The English language has a great amount of borrowings from French. But why aren't such letters as "ç"(façade) and "é"(café, protégé) changed if they don't exist in the English alphabet and there are "c" and "e" only? Also I have a question about the surname Brontë(I mean Charlotte Brontë). Again English doesn't have a letter like this (ë). I looked up the etymology of the surname. It told that the word "Brontë" derives from Ancient Greek and initially meant "thunder". But "ë" looks like a French letter, though Charlotte Brontë didn't have French roots if to believe Wikipedia and was born to British parents. So what is French-like letter doing in the British surname of Greek origin?

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    English spelling (particularly the spelling of proper names) does not follow rules and is not determined by any regular custom. It is a mistake to expect it to display any regularity.
    – jlawler
    Nov 24, 2019 at 19:43
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    French does use <ë> in words like Noël, but that letter with that diacritic is used independently in some styles of English. Admittedly, I suspect most people who aren't huge fans of the publications that use it probably find it weird... but still, given the jungle that English spelling is, <ë> does have a life of its own in it.
    – LjL
    Nov 25, 2019 at 3:50
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    @LjL My edition of Sherlock Holmes includes the word coöperate. Nov 25, 2019 at 7:32
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    Your query about Diaresis is a good one, but should probably be posted as another question - it is also not just in names! But, "ë" is an English letter, just not a commonly used one in modern parlance. Appropriately for the season, you have "noël", but also "naïve" and "coöperative" to consider. It is used to indicate that a vowel in pronounced separately, instead of as part of a diphthong (i.e. "naïve" is "nigh-eve", not "nay-v" - while "wait" is "way-t", not "why-eat") - I consider it to be very important, and much overlooked. Nov 25, 2019 at 10:13
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    "French letters" is a euphemism for "condoms" in English. Maybe a small tweak of this question's title would be appropriate? :-)
    – Aaron F
    Nov 25, 2019 at 11:52

2 Answers 2


Foreign graphemes are indeed replaced with their closest bare-Latin alphabet equivalents, thus facade, cafe. Some people may elect to retain source-language spelling conventions. The probability of doing that depends on many things, such as what language the word or expression comes from, how prevalent borrowings are from that language, plus the probability that a given writer knows the foreign spelling. Vietnamese words are very low frequency in English and typically the diacritics are stripped off (and probably spellings like bánh mì, phở, Nguyễn are only produced by Vietnamese speakers, because non-speakers have no idea what those marks are about). Among English speakers, there is greater awareness of French spelling; somewhat less knowledge of German; relatively little for Italian.

The details of Brontë's name would be batter pursued on the English or History SE, but the explanation that it was needed to indicate that the name is bisyllabic is credible enough in terms of linguistic facts.

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    Another major determining factor is whether the right type metals, fonts, encodings, HTML character entity references, etc. are available.
    – Nardog
    Nov 25, 2019 at 3:28
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    I believe that pursuit and battery constitutes a criminal offence over at History SE
    – Strawberry
    Nov 25, 2019 at 13:00
  • To my great disgust, Wikipedia treats the spelling facade as primary, with façade as a redirect. Nov 25, 2019 at 19:06
  • I think the accent in café is much more likely to be retained (as it is in "fiancée", "entrée", and "née") than the cedilla in "façade" etc. I think you're right about a greater awareness of French spelling because there was a time when the British crown was held by French-speaking kings (William the Conqueror and his heirs) and many nobles were Norman imports. The notion of French as the language of the royalty and nobility gave it a certain cachet (cache). Very few English speakers know to convert umlauted vowels to vowel+e, and instead just drop the umlaut entirely. Nov 25, 2019 at 19:16
  • My impression is that diacritics are more likely to be retained now that most OSs have got better at entering and displaying them. (Back in the days before Unicode was widespread, everyone agreed on basic ASCII but ‘extended’ characters were hard to enter and likely to be displayed wrong. And of course it wasn't any easier in the days of typewriters and movable type.)
    – gidds
    Nov 26, 2019 at 10:21

Recent English borrowings from French like façade or café or naïve do generally retain their diacritics in English, and most speakers of English at least on this side of the Atlantic would consider these to be the correct spelling. But the great majority of the French loan words in English were borrowed from Middle French. At that time the orthography of French was not firmly established, so English scribes wrote the French words more or less as they heard them.

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