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A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter or basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek διακριτικός (diakritikós, "distinguishing"), from διακρίνω (diakrī́nō, "to distinguish"). Diacritic is primarily an adjective, though sometimes used as a noun, whereas diacritical is only ever an adjective. Some diacritical marks, such as the acute ( ´ ) and grave ( ` ), are often called accents. Diacritical marks may appear above or below a letter, or in some other position such as within the letter or between two letters.

The main use of diacritical marks in the Latin script is to change the sound-values of the letters to which they are added. Examples are the diaereses in the borrowed French words naïve and Noël, which show that the vowel with the diaeresis mark is pronounced separately from the preceding vowel; the acute and grave accents, which can indicate that a final vowel is to be pronounced, as in saké and poetic breathèd; and the cedilla under the "c" in the borrowed French word façade, which shows it is pronounced /s/ rather than /k/. In other Latin-script alphabets, they may distinguish between homonyms, such as the French ("there") versus la ("the") that are both pronounced /la/. In Gaelic type, a dot over a consonant indicates lenition of the consonant in question.

In other alphabetic systems, diacritical marks may perform other functions. Vowel pointing systems, namely the Arabic harakat ( ـِ ,ـُ ,ـَ, etc.) and the Hebrew niqqud ( ַ◌, ֶ◌, ִ◌, ֹ◌, ֻ◌, etc.) systems, indicate vowels that are not conveyed by the basic alphabet. The Indic virama ( ् etc.) and the Arabic sukūn ( ـْـ‎ ) mark the absence of vowels. Cantillation marks indicate prosody. Other uses include the Early Cyrillic titlo stroke ( ◌҃ ) and the Hebrew gershayim ( ״‎ ), which, respectively, mark abbreviations or acronyms, and Greek diacritical marks, which showed that letters of the alphabet were being used as numerals. In the Hanyu Pinyin official romanization system for Chinese, diacritics are used to mark the tones of the syllables in which the marked vowels occur.

In orthography and collation, a letter modified by a diacritic may be treated either as a new, distinct letter or as a letter–diacritic combination. This varies from language to language, and may vary from case to case within a language. English is the only major modern European language requiring no diacritics for native words (although a diaeresis may be used in words such as "coöperation").[1][2]

In some cases, letters are used as "in-line diacritics", with the same function as ancillary glyphs, in that they modify the sound of the letter preceding them, as in the case of the "h" in the English pronunciation of "sh" and "th".[3]

Types

Among the types of diacritic used in alphabets based on the Latin script are:

The tilde, dot, comma, titlo, apostrophe, bar, and colon are sometimes diacritical marks, but also have other uses.

Not all diacritics occur adjacent to the letter they modify. In the Wali language of Ghana, for example, an apostrophe indicates a change of vowel quality, but occurs at the beginning of the word, as in the dialects ’Bulengee and ’Dolimi. Because of vowel harmony, all vowels in a word are affected, so the scope of the diacritic is the entire word. In abugida scripts, like those used to write Hindi and Thai, diacritics indicate vowels, and may occur above, below, before, after, or around the consonant letter they modify.

The tittle (dot) on the letter i or the letter j, of the Latin alphabet originated as a diacritic to clearly distinguish i from the minims (downstrokes) of adjacent letters. It first appeared in the 11th century in the sequence ii (as in ingeníí), then spread to i adjacent to m, n, u, and finally to all lowercase is. The j, originally a variant of i, inherited the tittle. The shape of the diacritic developed from initially resembling today's acute accent to a long flourish by the 15th century. With the advent of Roman type it was reduced to the round dot we have today.[4]

Languages from Eastern Europe tend to use diacritics on both consonants and vowels, whereas in Western Europe digraphs are more typically used to change consonant sounds. Most languages in Western Europe use diacritics on vowels, aside from English where there are typically none (with some exceptions).

Diacritics specific to non-Latin alphabets

Arabic