- Collins Dictionary
- Oxford Dictionaries. Recommended by New Hart's Rules, the British equivalent to CMOS.
- ESPN.com. ESPN Sports Almanac was a standard sports reference until it was discontinued in 2009. Much of the information that was formerly used for the almanac is available at this site.
- Chicago Manual of Style This is the best-known style guide. It is produced by the University of Chicago Press.
- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. CMOS gives this dictionary as its preferred spelling authority. The printed edition includes geography and biography sections not available in the free online version.
- Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary (1997). Recommended by CMOS for the spelling of place names. Britannica presents geography in the same spelling style. In fact, the material on Britannica’s site is likely to be more carefully edited, more comprehensive, aend more up to date.
- Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1995). Recommended by CMOS for the spelling of personal names. The comments above regarding Britannica and geographic names are even more applicable to biographical names. This book is no longer in print.
- National Geographic Atlas of the World. Recommended by AP.