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What are diacritics?

Diacritics, informally called accents, are the marks above or below alphabetic letters that give indications about pronunciations. Examples are: sauté, bête noire, olé. The word diacritic comes from Greek diakritikos, meaning 'distinguishing' and is also called diacritical mark. In alphabetic writing, it is a symbol that attaches to a letter to alter its value or provide some other information. The use of diacritics is minimal in English and we really only need them for foreign words and proper nouns that are used in English speech and writing. When such words become accepted as ordinary English words, the diacritics are usually dropped. The apostrophe and the dot over an i or j are actually diacritical marks, but these are so much part of the writing system that they are seldom thought of as diacritical. Besides foreign marks, dieresis marks (such as the umlaut over the i in naïve), and marks used in transliteration of texts, we find signs or marks in dictionaries (and other reference books) to show stress and as aids to pronunciation and word division. In grammar, this term is applied to signs or marks used to distinguish different sounds or values of the same letter or character, such as é, è, ë, ê, É.

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