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Old 02-13-2005, 06:40 PM
Bag of Mostly Water Bag of Mostly Water is online now
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Umlauts in English?

I just received my March 2005 issue of Technology Review. In any word where the vowel is repeated because of a prefix, they put an umlaut over the second vowel.

Examples:
  1. Page 13 in the letter "Killing Science at NASA" they use "deëmphasizing."
  2. Page 17 in "Cloning: Let the Market Decide" they use "preëlection."
  3. Several articles use "coördinate."
I have never seen this in an American English publication. Are the folks at MIT ahead of the curve or this an old, formal standard?
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  #2  
Old 02-13-2005, 06:53 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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No, they don't "put an umlaut over the second vowel," any more than you try and convict carbon dioxide for a violation of the Ideal Gas Law.

An umlaut is a sound shift in a Germanic language which is recognized by placing a diaresis over a vowel. "O umlaut" is not equivalent to "E grave" in terms of specifying vowel plus diacritical mark, but rather means "O to which the umlaut {sound shift} has been applied."

But given that, it is customary in some systems of English style to represent that two consecutive vowels are not a diphthong but two distinct sounds by placing a diaresis over the second. A similar use indicates that a final E is not silent but represents an -eh sound, particularly in foreign names with a written similarity to English words pronounced quite differently. The Greek goddess Persephone, for example, is also called Core -- but that's "KOH-reh," not "kohr" as in apple, and so is sometimes written Corë.
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Old 02-13-2005, 06:59 PM
pinkfreud pinkfreud is offline
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Then there's the Brontë sisters. With a regular 'e', folks would probably pronounce it "Bront."
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Old 02-13-2005, 07:04 PM
Bag of Mostly Water Bag of Mostly Water is online now
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Thanks, Polycarp. Googling "diaresis" brought up this link. It seems that this is/was done, but is not common. It looked really odd to me.
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Old 02-13-2005, 07:05 PM
Civil Guy Civil Guy is offline
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It's important to coördinate between using an umlaut and a diaresis, apparently - otherwise, we're just being naïve.
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Old 02-13-2005, 07:54 PM
commasense commasense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ex_Chemist
I have never seen this in an American English publication. Are the folks at MIT ahead of the curve or this an old, formal standard?
Professional editor here.

To answer your questions, I'd call this style quirky and oddly quaint, especially for a publication on modern technology. It is, of course, Technology Review's right to establish its own style, but personally, I think there are few cases in which the diaresis would be preferable to nothing (in the case of coordinate, for instance) or a hyphen, if the word without a diaresis might not be immediately comprehensible (the other two examples you gave). Names (i.e. Noël Coward, Chloë, etc.) are perhaps the most justifiable cases in which to use the diaresis. (I'm open to other opinions, though.)

The downside to its use is the confusion and distraction it will cause many, if not most, modern readers. Including, obviously, the OP.

I've just checked Fowler and the AP and Chicago style manuals, and they are all oddly silent about the diaresis as a matter of style.
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Old 02-13-2005, 08:11 PM
OxyMoron OxyMoron is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by commasense
Professional editor here.

To answer your questions, I'd call this style quirky and oddly quaint, especially for a publication on modern technology. It is, of course, Technology Review's right to establish its own style, but personally, I think there are few cases in which the diaresis would be preferable to nothing (in the case of coordinate, for instance) or a hyphen, if the word without a diaresis might not be immediately comprehensible (the other two examples you gave). Names (i.e. Noël Coward, Chloë, etc.) are perhaps the most justifiable cases in which to use the diaresis. (I'm open to other opinions, though.)

The downside to its use is the confusion and distraction it will cause many, if not most, modern readers. Including, obviously, the OP.

I've just checked Fowler and the AP and Chicago style manuals, and they are all oddly silent about the diaresis as a matter of style.
Actually, the stylebook you'd really need to look for would be the New Yorker's, which is quite devoted to the diaresis - it's the only general-interest magazine I know of that still uses it.
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Old 02-13-2005, 09:14 PM
Meeko Meeko is offline
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Naive has a umlaut. Or at least sometimes it does. True the word isn't truly English. But we adopted it, and frankly I don't think there is an english counter part. I saw Naive written with an Umlaut for the first time in an Orson Scott Card book (Speaker for The Dead or Xenocide, I forget which). When I saw it, with the Umlaut, I figured it had to be "Naive" ... it would have been Naive to think otherwise.
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Old 02-13-2005, 09:24 PM
TheLoadedDog TheLoadedDog is online now
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I've occasionally seen canyon written in English as cañon. It tends to be in 19th Century books, and always instantly makes whatever it is I'm reading seem very old timey.
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Old 02-13-2005, 09:44 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meeko
Naive has a umlaut. Or at least sometimes it does. True the word isn't truly English. But we adopted it, and frankly I don't think there is an english counter part. I saw Naive written with an Umlaut for the first time in an Orson Scott Card book (Speaker for The Dead or Xenocide, I forget which). When I saw it, with the Umlaut, I figured it had to be "Naive" ... it would have been Naive to think otherwise.
As Polycarp pointed out, that's not an umlaut, it's a diaresis. (The confusion comes because the umlaut sound in German is also indicated by a diaresis.)

Including such marks used to be much more common 50-80 years ago. Another factor is that as a word such as naive gradually becomes adopted into English and becomes more familiar, such marks to indicate pronunciation tend to fall by the wayside (or in the case of a word like cañon, have it's spelling changed to do away with the "foreign" letter).
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  #11  
Old 02-13-2005, 09:45 PM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp
An umlaut is a sound shift in a Germanic language which is recognized by placing a diaresis over a vowel.
The diacritical mark ¨ is called an umlaut when it serves the function you describe in German--that is, the word does refer to the mark itself, not only to its function--and a dieresis only when it serves the function of indicating that two consecutive vowels are to be voiced separately.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Meeko
Naive has a umlaut. Or at least sometimes it does. True the word isn't truly English. But we adopted it, and frankly I don't think there is an english counter part.
That isn't an umlaut, it's a dieresis. We took the word from French, not German.
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Old 02-13-2005, 10:13 PM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is online now
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BTW, I tried to make a joke about the use of the umlaut in heavy metal band names, only to discover that my computer won't allow me to put the umlaut over the "n" in Spinal Tap.
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  #13  
Old 02-13-2005, 10:24 PM
commasense commasense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meeko
Naive has a umlaut. Or at least sometimes it does. True the word isn't truly English.
Naive is as "truly" English as any other word. Virtually all words, in all languages, come from some other language.
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  #14  
Old 02-14-2005, 08:30 AM
Excalibre Excalibre is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by commasense
Naive is as "truly" English as any other word. Virtually all words, in all languages, come from some other language.
But it does harken back a little closer to its origins than most words - perhaps not as close as "hors d'oeuvres" but close enough that it doesn't really fit nicely into English phonetics. Hence having to make special exceptions to write it.

Speaking of old-fashioned orthographies, when did we stop using the AE and OE ligatures in American English - or didn't we ever? All those words that the British add unnecessary Os and As to seem to shoe up with a classy-looking ligature in a lot of old books. Now I can't even figure out how to type those on my computer.
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Old 02-14-2005, 08:36 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew
The diacritical mark ¨ is called an umlaut when it serves the function you describe in German--that is, the word does refer to the mark itself, not only to its function--and a dieresis only when it serves the function of indicating that two consecutive vowels are to be voiced separately.
Biffy, while I'm not out to start an argument, that's not the way I learned it. I don't have a cite to validate my understanding, but do you have one for yours? Or do we have a linguist or grammatologist around who can provide the SD on this admittedly minor terminological difference?
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Old 02-14-2005, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp
Biffy, while I'm not out to start an argument, that's not the way I learned it. I don't have a cite to validate my understanding, but do you have one for yours? Or do we have a linguist or grammatologist around who can provide the SD on this admittedly minor terminological difference?
According to the Wikipedia's article on umlaut the two signs are (ever so slightly) different:
Quote:
The word (i.e. umlaut) is also used to refer to the diacritical mark composed of two small dots placed over a vowel (¨) to indicate this change in German. A similar mark is used to indicate diaeresis in other languages, but the umlaut dots are very close to the letter's body in a well-designed font, while the diaresis dots are a bit further above — in computer screen fonts the difference is usually not noticeable, but in printed material it is.
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Old 02-14-2005, 09:29 AM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp
Biffy, while I'm not out to start an argument, that's not the way I learned it. I don't have a cite to validate my understanding, but do you have one for yours? Or do we have a linguist or grammatologist around who can provide the SD on this admittedly minor terminological difference?
Well, I verified my understanding of both words by looking in in the good old Webster's dictionary--paper version. And note that the word dieresis (which, incidentally, everyone in this thread is misspelling; it's dieresis or diaeresis, but not diaresis) comes from the Greek for division or separation. It refers specifically to the function of separating two vowel sounds.
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Old 02-14-2005, 09:47 AM
commasense commasense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew
...everyone in this thread is misspelling; it's dieresis or diaeresis, but not diaresis...
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Old 02-14-2005, 01:45 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Excalibre
...close enough that it doesn't really fit nicely into English phonetics. Hence having to make special exceptions to write it.
That's just silly. There's thousands of such cases in English that we don't make exceptions for.
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Old 02-14-2005, 02:58 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheLoadedDog
I've occasionally seen canyon written in English as cañon. It tends to be in 19th Century books, and always instantly makes whatever it is I'm reading seem very old timey.
The word "cañon" is the Spanish word for "canyon." It's not the age of the book that matters, it's just whether the author is using the Spanish or English word.
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Old 02-14-2005, 03:02 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
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Quote:
To answer your questions, I'd call this style quirky and oddly quaint, especially for a publication on modern technology.
I don't see why that's surprising. Technically-minded people, writing in technical contexts, value precision and unambiguity. Including diareses decreases ambiguity, and thus would be considered desireable in such a publication.
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Old 02-14-2005, 03:55 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
The word "cañon" is the Spanish word for "canyon." It's not the age of the book that matters, it's just whether the author is using the Spanish or English word.
The word "cañon" is the Spanish spelling of "canyon." The word originated in American Spanish, then was adopted into English. (From Merriam Webster: "Etymology: American Spanish cañón, probably alteration of obsolete Spanish callón, augmentative of calle street, from Latin callis footpath.")

The age of the book does matter. When the word was first adopted into English, the Spanish spelling was used. As the word became more integrated into English, an alternative English spelling that preserved the sound of the Spanish original replaced the Spanish orthography. The original Spanish spelling is now obsolete in English, which is why one only sees it in older books.
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Old 02-14-2005, 04:10 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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Thank you for the comprehensive explanation. One thing that's not clear, though, is whether you're disagreeing with my statement that "cañon" is a perfectly valid (Mexican) Spanish word, meaning the same thing as the English word "canyon."

In other words, are you adding information to what I said, or are you correcting me?
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Old 02-14-2005, 04:10 PM
TheLoadedDog TheLoadedDog is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
The word "cañon" is the Spanish word for "canyon." It's not the age of the book that matters, it's just whether the author is using the Spanish or English word.
I'm aware it is the Spanish word, but I have always found that it is older books that use it. I've simply never seen that spelling in a contemporary work. Maybe it's to do with the fact that Britain is not exactly known for its canyons, so English didn't really need such a word until the United States had been fully explored. It was then borrowed and used as cañon until it had established itself enough as an English word for and English spelling to be used.
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Old 02-14-2005, 04:29 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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That's pretty much what I figured, LoadedDog. That's why Colibri's response was a bit puzzling. It sounds like he's saying that "cañon" isn't a Spanish word.
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Old 02-14-2005, 05:02 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InvisibleWombat
Thank you for the comprehensive explanation. One thing that's not clear, though, is whether you're disagreeing with my statement that "cañon" is a perfectly valid (Mexican) Spanish word, meaning the same thing as the English word "canyon."

In other words, are you adding information to what I said, or are you correcting me?
No, I agree that cañon is a perfectly valid Spanish word, and in fact is the original form, from which the English word was derived. What I was taking issue with was the statement that the "age of the book doesn't matter." In books in English, a hundred years ago or so it was common to see the spelling "cañon," whereas today that form is essentially never seen, having been supplanted entirely by "canyon." This has a change in the way the word is spelled in English (or it could be viewed as changing from using the Spanish word itself, to using an English version of the word). If one does see the spelling "cañon" in a modern work, it is usually italicized, to indicate the Spanish word is being used.

Sorry if my original point was unclear.
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Old 02-14-2005, 05:40 PM
Excalibre Excalibre is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
That's just silly. There's thousands of such cases in English that we don't make exceptions for.
Dude! You're talking English spelling here! If the exceptions didn't have exceptions, it'd be unAmerican! Hey, I here the Russians use a highly regular orthography. Anything you're not telling us, comrade?
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Old 02-14-2005, 05:48 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Originally Posted by Excalibre
If the exceptions didn't have exceptions, it'd be unAmerican!
Fine by me
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Old 02-14-2005, 06:01 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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Thanks, Colibri. I understand your point now. I didn't realize that "cañon" was ever actually an English spelling.
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