Sep 30, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Circumflex

French class started a few weeks ago, and I thought I'd do post about the circumflex. We don't have the circumflex or accents in Finnish, so I find it fascinating.

What is it, you ask?

The circumflex is the little hat thingy on top of some vowels. In English, you usually only see it in loanwords like "rôle," for example. In French, it usually marks the former presence of a consonant, usually s, so we get words like pâte, ancêtre, hôpital, fôret, or côte. Sometimes two vowels have contracted into one, like aage-> âge.

It also affects the pronunciation of a, o, and e. It's also sometimes needed to distinguish between homophones (words that sound the same but mean different things).

But, wait a minute. This is French; there's bound to be some exceptions. (Seriously. One day I'm going to use French as a basis for building an alien culture. They have their own way of thinking, that's for sure. Do you know how to say "ninety-nine" in French? Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf. So that's four twenties and nineteen. Kind of complicated, right?)

So yes, I found an exception. This one's a doozie: sometimes they use the circumflex just because it looks nice and lends the word some prestige. That's how we get words like trône and suprême.

I know. It's super weird.

Or . . . maybe they're onto something?

Which looks better, Ânnâ or Anna.


I have to think about this.


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