Knack of processing accents

Wolfgang Wuster w.wuster at BANGOR.AC.UK
Thu Aug 8 12:14:08 CDT 1996

On Thu, 8 Aug 1996, Paul Dessart wrote:

> Most messages are written in English; when French and Italian are used,
> or any language with letters marked with an accent; many 'servers'
> translate them into cabalistic formula ( =E8, =E9, etc., or even more
> complex). When words must be written in italics, they are bordered with
> the <_> sign (for instance: _Homo sapiens_).
> Personally, I use and suggest some other conventions/agreements. I
> substitute the acute accent by an apostrophe, the grave accent by quote
> mark, the circunflex accent by a majuscule, the cedilla by a virgule. And
> to make the text more readable, I set 2 spaces between each word.
> This is easy and quick to do on a normally written text if one uses a
> <macro-command> of the word processing to realize all changes
> automatically.
> I exemplify my suggestion with its translation into French.
> Ceci  n'est  pas  un  sujet taxonomique,  mais  cela pourrait  Etre  utile
>  (mEme  dans leur  courrier  prive'  )  a"  de  nombreux  <taxacomers>
> lorsqu'ils  n'e'crivent  pas  en  anglais.
> La plupart  des  messages  sont  e'crits  en  anglais;  lorsque  le
> franc,ais  et  l'italien  sont  utilise's,  ou  n'importe  quelle  langue
> avec  des  lettres  accentue'es,  de  nombreux  'serveurs' les  traduisent
> en  une  formule  cabalistique  (  =E8,  =E9,  etc,  ou  mEme  plus
> complique'e).  Quand  des  mots  doivent  Etre  e'crits  en  italique,  on
> les  entoure  du  signe  <_>  (par  exemple:  _Homo  sapiens_).
> Personnellement,  j'utilise  et  je  sugge"re  quelques  autres
> conventions.  Je  remplace  l'accent  aigu  par  une  apostrophe  (e',
> i'),  l'accent  grave  par  des  guillemets  droits  (e",  a",  u"),  l'accent
> circonflexe  par  une  majuscule  (piqUre),  la  ce'dille  par  une
> virgule  (lec,on).  Et  pour  rendre  le  texte  plus  lisible,  je  se'pare
> les  mots  par  deux  espaces.
> Ceci  est  facile  et  rapide  a"  faire  sur  un  texte  e'crit  normalement
> si  l'on  utilise  une  <macro-commande>  du  traitement  de  texte
> pour  re'aliser  tous  les  changements  automatiquement.

Pour rendre le texte encore plus lisible, il serait bien plus facile
d'oublier les accents et cedilles entierement. En plus, ceci nous evitera
beaucoup de travail de traitement de texte.

This may be politically incorrect, or offend linguistic purists, but as
someone who can read French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, I find it
MUCH easier to read text written without any accents, rather than text
with contrived accents as suggested here. The number of times that the
absence of accents is likely to lead to misunderstandings is very small
indeed, so I am not sure that it is worth the fuss.

Furthermore, many other languages have different diacritical marks, and if
everyone insisted on inventing codes for the diacritical marks in their
language, tremendous confusion would be inevitable. Thus, the use of " to
denote the acute accent is likely to confuse Germans and Scandinavians,
since they may misinterpret it as representing Umlauts. Thus, I might want
to write my own surname as Wu"ster to denote the presence of an Umlaut on
the u (I realise that the correct way of denoting the Umlaut would be to
write Wuester, but this causes even more confusion, as I have found out on
a number of occasions), and this might then be misinterpreted as denoting
an acute accent. Let's just accept that most servers were not designed
with diacritical marks in mind, and content ourselves with the 26 letters
that are accepted universally.

Wolfgang Wuster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, UK
e-mail: w.wuster at

Thought for the day: If you see a light at the end of the tunnel,
it is probably a train coming your way.

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