Garonne (garonne) wrote in linguaphiles,

Conventions for typing diacritics

Typing accented letters and other diacritics can be tricky if you don't have the right keyboard, and lots of languages seem to have developed conventions for representing them:

German: ss instead of ß, ue instead of ü, ae instead ä etc.
Italian: e' instead of è, or perhaps é, I'm not sure
Esperanto: cx instead of ĉ, ux instead of ŭ etc.

However, in French there aren't any such conventions (annoyingly enough!) except perhaps for oe instead of œ, which is fairly trivial.

I have two questions: (1) Does anyone have examples from other languages? and (2) Does anyone know how such conventions developed?

(I should probably point out straight away that the 'x' thing in Esperanto is NOT what Zamenhof himself proposed; apparently he proposed using 'ch', 'sh' etc. So it must have developed in some kind of 'natural' way, like in any other language.)
Tags: accents, diacritics, input methods
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  • 42 comments

biascut

January 25 2014, 16:52:57 UTC 10 months ago Edited:  January 25 2014, 16:53:09 UTC

I think you've got the causation the wrong way round for the German example - ss, ae, ue and oe are all older than ß, ä, ü and ö, which are contractions of the former. It was handy that there was an easy alternative for people using non-German keyboards or typewriters once typing came in in the second half of the nineteenth century, but they weren't invented to get around that problem.

dieastra

January 25 2014, 17:23:29 UTC 10 months ago

Wow, I didn't know that about ue etc.!

But isn't ß actually from the old German way to write sz?

muckefuck

10 months ago

biascut

10 months ago

imps85

9 months ago

gemini_artemis

January 25 2014, 18:49:42 UTC 10 months ago Edited:  January 25 2014, 18:52:48 UTC

In Portuguese, when we can't type diacritics, we usually just type the words without them, except for words that could be ambiguous, like "é" ("he/she/it is") which we type as "eh" to distinguish it from "e" ("and"). I've also seen this final "h" being used to replace the acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú) in other words even when they wouldn't cause any ambiguity, like só > soh, lá > lah, etc.

Also, the word "não" ("no") is often written as "naum" to replace/avoid the tilde.

Some websites automatically turn "ç" into "ss", but this is absolutely not done by native speakers! If they do it, it means they just can't spell. :P

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:05:08 UTC 9 months ago

Hey, interesting. That's just the sort of thing I was curious about, thanks! It's funny how every language seems to have come up with a different way to represent the same accents.

muckefuck

January 25 2014, 18:53:21 UTC 10 months ago Edited:  January 25 2014, 18:55:05 UTC

For Irish, the h following certain consonants is actually a recent Latin-alphabet convention for representing consonants with the ponc séimhithe, a dot above which indicates lenition. Thus ponc séimhithe itself is really a respelling of ponc séiṁiṫe (mutatis mutandis, given that some of the lettershapes are quite different in cló Gaelach).

Back in the ASCII days, there was a convention of using forward slashes to represent the acute accent, e.g. "se/imhiu/" for séimhiú ("lenition"). Actually, usage varied, with the slashes preceding the vowels as well, e.g. "s/eimhi/u". (That was the usage I preferred, but as I recall I was in the minority.) Elsewhere I remember seeing a following apostrophe for languages like Spanish and French, e.g. "cre'me bru^le'e". (I saw that occasionally with Irish as well, but not as often.) Here also, some people preferred to have the diacritics precede rather than follow. As long as someone stuck to one convention or the other within the same post, it wasn't a problem.

spamsink

January 25 2014, 19:31:06 UTC 10 months ago

Here also, some people preferred to have the diacritics precede rather than follow.

This could be the reason for the infamous Verdana diacritics bug. To this day some people keep writing accent marks before the accented vowels.

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:16:28 UTC 9 months ago

Hmm, interesting example! Forward slash seems to me to be a very sensible way to represent an acute accent, actually.

I never thought of that lenition example in Irish, I suppose because it was part of a general change in the typesetting of Irish, right? Rather than people informally trying to represent something which is more correctly written otherwise, I mean.

muckefuck

9 months ago

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:17:00 UTC 9 months ago

Hey, interesting! That's just the sort of thing I was curious about, thanks.

lied_ohne_worte

January 25 2014, 19:03:04 UTC 10 months ago

Ah, nothing nicer than to see people think they can produce a "ß" by doing a "B", because if it looks similar, it must be the same, right? I ripped my CD of Bach's Christmas Oratorio once, and the database from which the program pulled the titles of the individual parts had clearly been handled by someone who was, well, doing their best without knowing German. So,

"Großer Herr und starker König" ["Great lord and strong king"]

became

"GroBer Herr Und Starker Konig" ["Rude/coarse/gruff lord and strong king"; plus capitalisation of every word in titles is something we don't do in German]

muckefuck

January 26 2014, 15:02:25 UTC 10 months ago

When I was studying in Germany, some fellow students came back from Heidelberg with a tale of being asked the way to the "Schlob" by some American tourists. Later on they came across a sign and one of them called out, "Hey look, it's the Fubweg to the Schlob!"

anicca_anicca2

10 months ago

whswhs

January 25 2014, 19:48:17 UTC 10 months ago

I've never had any trouble with French diacritics; my Mac keyboard and software can handle é, ê, è, ï, and ç/Ç just fine. What I hang up on is romaji, where I haven't found a way to make a macron (a straight horizontal line) over a long vowel. Of course, I could use the convention of doubling the vowels, but most English speakers are going to be baffled by, say, "Tookyoo."

iddewes

January 25 2014, 22:52:26 UTC 10 months ago

It's easy enough to write French letters on PCs too, you just change the language over and pretend you have an AZERTY keyboard, that is what I do anyway.

biascut

January 25 2014, 23:03:09 UTC 10 months ago

I used to do a lot of my passwords by pretending I was typing on a German keyboard when I was typing on an English keyboard, and vice versa.

Actually, my friends and I still say "Zaz!" from one of them typing "yay!" on a qwertz keyboard.

iddewes

10 months ago

imps85

9 months ago

iddewes

9 months ago

imps85

9 months ago

iddewes

9 months ago

garonne

9 months ago

iddewes

9 months ago

shizuku_san

January 26 2014, 00:59:27 UTC 10 months ago Edited:  January 26 2014, 01:01:20 UTC

You can find the macrons in the character viewer (from the language input menu) in the "Latin" category. :)
I don't know how to get them in Windows, however.

āēīōū

I have seen Japanese people with long-o in their names spell it oh or ow, presumably because that makes Westerners more likely to pronounce it correctly.

whswhs

10 months ago

resident_pink

10 months ago

shizuku_san

10 months ago

rirakkumiru

9 months ago

celestedoro

January 25 2014, 19:52:45 UTC 10 months ago

We don't really have such things in Hungarian. At least I can't remember ever using something like a replacement for diacritics.
Like we have á é ó ú and ü ű ö ő but mostly I only see ű and ő replaced by keyboards or programs (or whatever) to ō / õ or ū / ũ.
(I don't really see how that helps in terms of simplicity or not having to use diacritics but whatever.)
But I think if we can't use diacritics then we just type "szur" instead of "szűr" and everyone would still understand it.
There are some words that could be ambiguous this way but perhaps these are not so frequently used and usually can be guessed from the environment. So, we don't really use anything to distinguish them.

When typing in Italian I also mostly used the e' variation or sometimes é but since my teacher always frowned when I typed é, I had to drop that. :)

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:21:53 UTC 9 months ago

Gosh, I had never noticed that both ü and ű existed!

Isn't it funny how some languages have come up with these conventions and some languages just haven't? Even though in almost all cases and all languages (cited here, at least) you can figure out the meaning just fine anyway...

rirakkumiru

January 25 2014, 20:29:08 UTC 10 months ago

I don't know much about it but I think it's neat how Arab writing uses numbers when they have to type something on a non-Arabic keyboard.

imps85

January 31 2014, 15:59:52 UTC 9 months ago

you like typing in numbers? 17' 5 3451/

rirakkumiru

9 months ago

resident_pink

January 26 2014, 18:15:16 UTC 10 months ago Edited:  January 26 2014, 18:16:30 UTC

In Swedish, we usually just drop the diacritics (å, ä, ö) when typing from a keyboard without them. It does cause some trouble with changed meanings (there are quite a few "minimal pairs" between a/å/ä and o/ö), but when you can tell from a whole paragraph that the person does not have access to å/ä/ö, it's usually easy to decipher the intended meaning from context. In formal settings, most notably sports competitions where the electronic scoreboards can't handle the letters, the vowels are more commonly rendered as 'aa', 'ae' and 'oe' mimicking the old ligature combinations, but this is uncommon among people in general.

Nowadays, you sometimes see Swedish speakers using colon after an a or o to denote the trema ('allma:nhet' instead of 'allmänhet' for example). The first time I saw this was when the city of Gothenburg began using it as a logo (article in Swedish) around 2009-2010: go:teborg (notably with lowercase initial, normally written Göteborg), but I don't know if this was the inception of the practice, or if the city chose it in order to spin off an already emerging trend for the city to appear "hip" and "with the times". I see it used online sometimes, but I wouldn't say it's common, and I haven't seen any similar practice regarding 'å'; probably because the mid dot character is not as easily found on any keyboard.

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:23:37 UTC 9 months ago

Hey, that use of the semicolon is very interesting, and sort of makes sense, actually.

ekeme_ndiba

January 28 2014, 13:29:56 UTC 10 months ago

In informal Serbo-Croatian diacritics are often omitted whatsoever.

garonne

February 3 2014, 22:24:00 UTC 9 months ago

Because you can work out the meaning just fine anyway, I suppose?

eigi

February 27 2014, 23:53:03 UTC 9 months ago

In Estonian, y may be used instead of ü (in fact some people use y consistently where ü must be) and 6 instead of õ. ae for ä and oe for ö are also sometimes used but they are not unique to Estonian. In some cases diacritics are simply ignored - for example, in mail addresses and site names.

garonne

February 28 2014, 22:06:57 UTC 9 months ago

Just the kind of thing I was interested in hearing, thanks!