Re: French accented letters (was: Re: Monetary decimal separators)

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Sun Sep 18 2005 - 20:10:12 CDT

  • Next message: Doug Ewell: "Re: French accented letters (was: Re: Monetary decimal separators)"

    From: "Doug Ewell" <>
    > Philippe Verdy <verdy underscore p at wanadoo dot fr> wrote:
    >> (1) If you speak about the "optional" accents on capitals, you should
    >> know that this is just a technical issue in France with French
    >> keyboards that required *accepting* capitals without accents, so they
    >> became non-mandatory.
    >> But for the Académie Française, and all French linguists, and in
    >> serious books like dictionnaries, the accents have always been
    >> present, and are required.
    > Rightly or wrongly, it is still very easy to find reference sources that
    > claim that accented lowercase letters in fr-FR lose, or may lose, their
    > accents when converted to uppercase.

    This is not only my own opinion. In fact now more and more french users are
    irritated by the absence of accents on capitals with their standard
    keyboard. All serious books (dictionaries, encyclopedias) always contain
    those accents.

    All French spell correctors (or autocorrectors that immediately change é
    into É, and not E, at the begining of a sentence) contain this feature,
    enabled by default to add the missing accents. Users are quite fed up of
    having to use a spell checker or to copy/paste the missing characters from
    an external tool like charmap, and they absolutely can't remember the
    numeric sequence for entering the DOS or Windows ANSI code on their
    keyboard. All these solutions are only paliative for clearly missing accents
    on the french keyboard.

    And there are lots of users also irritated now to read French text without
    the normally required accents on capitals.

    If you think you need more references, just look at what the Académie
    Française says about them: they are required orthographically because they
    help disambiguate the meaning. The only French capital letter which can
    currently be composed with accents are A, U and E with grave (however
    there's no French word that starts with U with grave, so this is not a big
    broblem for that letter), and all capital vowels with diaeresis or
    circumflex accent. Why such segregation of capital E with acute and C with
    cedilla which do occur quite often in French text?

    I should add that capital vowels with grave are only supported because
    Microsoft has extended the French keyboard by overriding the behavior of
    AltGr+7 as a grave accent dead key instead of the legacy ASCII only

    Also the AltGr key is a technical extension for PC, and not part of the
    standard French keyboard which initially did not have it (it was introduced
    by IBM just to allow inputing the missing ASCII character). This means that
    OEM manufacturers can do something that will become a recognized de facto
    standard, even in absence of a formal AFNOR standard for France.

    However that AltGr key is now a requirement for all systems, including Mac
    keyboards, VT/X11 keyboards, something which became really mandatory only
    very recently with the introduction of the Euro, with the AltGr+E keystroke.

    It was only aceptable to not have some letters at the time of typewriters
    (this was a mechanical limitation). Now it's no more justifiable. We are not
    in the 1970's, and standard 8-bit character sets that contain the needed
    French letters are there since long even before Unicode. For the oe/OE
    ligature, it is normally orthographic in French, but still viewed as two
    distinct letters, so this does not create real problems or confusion; it is
    rare enough and occurs in frequent words for which there is no possible
    confusion. For the ae/AE ligature, it is only typographic and used in rare
    cases for pedantic words of Latin origin; it is also perceived as two
    distinct letters, so this is not a problem too.

    Regarding the circumflex, whose use is being obsoleted over i or I in most
    cases (see for example "ile" and "île", or "Ile" and "Île", all them meaning
    "island" in English, which are now all correct both orthographically and
    phonetically: see the various websites about French orthographic reform
    which applies throughout the Francophonie countries as a common standard,
    also referenced and accepted by the Académie Française), so that the absence
    is no more a problem both orthographically and phonetically, however there
    was no problem to input it with the existing dead key which still remains
    standard on the keyboard.

    The diaeresis is even more rare in French, and exceptional on capitals (in
    fact I can't find immediately an example of a French word which may start
    with a capital vowel with diaeresis...). But it benefits of its own dead key
    too, so no problem to input it even in the unfrequent cases where it is
    needed and required both phonetically and orthographically...

    On the opposite, the acute accent (which only occurs over e in French) is
    still a mandatory accent for French, and in fact the most frequent one for
    which there's effectively a need to add it even on capital letters where
    appropriate. It is needed both orthographically and phonetically. It is for
    example incorrect to write "Etat des lieux" or "Les Etats-Unis" or
    "Etions-nous...?" or "Epilogue" or "Ewé" without the acute accent over the
    capital E (this is a phonetic evidence in those cases...), for exactly the
    same reasons as it is also incorrect to mix the "A" and "À" distinct words.

    Same thing for the cedilla below c, which is also mandatory orthographically
    and phonetically when C is a capital in quite frequent cases (frequent
    sentences starting by "Ça ..." which is a synonym and frequent contraction
    of "Cela ..." and means "That ..." in English; another less frequent example
    is "Ç'a ..." which is a required contraction of "Ce a ..." or a possible
    contraction of "Ça a ..." where the second word is the auxilaire verb).

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