Aula Máxima es la biblioteca y también lugar de recreo del espíritu.   - José Vasconcelos



Accents: How to use them, and why

Just skip ahead to the useful stuff, like how to type them

I don't speak English. Which doesn't mean that English doesn't exist . . .
--Pablo Picasso

We English-speakers get along just fine without accent marks, but that doesn't mean they don't matter. Written Spanish looks naked without them. Unappealingly so.

So, who needs 'em?
Many native Spanish speakers, after all, avoid using accents, writing everything with capitals in the belief that upper-case letters are above the law.

Those of us who lack what linguists call native-speaker intuition have to be more careful. If I try to write my age, Tengo 38 aos, but leave out that little tilde over the n, I am not describing myself as a 38-year-old but instead as an exceedingly peculiar physical specimen.

You say tomato . . . I say tomato, too
Even though Spanish varies enormously around the world, the written language exhibits an unusually strong sound-symbol correspondence-unlike English, where the letters in ghoti could sound like 'fish'. (Just pull the gh out of enough, the second o out of Boston, and the ti out of, say, motion.) The sounds of some individual Spanish letters vary according to their phonetic environment, but the rules are consistent so ti sounds the same wherever you find it.

How do you pronounce harrassment? Which syllable do you stress? Such questions do not arise in Spanish, whose orthography faithfully reflects the stress of the spoken language. Accent marks are what make this possible.

If you take the trouble to see to it that your Spanish documents carry the proper accents, you'll be showing respect for your patrons' mother tongue, and thus demonstrating your library's attentiveness and hospitality.

But my keyboard doesn't have those funny marks!
Not to worry. Below are revealed the secrets to typing the characters in some popular platforms (if you work in one not shown here, I want to include it. Please email me at flaco@sol-plus.net).

The chart below shows how to code accented characters into HTML and how to create them in couple popular word processing programs; some folks like to compose accented text in their word processor and then paste it into other applications. When this doesn't work, though, there are a some other simple approaches you'll want to know about.

Several Microsoft utilities, including Word and FrontPage, offer such characters under a drop-down menu labeled Insert. Programs that don't (many mail programs, for example), typically give you recourse to ASCII extended character sets; this sounds scary, but in practice it's simply a matter of typing three numbers on the keypad while holding down the Alt key. No keypad? Not to worry; enabling so-called International Keyboard configurations is a snap. An excellent guide to doing these things to your PC or Mac is online:


Keyboarding accents
(For others not used in Spanish, see also SOL 51, Item #5)

Microsoft Word
HTML (all preceded by &)
CTRL, ', a
CTRL+v, a, '
aacute; or #225
CTRL, ', e
CTRL+v, e, '
eacute; or #233
CTRL, ', i
CTRL+v, i, '
iacute; or #237
CTRL, ', o
CTRL+v, o, '
oacute; or #243
CTRL, ', u
CTRL+v, u, '
uacute; or #250
CTRL, :, then u
CTRL+v, u, "
uuml; or #252
CTRL, ~, then n
CTRL+v, n, ~
ntilde; or #241
CTRL+v, ?, ?
iquest; or #191
CTRL+v, !, !
iexcl; or #161
CTRL, ', A
CTRL+v, A, '
Aacute; or #193
CTRL, ', E
CTRL+v, E, '
Eacute; or #201
CTRL, ', I
CTRL+v, I, '
Iacute; or #205
CTRL, ', O
CTRL+v, O, '
Oacute; or #211
CTRL, ', U
CTRL+v, U, '
Uacute; or #218
CTRL, :, U
CTRL+v, U, "
Uuml; or #220
CTRL, ~, N
CTRL+v, N, ~
Ntilde; or #209



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