Why I Love the Diaeresis but Will Never Use It

Diaeresis in Chloë

The Diaeresis and Other Phonological Assistants

Phonology is not my forte—or would that be forté? Either way, you can probably surmise how I think you, the reader, will pronounce it: Any sort of pleasure derived from my affinity for alliteration would not carry through if you stood by the rules, held rightfully the e silent, and pronounced it fort, not for-tay. (To see how this debate can stir up people's emotions, follow the link, skip the story, and read the comments here)

Like the accented é and other diacritical marks, the diaeresis is another such tool that will continue to go on unloved by English users and likely die at the complexity of adding it to our Internet's web pages. It is often confused with the German umlaut because they both comprise two little dots above the e as follows: ë. The diaeresis normally goes above the second of a pair of vowels and tells the reader that there is a syllable break in-between and not to pronounce it as a diphthong. (The umlaut, on the other hand, adds that quintessentially German pronunciation to some words.)

Diaeresis Death Knell?

The New Yorker often gets ridiculed for its use of the diaeresis, and it is aware of how hoity-toity it makes them appear. In an article about its use of the diaeresis, it proclaimed tongue-in-cheek, " … the two dots that we then center carefully over the second vowel in such words as “naïve” and “Laocoön” will be getting a workout this year, as the Democrats coöperate to reëlect the President."

The argument against the use of the diaeresis is strong: We understand these words, we know how to pronounce these words, and the addition of those two dots is unnecessary, at least, and contrived, at worst; however, my argument for the diaeresis is also strong, and it comes with a little background info.:

Why I Love the Diaeresis

As the father of a six-year-old, I am more aware than ever of how things are spelled and how they are pronounced. I'm also aware that any diatribes on how cooperate is pronounced co-operate and not coop-er-ate would only serve to confuse my daughter. This is why I think we should be providing learners of the English language the tools to get it right. Whether it's an eight-year-old third-grader or 35-year-old English-as-a-second-language student, we need them to understand the fundamentals on why we pronounce things the way we do and not just memorize a bunch of words. This is more important than ever as hyphenation is dropped. For example, re-elect is now reelect. So I invite acute and grave accents and diaereses for student and beginner books and even think students with names like Zoë and Chloë should be spelled as such by the teachers for demonstrative purposes. As for me, outside this site, where I can do whatever I want, I'll write for the masses and hope they know why they're pronouncing some words the way they do.

A Diaeresis-Filled World

My thoughts do go even further. In a sort of Daniel Webster–like fantasy, I think the language needs a transformation towards a more phonetic base. We need to standardize foreign words and other exceptions and spell things as they are pronounced. I then shudder at the dystopian, Orwellian Newspeak comparative that could be drawn.