On rôles and roles

I have been seeing an increasing incidence of diacritical marks in English writing. This is probably largely due to the fact that more and more people writing English are coming from languages that use diacriticals as a matter of course. However, it seems to me that there is also an influence from the fact that it is much easier these days to arrange to type the diacritical marks than it has been in the past. With the advent of unicode and the near ubiquity of UTF-8, it has become increasingly trivial to share text using said diacritical marks.

Anyone who has followed my rants over the years knows that I am generally in favour of diacritical marks where they make sense. For instance, the diaeresis that appears in naïve is useful to indicate that the “ai” sequence is not to be pronounced as the typical diphthong. A similar argument can be made for “coöperation”, though “co-operation” works equally well there. Admittedly, the hyphenated form is slightly awkward.

The accute accent in words like café and fiancé(e) are also useful to show that not only is the final “e” prounounced, but it is not pronounced at all as expected (in this case it sounds like a long “a” sound). The same can be said for words like “façade” where the cedilla indicates a “soft c” instead of the “hard c” that would arise from typical English spelling rules. A case could be made for respelling the words to avoid the diacriticals but that is likely to encounter stronger resistance than simply using the diacriticals.

There are, however, cases where the diacritical mark is completely pointless. For instance, more and more often I have been seeing “rôle”. If anyone can explain to me just what function the circumflex has in that case, I am willing to listen. However, in no dialect of English I am familiar with is there any oddness to the pronunciation of that particular “o” sound compared to other similarly written ones. That is, it rhymes with “pole”, “bole”, “hole”, and “mole”. So what is the purpose of using the circumflex when writing simply “role” is sufficient?

I have seen it asserted that “role” is of French origin and, thus, the diacritical mark is kept because of that. Why? It serves exactly no purpose to do so given the pronunciation of the word.

There are, in fact, cases where no diacritical is used at all where it would make sense. “Hyperbole” would benefit from some sort of diacritical on the trailing “e” to indicate that it should be pronounced as a long “e” instead of being silent as usual. (The accute accent probably shouldn’t be used given that it typically seems to indicate a long “a” sound. Maybe a macron or something?)

On the whole, though, I am generally pleased to see that the diacritical allergy seems to be passing.

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