Thursday, August 04, 2005

Accent marks are not optional!

Several of my friends have the unfortunate habit of not bothering to type accent marks (here I use the term loosely to include diacritical marks such as the tilde and umlaut) in their Spanish emails. I suspect this is due to ignorance of how to do it, rather than laziness. But neither reason is an acceptable excuse, in my eyes. It's easy for us native English speakers to dismiss these miniscule markings as superfluous, because we don't have them in our own language and aren't used to paying attention to them. And typing them on an American keyboard does involve a bit of effort, requiring multiple keystrokes. Nonetheless, accent marks and special characters are not optional. Leaving them out is, at best, annoying for the reader in much the same way that spelling errors are. At worst, one can end up saying something confusing or downright nonsensical, as there are many cases in which an accent mark makes all the difference between two words.

I didn't always feel this way. In my early days of writing Spanish, I, too, dispensed with the accents and ended up writing something extremely embarrassing to a prospective pen pal. As any conversational Spanish speaker knows, the translation of "I am 27 years old" is literally "I have 27 years," or "Tengo 27 años." I dropped the tilde, thinking it insignificant. Ano, however, means something completely different from año; let's just say that it refers to a particular part of the body not mentioned in polite conversation.

Do yourself a favor. Learn to type accents properly.


Alison said...

Have you ever experimented with using a Spanish keyboard layout? I got so tired of trying to remember how to type an umlaut for my German papers, that I decided to go all the way and learn to type on a German keyboard layout. It's pretty simple to switch your layout (especially if you set up Windows or Mac to always give you a little "switcher" button on your taskbar for your chosen keyboard layouts). Once I learned where the right keys were, it was SO much better. Now, when I want to type something in German, my brain automatically switches me into "typing on a German keyboard layout" mode. Kinda fun.

I just checked out the Spanish layout, all you need to do to get an acceent is to press the '[' key, and then the vowel you want. Way niftier than searching around in character maps or using Alt+0000 combinations.

Language Lover said...

No, and it never occurred to me to try that! The only time I've used a Spanish keyboard was in Mexico. I'm pretty adept at using the Alt-000 combinations by now, but they're still a pain on some laptops where activating the numeric keypad deactivates a bunch of letters. I'll definitely check out your suggestion, thanks.

Sluggo said...

Whenever I get a new computer I set it up for "English-International" on keyboard options. This gives ability to quickly type é, à, ñ, ü and ç (accents aigu & grave, tilde, umlaut and cedilla) without switching anything.

The only drawback is getting used to hitting space bar an extra time when you really do want an apostrophe or quotation mark, but I'm so used to it now that I have to catch myself on other people's keyboards that haven't caught up yet.

This is for PC units; don't know about Macs.