Do diacritics and letter signs make written text look bad?

marcobailey   Mon Sep 03, 2007 9:45 pm GMT
Just curious of what you guys think.
Guest   Mon Sep 03, 2007 10:09 pm GMT
I think the symmetric ones like the umlaut look good, but the acute and grave accents seem to clutter up the written text.
Skippy   Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:25 am GMT
Umlauts serve a purpose... My experience with circumflex is that it serves no purpose... Acute and grave do make things a little more confusing for things that language learners can figure out on their own...
Guest   Tue Sep 04, 2007 1:48 am GMT
I like the appearance of diacritics.
curious g   Tue Sep 04, 2007 2:31 am GMT
I love to visit the Omniglot website so I can see most of the world's written scripts.

I personally do not think that diacritics make scripts look bad. And for languages that have "abjad" writing systems, they are crucial.

However, I am certain that there are those here who will disagree. I think it is another one of those "eye of the beholder" issues. For instance, a person who does not use diacritics in their written form might think they cause the script to appear strange while a person who does use diacritics might think scripts that do not use them are strange.

I do not want to upset anyone, but scripts with large variety of diacritics, such as French, seem to confuse a lot of new learners. Notice that I said "new learners" because like everything else, once you learn the rules, most people do not seem to have any trouble with them.

I understand how they are necessary for vocabulary and grammar distinctions, especially for non-phonetic language. But sometimes I wonder if they are really necessary?

For instance, I honestly do not understand why we have different "a's" in French. If the "a" in (...à, âge, agence) all have the same pronunciation. Is the diacritic necessary?

I do not speak French, but I have taken a few lessons, and I personally had trouble because the diacritics. I am fairly confident that I am not the only one ;)
curious g   Tue Sep 04, 2007 4:07 am GMT
The course I am using is the Living Language: Ultimate French Beginner-Intermediate (2004) by Random House.

It is my understanding that this course concentrates on the Metropolitan French one might hear in the Paris region, so it may be dialect biased. In truth, I do not know much about the different dialects of French to be able to comment on this.

However, on page 6 it gives a pronunciation chart for the vowels and says that (a, â, à) all have the approximate sound of the "a" in American English "father." When I listen to the vocabulary recordings, this is the sound that I am hearing also coming from native speakers.

I am willing to accept that different dialects might differ slightly, however, French is not exactly an exotic language...I do not think the makers of this course could get away with this without being called on it if it was incorrect? If the approximate sound of the "a" is the same, then why the need to separate them?

I am not trying to pick on French. I used French as an example because it was the first language that came to mind when I thought of a language that used a lot of diacritics.
Guest   Tue Sep 04, 2007 4:15 am GMT
For those who don't like diacritics, does the dot over the "i" and "j" also look bad? How about apostrophes?

I remember that when I was little and first came into contact with mechanical typewriters (before I could read), I didn't like the idea of spaces between the words. Somehow, printed text looked better with solid rectangular blocks of letters, and no punctuation.
OïL   Tue Sep 04, 2007 7:57 am GMT
"Native speakers of Metropolitan French do pronounce 'a' and 'â' exactly the same"

Non. Pour moi, <patte> et <pâte>, <quatre> et <verdâtre>, ne riment absolument pas.
Pour mes jeunes enfants non plus.

Je crains que la nouvelle génération des professeurs (dont ceux qui rédigent les manuels de prononciation) ait encouragé l'abandon de cette distinction sous prétexte qu'elle faisait trop 'classe supérieure'.

(Par contre je ne sais ni faire, ni percevoir, ni même concevoir la différence entre <brun> et <brin>... )
Guest 224   Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:01 am GMT
If you don't like diacritic marks, then don't learn Vietnamese :)

I'll give you a sample of written Vietnamese:

Về đêm em hay lấy ánh sao mang về làm bài thơ tinh tú.
Đệm nhạc lên khúc ca yêu chàng. Rồi em ca vang khúc hát đêm qua và thầm mong anh nghe thấy. Dù rằng anh ỡ mãi nơi xa.

As you can see, Vietnamese has certain diacritic marks that overlap over diacritic marks! One serves to tell how to pronounce the vowel sound, and the other serves to tell which tone to say it in.
curious g   Tue Sep 04, 2007 12:34 pm GMT
I don't remember where, but I am pretty sure that I read the reason for the high diversity of diacritics in a language usually comes from the language's historical tradition.

I mean that it was a spelling scheme used in the past and never changed even as the spoken language did.

For instance, I think I read here once the reason that Scottish Gaelic uses the grave accent while Irish Gaelic uses the acute accent is because the Scottish printers didn't have the acute accent at the time. And then as time when on, it became a way of differentiating from Irish Gaelic.

I really do not mind them being used in languages because I know they are necessary.

As for Tolkien's languages, I agree with Brennus. His writing script for the language of Quenya is a beautiful "abjad." I believe his inspiration for the script was from the Devanagari script. Which I also think is a beautiful language that uses heavy diacritics.

In fact, I just had a thought, it seems to me that I find non-Latin scripts more attractive with diacritics than Latin scripts. This may be my "English-speaking-non-diacritic-using mentality" coming through, but for some reason the only languages that I can say that diacritics tend to bother me...are Latin scripted languages that use diacritics. How odd is that?

If a person does not like them, perhaps the first question should be "What script do you use?" If the answer is a low diacritic using form of the Latin alphabet, then this may be the stem of their problems...???
furrykef   Tue Sep 04, 2007 5:20 pm GMT
I'm more or less neutral about diacritics... but when they're used on almost every word, as in Pinyin or Vietnamese, they're sometimes kind of ugly, especially the doubled diacritics of Vietnamese. But they're difficult to avoid unless you want to use tone numbers (much worse!) or use a different script better suited to representation of tones.

- Kef
greg   Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:36 pm GMT
OÏL : « Non. Pour moi, <patte> et <pâte>, <quatre> et <verdâtre>, ne riment absolument pas.
Pour mes jeunes enfants non plus. »

Oui, il existe plusieurs phonologies en France.
Pour simplfier à l'extrême :
le Sud → <patte> = <pâte> = /pat(@)/
le Nord → <patte> ≠ <pâte>.

OÏL : « Je crains que la nouvelle génération des professeurs (dont ceux qui rédigent les manuels de prononciation) ait encouragé l'abandon de cette distinction sous prétexte qu'elle faisait trop 'classe supérieure'. »

En tout cas dans le Sud cette distinction n'a jamais été ressentie comme naturelle. Pareil pour <rose>, <forêt> etc. Les professeurs septentrionaux (ou affichant un accent septentrional) n'ont eu aucune influence dans le Sud sur ce point...

OÏL : «Par contre je ne sais ni faire, ni percevoir, ni même concevoir la différence entre <brun> et <brin>... ».

J'ai lu des aberrations dans pas mal de bouquins sur le français. Genre "en France on ne fait plus la différence entre <brin> & <brun>", ce qui est archifaux. Ce phénomène existe comme la phonologie d'OÏL le démontre, mais il est circonscrit. Dans le Sud la différence saute aux yeux : <brin> ≠ <brun>.
Rodrigo   Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:40 pm GMT
From the aesthetic point of view I think it also depends on the kind of font. In some fonts the diacritics look added while in others they look much more natural and easy to flow. Personally, I like diacritics if I know how they affect the sound of the letter or why they are there. Probably that's why I like them in Spanish and Italian while I only like some in French, like the word à.

A question about French diacritic consistency, as a Spanish speaker if someone says any word, even a clear gibberish, I can very easily accentuate it, if someone said any word to a French speaker would they be able to do the same? I speak very little Italian and I'm confident I probably would be able to do the same according to Itlaian accentuation rules.
curious g   Tue Sep 04, 2007 10:10 pm GMT
Rodrigo brings up a good point about fonts...

I have seen the same sentence look good, and not so good, based solely on the font I typed with. However, in terms of general hand written material I think the heavy use of diacritics causes it to look strange to me.

I think another thing that comes into play is how symmetrical is the diacritic? For instance, I think the following diacritics are more appealing because of their symmetric feel to them: â/ă, ã, ä, å (circumflex/caron, tilde, diaereses, and ring/circle)

But for some reason I think that these are unattractive, and I think it is because of the asymmetrical feel to them: à, á (acute and grave)

Again, I would not like to see more than one of these being used because I do not like to see massive diacritics...but that's just me.

I think the acute and grave accent is used more because they are slightly faster to write in handwritten form???
Guest   Wed Sep 05, 2007 10:09 pm GMT
It's true. There are languages where diacritics and accents are not circumstantial,they actually represent a different letter just as any other one(e.g. Romanian,Albanian,Danish) and others where the accents are ethymological (French) or just there to help (Spanish.)