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Diacritical marks in scripts

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  nicolemsaad 1 year, 9 months ago.

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    Shaula Evans

    Diacritics or diacritical marks are the dots, dashes and squiggles that various languages use to indicate pronunciation, such as cedillas, diaereses or umlauts, circumflexes, etc. For example, the cedilla under the “c” in the borrowed French word façade shows it is pronounced like an ‘s’ rather than a hard ‘c’.

    In English, most words with diacritical marks are foreign loan words, as with the French example above.

    And, in English, diacriticals were once much more prominent, but as loanwords are assimilated into the language the diacriticals are often dropped over time. For example, ‘role’, in the sense of a part in your script, first entered English in the early 1600’s as rôle, from the French for the roll of paper that carried an actor’s part. In both British and American English, the spelling “role” without the cedilla took off in the 1880s.

    I admit I am fascinated by etymology and there can be a lot of etymological data encoded in diacritical marks, so I regret when we lose them from the language.

    BUT, I make a point to avoid discretionary diacritical marks in my screenplays.

    Why? Because, just like discretionary commas, diacritical marks create extra visual clutter on the page. Lots of white space creates a subliminal feeling of a clean, well-written script. I’ll take every edge I can get.

    Now that’s my personal strategy and certainly not a hard and fast rule in the script word. But I’m curious: Have you ever given this thought? And do you have a “policy” on diacritical marks?



    Unless the lack turns  a gold lamé gown into a lame dress!

    The policy is always the same:  clarity first.

    This sort of ties back to the earlier discussion about how to indicate a piece of dialogue is in a foreign language.  It used to be common place to underline foreign phrases, now, it is generally done with italicized text, or, simply written in English with a parenthetical (in French) if it applies to the entire block of speech.

    The change from underlined text to italicized text had nothing to do with which was more clear or less cluttered – or whether it made more “white space.”  It’s as simple as the fact we used to create on typewriters, most of which could easily accommodate underlining, but not italic type.  Today, computers allow us to do either.

    The fact that diacriticals fell off was as much to do with the nuisance it was to create more individual pieces of type for your press as any stylistic consideration!  Even today, the explosion of email had printers grumbling – now they had to add that freakin’ @ symbol to their existing typefaces!

    Fortunately, if you need diacriticals today, to ensure your dress isn’t lame, they’re easy to do.

    Clarity is the goal of all good communication.

    If the reader isn’t stopping to figure out what you meant to say, you’re probably good to go!


    Shaula Evans

    Gold lamé all the way, NE!

    Note I did say “discretionary”. I’m with you: clarity first and foremost, always.



    “Unless the lack turns  a gold lamé gown into a lame dress!” otherwise, I try to avoid.

    I might be wrong but a lot of times, readers don’t even know that a cedille or accent is needed. “Fiance/ Fiancee” most times I’ve seen them in English never get the accent… in this case if it’s actually added, it might create the impression of a mistake made, so clarity/ cleanliness first :)

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