Accents in Am. English

Bruce Dykes bkd at GRAPHNET.COM
Wed Jun 14 10:18:55 UTC 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: A. Vine <avine at ENG.SUN.COM>
Date: Tuesday, June 13, 2000 3:21 PM
Subject: Accents in Am. English

>OK, There's an Irish guy on one of the lists who has got my dander up.  He
>insisting that it is wrong to leave off the accents on words in Am.
English.  I
>and another fellow (US folk) say baloney, in Am. English most people don't
>accents, nor do they write them.  I think I've brought this to this list
>but in case the idiot wants some sort of authoritative backup, I ask:

Okay, my opinion is worthless as far as authoritative backup goes, but as an
interested layperson and native speaker, I'll offer my opinions. Feel free
to ignore as you see fit.

First some perspective:

American English is a language where "lite" is printed with infinitely more
prominence than "light".

Online scribes casually reduce "for example" to "frex" without a second's

And every encounter with "should of" and someone's "peaked curiosity" (which
is a surprisingly good transition, and, I feel,  a more understandable
improvement over piqued curiosity, though it does lose some charm) should
leave your Irish correspondent's monitor drenched in spittle.

Now for my rules:

1) Technical feasibility. In handwriting this is not a problem. Typing on
your average pc keyboard does take some expertise, but it's not impossible.
I would expect those who have to deal with foriegn languages regularly
should know how to generate those characters they deal with. Unfortunately,
in the absence of total technical uniformity, unless you know how the
documents create are going to be displayed and used in all circumstances,
which is impossible in an environment such as our mailing list here, it's
absolutely pointless to stick to native typography. Andrea can (and has in
the past) go into the technical reasons behind this, but suffice to say, in
email correspondence, it's generally safer to stick to the letters, numbers,
and punctuation we can all display safely.

Note however that in most instances, such as sign making and publishing,
technical feasibility isn't generally a problem. It's mostly in the
information processing world that things get funky. Let's not even get
started on displaying advanced mathematics...

2) Context. If the sentence is entirely American English, and the word is
often printed (the definition of often is left to the writer) sans accent,
mark, or any other typographic element normally absent in American English,
such as cafe, resume, nee, forte, fiance, etc., go ahead and follow
precedent. If the word in question is appearing in its native language, such
as on a restaurant menu, or a business sign, then yes, native typography
should prevail, when technically feasible.

That's my recommendation, and it's worth every penny you paid for it, or 2
cents, whichever is greater.


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