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.

[li]Page 13 in the letter “Killing Science at NASA” they use “deëmphasizing.”[/li][li]Page 17 in “Cloning: Let the Market Decide” they use “preëlection.”[/li][li]Several articles use “coördinate.”[/li][/ol]
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?

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.

Then there’s the Brontë sisters. With a regular ‘e’, folks would probably pronounce it “Bront.”

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.

It’s important to coördinate between using an umlaut and a diaresis, apparently - otherwise, we’re just being naïve. :wink:

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.

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. :smack:

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.

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).

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.

That isn’t an umlaut, it’s a dieresis. We took the word from French, not German.

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.

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.

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:

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.


That’s just silly. There’s thousands of such cases in English that we don’t make exceptions for.

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.