Accent Marks: Trema, Umlaut, Macron, Circumflex, and All That

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

You know the accent mark of 2 dots above a character, like this ö? I usually call it umlaut, but a more correct term to describe that accent mark is Diaeresis.

Accent mark itself is called Diacritic. I've always been fascinated by these symbols and their names, since teen.

Here's a list of common diacritics and their names:

diacritic = aka {diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign} is a glyph added to a letter, or basic glyph. From ancient Greek διά (dia = through) and κρίνω (krinein = to separate)

Note that some foreign char such as ñ in Spanish, is not considered as n with a accent mark. It is a distinct letter by itself.

Diaeresis vs Umlaut


Historically, diaeresis and umlaut refer to two distinct phonological phenomena.

The diaeresis is used to denote the phenomenon also known as diaeresis, or hiatus, in which a vowel letter is not part of a digraph or diphthong. e.g. “cooperation”.

“Umlaut” refers to a historical sound shift in German. In German, umlauts are found as ä, ö and ü. The name is used in some other languages that share these symbols with German or where the Latin spelling was introduced in the 19th century, replacing marks that had been used previously. The phonological phenomenon of umlaut occurred historically in English as well (man ~ men; full ~ fill; goose ~ geese) in a way cognately parallel with German, but English orthography does not write the sound shift using the umlaut diacritic. Instead, a different letter is used.

The two diacritical uses originated separately, with the diaeresis being considerably older. Nevertheless, in modern computer systems using Unicode, the umlaut and diaeresis diacritics are identical: ⟨ä⟩ represents both a-umlaut and a-diaeresis.

Wikipedia has nice and complete explanations on other Diacritic.

Examples of Diacritics