November 27th, 2003 • 2:37 am
I’ve just noticed something that I had never seen in print in English before. In the The New Yorker, the umlaut (¨) is used as a diacritic to mark the distinction between a succession of two identical vowels that’s pronounced as a single sound (say, “oo” in “zoo”) and a succession of two identical vowels that’s pronounced as two sounds (say, “oo” in “cooperate”).
On page 35 of the latest issue, for example, in the second paragraph of “Uncrazy California,” we have successively “reëlected” and “uncoöperative.”
This is, of course, consistent with the use of the diacritic in a language such as French, where it is indeed used to make a similar distinction (“mais” = “but” vs. “maïs” = “corn”, for example) — but not with its use in German, where it simply indicates a vowel change (singular “Land” vs. plural “Länder”).
But it’s the first time I see the umlaut used like this in English in print. What is more common is to see a hyphen to separate the two vowels, as in “re-elected” and “unco-operative.” The style guide for our provincial government here in Nova Scotia, Canada, actually recommends the form with the hyphen — which is, presumably, more consistent with UK English usage.
My Oxford Canadian Dictionary, in typical schizophrenic fashion, puts both forms (with and without the hyphen) on an equal footing. There is no mention of the umlaut, though.
I wonder if it’ll catch on.