Posted by: travelrat | February 27, 2013

Funny Marks and Stuff

Since our Norway trip is just over a fortnight away, I’m spending a lot of time with a feature called ‘Character Map’; if you have Windows, you’ll probably find it in an obscure corner of the ‘Stuff I Never Use’. But, if you’re writing placenames in faraway places, you’ll find it useful … because we’ll be visiting Ålesund and Tromsø.

These tell you the correct way to pronounce a name; as far as I can gather, ø is pronounced ‘ur’ and Å as ‘aw’.

(Incidentally, if you’re looking up placenames beginning with these symbols, in some directories, you’ll find them listed after the ‘conventional’ alphabet)

We have … or rather, had … diacritical marks, to give them their proper name, in English, too; we had the diaresis, which told you that Zoë doesn’t rhyme with Joe, and the dipthong, which is more or less the opposite. These fell largely into disuse with the invention of the typewriter, which didn’t do these symbols, and ways of dealing with it varied. In England, ‘fœtid’ became ‘foetid’; in America, they dropped the O altogether and wrote ‘fetid’.

I think you’ll find diacritical marks in just about any language that uses the Roman alphabet … especially French. I well remember those early French lessons which sounded like Old Macdonald’s Farm as we practised the vowel sounds.

German is good, in that it gives you an alternative if you can’t do umlauts. If you can’t write ‘Köln’, you can put ‘Koeln’ instead. Better still, if you’re writing in English, you could make it ‘Cologne’!
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