User:PeterKa/Diacritics proposal

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Is it "pho" or "phở"? Why Vietnamese diacritics don't belong in English-language writing.

U.S. style guides generally recommend Merriam-Webster spelling, which does not include Vietnamese diacritics.[1] As you can see below, this is a standard practice followed by the all the major English-language publishers:

Wikipedia Merriam-Webster American Heritage[2] Oxford[3] Webster’s New World[4] Encyclopedias U.S. Board on Geographic Names[5]
Collegiate[6] Geographical[7] Britannica[8] Columbia[9] Conventional Approved
Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City or formerly Sai·gon 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 Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh
Hanoi Ha·noi Ha·noi Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi N/A Hà Nội
Haiphong Hai·phong Hai·phong Haiphong Haiphong Haiphong Haiphong Haiphong N/A Hải Phòng
Cần Thơ N/A Can Tho N/A N/A N/A Can Tho Can Tho N/A Cần Thơ
Da Nang Da Nang Da Nang Da Nang or Da·nang Da Nang Da Nang Da Nang Da Nang N/A Đa Năng
Biên Hòa N/A Bien Hoa also Bien-hoa N/A Bien Hoa Bien Hoa Bien Hoa Bien Hoa N/A Biên Hòa
Huế Hue or F Hué Hue or Hué Hue Hué Hue Hue Hue N/A Huế
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.

For biography, The Chicago Manual of Style recommends Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary and International Who's Who.[10] For geography, CMOS recommends Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary.[11] British style guides recommend the spelling given in the Oxford dictionaries.[12] An encyclopedia should give the reader the correct English-language name of the subject, which in this case is something that all the relevant references and style guides agree on.

  • Other library reference works don't use them either. See Encyclopedia of Modern Asia (2002), Spencer Tucker's Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (2011), Encyclopedia of Modern Asia (2002), Lonely Planet Vietnam, National Geographic Atlas of the World, and The Columbia Gazetteer of the World.[13] The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia (1993), the top specialist work on Vietnamese history, also drops the diacritics.
  • It's the style followed in the books people are actually reading. Look up any Vietnam-related topic on Amazon, sorted by "New and Popular." I guarantee that the top results will all be diacritics-free, at least as far as the running text is concerned.
  • It's not only for technical reasons. The standard rejoinder to the arguments given above is that U.S. publishers drop Vietnamese diacritics only for "technical reasons." The reference works are the authorities on spelling, as any style guide will tell you. So even if it really was for technical reasons, that shouldn't matter. But it isn't. All the major browsers have been able to display Vietnamese since 2000.[14] Unlike a U.S. publisher, a publisher based in Vietnam does not have to worry that a non-Vietnamese copy editor will screw up the diacritics.[15] Yet the country's most widely read English-language websites are nonetheless diacritics free.[16]
  • Style should be as unremarkable as possible so that readers can focus on content. "Although Vietnamese is written in the Latin alphabet, the number of accent marks can be distracting and may therefore be omitted," according to the style guide of National Geographic.[17] This publication has a great deal of experience with a wide variety of diacritics.
  • There is no trend toward increased use of diacritics. Yes, some publishers did experiment with them after Unicode was introduced. But for the last five years or so, the trend has been the other direction. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War was originally published in 1998 with diacritics. But these have been removed from the current (2011) edition of the work. VGP News once had diacritics, but switched to conventional English about two years ago.

Wikipedia RFC

Should our guidelines on diacritics and spelling be rewritten to reflect the recommendations of major style books?

Executive Summary: Wikipedia guidelines recommend resolving diacritic and style issues by doing a Google Book search in order to determine “general usage.” This is an “invented here” approach not recommended by any published style guide. It is also laborious when it is done correctly (as it rarely is) and is easily manipulated by partisans. The current proposal would revise the guideline to emphasize the use of reference works, in line with the recommendations of the major style guides.

Wikipedia is built on the idea that our article on Foo should reflect what reliable sources have to say about Foo. By the same logic, our guideline on diacritics should reflect what published style guides have to say about this subject. No guide advises editors to “follow the general usage in reliable sources,” do a Google Book search, and count how many books use a diacritic and how many don't. GBooks isn't structured to do this type of research, and counting diacritics is an unusual skill with application only on Wikipedia. As for Ngram, it may be able to tell you which name is more common or which spelling is more common. But it doesn't detect diacritics with any accuracy.

We need guidance that is short, sweet, and based on the advise of style specialists. All the major guides recommend that editors consult a widely available reference work. The current guideline includes the parenthetical phrase "including other encyclopedias and reference works." This phrase suggests that editors are already permitted to follow the approach outlined below. The guides recommend various dead tree dictionaries for use as a references. But their online counterparts obviously make more sense for our purposes.

I propose replacing the following standard for diacritics:

Issues concerning style, spelling, and diacritics may be resolved by consulting a widely available English-language reference work. Online dictionaries are available from American Heritage, Collins, Merriam-Webster, Oxford, Random House, and Webster's New World College Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica and Columbia Encyclopedia may also be consulted.

The Chicago Manual of the Style recommends Merriam-Webster spelling. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends Webster’s New World College Dictionary. New Hart's Rules recommends Oxford (for British spelling) and The Dictionary of National Biography (for the names of British individuals).

Here are some examples:

Wikipedia Merriam-Webster American Heritage[2] Oxford[3] Webster’s New World[4] Random House[18] Encyclopedias
Collegiate[6] Biographical[19] Britannica[8] Columbia[9]
Edvard Beneš Be·neš, Edvard Be·neš, Edvard Be·neš, Eduard Beneš, Edvard Beneš, Edvard Be·neš, Ed·u·ard Edvard Beneš Eduard Beneš
Tadeusz Kościuszko Koś·ciusz·ko, Tadeusz Andrzei Bonawentura 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
François Mitterrand Mit·ter·rand, François (-Maurice) N/A Mit·ter·rand, François Maurice Mitterrand, François Mitterrand, François (Maurice) Mit·ter·rand, Fran·çois (Mau·rice Ma·rie) François Mitterrand François Maurice Mitterrand
Ngô Quyền N/A Ngo Quyen N/A N/A N/A N/A Ngo Quyen N/A
Hideki Tojo Tō•jō Hideki Tōjō Hideki To·jo, Hideki Tojo, Hideki Tojo, Hideki To·jo, Hi·de·ki Tōjō Hideki Tōjō Hideki
Mihály Vörösmarty N/A Vö·rös·marty, Mihály N/A N/A N/A N/A Mihály Vörösmarty Mihály Vörösmarty

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 (or official Romanization if the local script is non-Latin). Although I used the chart to focus on difficult cases, it is common for all the references, including Wikipedia, to be in agreement, as you can see here. In other words, the way editors currently determine article titles is much closer to the proposed method than to the GBook counting approach.

Wikipedia Merriam-Webster American Heritage[2] Oxford[3] Webster’s New World[4] Encyclopedias U.S. Board on Geographic Names[5]
Collegiate[6] Geographical[20] Britannica[8] Columbia[9] Conventional Approved
Istanbul Is·tan·bul İs·tan·bul Is·tan·bul Istanbul Istanbul Istanbul Istanbul N/A İstanbul
Jyväskylä Jy·vas·ky·la Jy·väs·ky·lä N/A Jyväskylä N/A Jyväskylä Jyväskylä N/A Jyväskylä
Kinmen Que·moy Que·moy Que·moy In Pinyin Jin·men N/A N/A Quemoy Island Quemoy Quemoy Jinmen Dao
Lübeck Lü·beck Lü·beck Lü·beck Lübeck Lü·beck Lübeck Lübeck N/A Lübeck
Ploiești Plo·iesti or Plo·esti Plo·ieş·ti or Plo·eş·ti Plo·ieş·ti or Plo·eş·ti Ploieşti Plo·ieş·ti or Plo·eş·ti' Ploieşti Ploieşti N/A Ploiești
Zürich Zu·rich Zü·rich Zu·rich Zurich Zurich Zürich Zürich N/A Zürich


  1. Chicago Manual of the Style, p. 350. “For general matters of spelling, the University of Chicago Press recommends using...Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary."
    CMOS, p. 350. “Although the University of Chicago press uses Webster as its spelling authority, the use of other standard dictionaries such as the American Heritage Dictionary and the Random House Dictionary of the English Language is also acceptable.”
    CMOS, p. 387. “For the names of well-known deceased persons, Chicago generally follows the spelling in Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary or the biographical section of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
    American Psychological Association, "APA Style", "The APA Publication Manual recommends Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2005) as the standard spelling reference."
    Gibaldi, Joseph, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (2003), p. 61. "Your instructor will probably recommend a standard American dictionary such as The American Heritage College Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, or Random House Webster College Dictionary."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Oxford Dictionaries
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Webster’s New World College Dictionary
  5. 5.0 5.1 U.S. Board on Geographic Names
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
  7. Merriam-Webster Geographical Dictionary (1997)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Encyclopædia Britannica
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Columbia Encyclopedia
  10. A full list is here.
  11. CMOS, p. 403, “For the spelling of names of places, consult Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary.
  12. New Hart's Rules (2014), p. 48. “A good dictionary such as Concise Oxford English Dictionary or The Oxford Dictionary of English should be consulted on matters of spelling and inflection."
  13. I found these works in the reference section of the main library in Taipei, as well as in the reference section of the University of Minnesota Library. In addition, U of M has Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia (2004), which does use Vietnamese diacritics. This work is by ABC-CLIO, the same publisher as EVW. Like the first edition of EVW, it has numerous diacritic mistakes.
  14. Earlier browsers require that an appropriate font be installed. Explorer 5.5 and Netscape 4.7, both released in 2000, can display Vietnamese without tinkering. VNI Encoding, a program which allows the user to type in Vietnamese on a home computer, came out in 1992. VNI has been incorporated into Windows since 1995.
  15. See this complaint regarding the copyediting of Tucker's work.
  16. Alexa's rankings suggest that VietNamNet Bridge is Vietnam's top English language site. Voice of Vietnam's English site could be the second most widely read. VGP News is the government site, while VietnamPlus is main public site of the Vietnam News Agency. (In a communist country, the official news agency outranks the government.) Bao Moi aggregates Vietnam's various news sites.
  17. National Geographic Style Manual. "Although Vietnamese is written in the Latin alphabet, the number of accent marks can be distracting and may therefore be omitted."
  18. Random House Dictionary
  19. Merriam-Webster Biographical Dictionary (1995)
  20. Merriam-Webster Geographical Dictionary (1997)