I've always found the convention of borrowing diacritics on foreign names and occasionally words (although the latter is less standard) from other languages with Latin alphabets in written English to be very strange. Especially given that English essentially has none since the diaeresis and co. are nearly extinct. It makes sense in some contexts, for example writing for an audience familiar with the language diacritics are borrowed from, or research papers, where English is nearly universal and should at least be a courteous host. But it's useless to most people who use English as a first language, since spellings could just be changed to closest English approximations, typically we don't know how to read diacritics and the same diacritic may be used for different purposes in different Latin languages. I was wondering if there is at least a reciprocity in this useless practice. Is English the only language using the Latin alphabet that borrows diacritics that it does not use from other languages using said alphabet? If not, do we know the practice's origin in English? Is it English speaking cultures being needlessly hospitable to foreign words or others writing with diacritics in English. The latter feels like showing up to a baker and asking for a cut of lamb.

-- Someone whose ancestors transliterated their surname from a Cyrillic script and made it pronounceable to English-speakers, but didn't make the spelling and writing match.

  • More visible than diacritics are borrowed letters, like English names being spelled with W and Y in Italian.
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 7:17
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    I’d say it’s just as standard to include many diacritics when writing names in other European languages as in English, yes. Some are more commonly left out or conflated than others, but I think that’s the case in English as well: it’s fairly common to see Győr in Hungary written as Györ for reasons of practical typability, people called Nguyễn are more commonly just Nguyen, Benalmádena is commonly Benalmadena (but A Coruña less commonly A Coruna), etc. It isn’t the diacritics that make foreign names difficult to pronounce anyway – it’s that they’re in foreign languages. English speakers -> Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 8:16
  • 4
    -> can’t guess how completely diacritic-free names like Danish Hedeager or Gade, Irish Fionnfhuala or Eoghain, or Polish Maciej or Zbych should be pronounced anyway, unless they happen to know the language already. Diacritics don’t really change much about that, except give an even more obvious clue that this is foreign. Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 8:24
  • As a non-english native speaker, I find it very irritating when people don't use diacritics. "Londono" and "Londoño" are entirely different names, and "facade" looks very wrong to my eyes (there is no word in English where c is pronounced /s/ so it makes no sense...)
    – Martino
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 13:33
  • @Draconis about letters: an Indonesian friend of mine found it very amusing when he stumbled upon the Italian embassy in Jakarta, which had the sign spelled "Giacarta". These, however, are usually for historical reasons. This kind of "conversion" wouldn't be done with names used for the first time today.
    – Martino
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 13:37

1 Answer 1



In German, the noun Café (cafe, directly borrowed from French café) is written almost exclusively with an accent on the e. It contrats with the word Kaffee, meaning coffee in written language, although they are often pronounced identically. Other words borrowed from French (e.g. Crème fraîche or Creme fraiche) are sometimes written with the appropriate accents. Sometimes, this is also applied to words from other languages – most often for food items such as Ćevapčići – although spelling rules permit leaving out the diacritics and only vowel-based accents as they often occur in French are easily reachable on a standard German keyboard.

Some personal names also have such an accent. For example, the surname André exists; the family probably dates back to migrants from France at some point during the religious wars in Europe but aside from keeping the accent they are completely German. Also, sometimes given names are styled with an accent as appropriate in the language of origin (often French), such as calling a German boy René.

Finnish sometimes goes a step further. Phonologically, the language does not have a /ʃ/ sound of any kind. Certain loanwords that have this phoneme in their language of origin (such as sekki, meaning and derived from cheque) are sometimes written with š (e.g. šekki) to alert the reader of the word's pronunciation – although the letter is Slavic and not used in French whence the word derives. Instead of š, the combination sh is also used; cf the Finnish Wikipedia article sekki.

When it comes to proper nouns originating from a foreign language, the general rule in German is often to be as faithful as possible, unless a native name exists for a place (native names are used rarely if at all for people). So for example, the city in Spain is commonly written Córdoba – but German Genf is used instead of local Genève. However, as most German keyboards lack an easy way to input diacritics other than acute, grave and circumflex on vowels, other diacritics are left out more frequently.

  • Part of the reason why Finnish uses š in words like these is that Karelian (and other languages spoken in Finland) do still have /ʃ/ and use š to write it, so it’s not a completely ‘foreign’ letter in Finland. Also, Finnish people do quite commonly pronounce the word with /ʃ/, and it is arguably that /ʃ/ is at least becoming a marginal phoneme in Finnish. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 21:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Indeed, in my (admittedly amateurish) observation, [ʃ] already existed as an allophone of [s] in certain environments (possibly a different IPA symbol would be more accurate to describe it) when I was there extensively in 2010. I noted how correct application of /ʃ/ to loanwords was sometimes rather inconsistent (based more on the phonological surrounding than the foreign phoneme). It wouldn't surprise me if /ʃ/ versus /s/ became properly phonemic very soon™. As for influence of Karelian, I did not notice any while I was there.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 9:12

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