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Why does English not use any diacritics, at least in native words? What is the reason for that?

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    Part of the answer is that scribes chose to use digraphs (in particular 'th', 'sh', 'ch', 'gh') where many orthographies (particularly in central and Eastern Europe) chose diacritics. It's not the whole of the answer though - Polish uses both digraphs and diacritics.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 23, 2022 at 23:16
  • Interestingly, the Celtic orthographies like Welsh and Scottish use digraphs (and trigraphs) and diacritics. Nov 28, 2022 at 6:26
  • @AdamBittlingmayer I think you mean Scottish Gaelic - Scottish isn't a language/dialect but might refer to Standard Scottish English or Scots (which is closely related to English).
    – Stuart F
    Nov 28, 2022 at 10:15
  • Indeed I do mean that. Nov 28, 2022 at 12:35
  • Welsh uses few diacritics. The only common one is the circumflex which can occur over any vowel letter (including w and y) to show length. Most of the others are optional, and mainly used for foreign words.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 28, 2022 at 22:32

2 Answers 2

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The main reason is that it there was no compelling reason to use diacritics. Diacritics are not natively part of the Latin alphabet, so it is natural for English to be written without diacritics. There were occasional uses of the acute ("apex") accent, but in the Old English period it's use became increasingly random over time, as noted by Murray in "Accents and Medieval English phonologists". The "curl" and "long macron" were also added, all signalling syllable weight and vowel length. Vowel and consonant doubling substituted reasonably satisfactorily as a means of indicating long vowels, at least until we borrow a bunch of words from other languages, and undergo numerous sound changes.

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    But why does English not use diacrities in similar way like e.g. Dutch, which uses diaeresis over e (ë) and Franch, which uses acute and grave accents?
    – Poiponen
    Nov 24, 2022 at 10:05
  • Well, why does French not use hacek (ě) and Italian not use tilde (ã)?
    – user6726
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:15
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    But Dutch and French use diacritics, English does not. Why?
    – Poiponen
    Nov 25, 2022 at 18:53
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    @Poiponen Russian and Bulgarian are written in the Cyrillic script, English isn’t. Why? Because they’re different languages and their histories developed differently. Why should what Dutch and French do have any bearing on what English does? Nov 28, 2022 at 0:38
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Well Dutch is the most closely related major language, and French, including Norman French, had a major influence on orthography (and vocabulary, and more) from Middle English on. Nov 28, 2022 at 6:19
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English regained its position as England's official language of law and legislation in 1362, and Noah Webster's efforts from the turn of the 19th century to his death in 1843 make up the most recent success in major spelling reform anywhere in the Anglosphere, so as neither he nor some royal academy over on the other side of the pond ever happened to prescribe diacritics during that critical early modern period and the appetite for change hasn't seemed to breach since, aside from in how the diaeresis enthusiasts of the New Yorker and those who want to render foreign words more exactly write, it has no diacritics.

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  • Does this mean that English never used diacritics? You'll want to clarify that. Nov 29, 2022 at 17:58
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