Spurious "Quotes" and Apostrophe's

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Sun Sep 19 16:30:15 UTC 1999

Laurence Horn wrote:
> I always assumed (well, not ALways, but from some point ater the 6th grade)
> that a diaeresis is distinct from an umlaut; the former indicates the
> vowels of e.g. coöperation are pronounced distinctly, the latter that a
> vowel in a language like German or Turkish is fronted.  The two are
> "spelled" the same, but that just makes the symbols homographs, but not
> instances of the same symbol, any more than the two verbs that can occur as
> homonyms in e.g. "She can't bear children" are the same lexical item.

You had great instincts.  I just looked up "dieresis" and "umlaut" in the
dictionary (RHUD and OED)--an unusual step, I realize!--and found that the
former both etymologically and in conventional usage represents separation or
division, the latter both etymologically and in conventional usage represents
a modification of sound.

> Of course, an argument can be constructed in the opposite direction, since
> after all we call an acute accent an acute accent even if it indicates
> vowel quality in one language and quantity/stress in another.

Dictionary to the rescue again:  "Acute" means "sharp"; unlike "dieresis" and
"umlaut," which refer to the function of the mark, "acute" describes the
physical appearance of the mark; so of course it is the same word regardless
of what purpose the mark is used for.

James E. Clapp

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