This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Nuts and Bolts: cedilla.

English doesn't use accents much. At least, I don't mean the sort of accent which means English has several different ways of saying hair and bath and terror. No, I mean the marks that are written over or under or through letters, like these, ū é ö è đ ǥ, for example.

Language anoraks tend not to call them accents, by the way, but diacritics, or diacritical marks.

They can show how to pronounce a letter, or whether to stress a sound.

A cedilla is one of those diacritics, and it's an unusual underneath-a-letter one.

Like this:


You can find them in English very occasionally - the word façade is sometimes given one - but they do pop up in all sorts of other languages including French, Turkish, Occitan, Manx and Marshallese. In fact Marshallese goes mad for them and uses them under l, m, n, and o, as well as the more widely used c, d, e, g, h, k, l, s and t.

I'd like to show you examples of all those letters with cedillas, but I'm afraid my computer converts them all to underlined commas for some reason, and that isn't the same at all.

What a cedilla does when it's used in English is to turn a hard c (as in cask) which you usually get before an a, o or u (as And cove, and cult) into a soft hissing s sound.

Cedillas also crop up in the International Phonetic Alphabet. There it represents the sound you get at the beginning of the English word huge, which I can only describe as a sort of squeezed pant.

Which are two words I wasn't expecting ever to use together. 

Word To Use Today: Hm. It's probably got to be façade, hasn't it. Unless you're going to Besançon to have a soupçon of curaçao.. The word means little z in Spanish.

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