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English words with diacritics: Wikis

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Some English language words have letters with diacritical marks. Most of the words are loanwords from French, with others coming from Spanish, German, or other languages. Some are however originally English, or at least their diacritics are. Proper nouns are not generally counted, except when used as an eponym.

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Words imported from other languages

Non-English words enter the English language by a process of "naturalization", or specifically Anglicisation, which is carried out mostly unconsciously (a similar process occurs in all other languages). During this process there is a tendency for accents and other diacritics that were present in the donor language to be dropped (for example à propos, which lost both the accent and space to become apropos). In many cases, imported words can be found in print in both their accented and unaccented versions. Since modern dictionaries are mostly descriptive and no longer prescribe outdated forms, they increasingly list unaccented forms, though in some cases the only correct English spelling (as given by the OED and other dictionaries) requires the diacritic (e.g., soupçon, façade).

Words that retain their accents often do so to help indicate pronunciation (e.g. frappé, naïve, soufflé), or to help distinguish them from an unaccented English word (e.g. exposé, résumé, rosé). Technical terms or those associated with specific fields (especially cooking or musical terms) are less likely to lose their accents (such as the French soupçon, façade and entrée).

Some Spanish words with the letter ñ have been naturalised by substituting ny (e.g. cañón is now usually canyon, piñón is now usually pinyon). Certain words like piñata, jalapeño and quinceañera are usually kept intact. In many instances the ñ is replaced with the plain letter n. In words of German origin, the letters with umlauts ä, ö, ü may be written ae, oe, ue. This could be seen in many newspapers during World War II, which printed Fuehrer for Führer. However, umlauts are usually now left out instead, with no e following the previous letter.

Sometimes diacritics are even added to imported words that originally didn't have any, often to distinguish them from common English words or to assist in proper pronunciation; maté from Spanish mate and animé are examples of these. Occasionally, hypercorrection can occur with borrowed words, with diacritics added where there should be none in the erroneous belief that this is the correct form. An example is the addition of an accent to the e in latte, to become latté or even lattè. In Italian, where an accent (almost always a grave accent) is used to indicate stress on the final syllable, latte is stressed on the first syllable, so has no accent. However, confusion with French café or Italian caffè leads to the unnecessary accent being added.

Native English words

In rare cases, the diacritic is not borrowed from any foreign language but is purely of English origin. It typically serves as a pronunciation guide, e.g., to mark a diaeresis. Examples include the ö in the now rare variant spellings of words such as coöperation (compare the original French coopération) and coöperative (e.g. the Harvard/MIT Coöperative Society), and the è that indicates a stressed syllable in words such as cursèd (again rare and mostly encountered in poetry or song lyrics).

Diacritics are sometimes added to make a word "seem foreign" for marketing purposes, such as foreign branding and the heavy metal umlaut.

Regional differences

Diacritics appear to be more acceptable in Canada than in the US, where anglophones are used to seeing French on food packaging, and French words often retain their orthography, for example café, Montréal, née, Québec, and résumé.

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