English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

For example, In 1990 Portuguese alphabet was extended by 3 foreign letters which are K (capa, pronounced as "kappa"), Y (pronounced as "ípsilon or "ipsilão" or "i greg"), W (pronounced as "diáblio"). Hmmm, Portugueses certainly hate W.

There are many English dialects. For example, I know about existence of British English, American English and I guess there are a couple of hundreds more dialects.

Does any of them include or plan to include foreign letters?

share|improve this question
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The usual pattern is that words that are still perceived as foreign retain their original spelling, but if they become a part of the English lexicon, the spelling is modified to a more English-seeming orthography. For instance, Conan Doyle used the spelling cañon at around the beginning of the twentieth century for a word we now spell as canyon. Where the characters are truly uncommon, English has always tended to transliterate into existing symbols.

We have and use diacriticals in English, although they seem to have fallen out of use since the introduction of word processing. One still often sees a diaeresis used in naïve or noël, but one rarely sees coöperate anymore. We also use ligature graphemes like ash (Æ or æ), but the trend has been toward either dropping one of the two ligated letters or setting the letters separately.

share|improve this answer
Did one once see coöperate anywhere other than the NYT? I'm used to seeing it hyphenated as co-operate. – Peter Taylor Feb 18 '11 at 8:46
It was certainly standard usage in Canada and the UK in the '60s and earlier. – bye Feb 18 '11 at 8:59
Speaking of rarely seen forms, rôle is gone too. – ShreevatsaR Feb 18 '11 at 9:08
The rôle of rôle is now being played by role. I never like it when they change the actors mid-series. – bye Feb 18 '11 at 9:40
I always use rôle - just to be pretentious! – neil Feb 18 '11 at 13:53

There are some loanwords from French, some of them preserving original spelling. For example "façade" (although in English spelling "facade" is also accepted).

Another thing that comes into mind is load from German, prefix "über-", although it's not really part of official language.

In science -- 1Å (ångström) == 0.1nm. Not sure if you'd count that as part of language...

Not sure where you'd put Æ, after all it's not foreign, it's Old English.

share|improve this answer
Thanks. This reminded me that who;e I studied English in primary schhol the transcription of sounds for reading English words was given with the use of Æ and other "non-English" letters. – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 18 '11 at 15:15
@vgv8: The transcription of English sounds uses letters that are not part of the English alphabet; for example, ə (schwa) is used for the uh sound, but that letter is not part of the English alphabet. – kiamlaluno Feb 18 '11 at 15:47
@kiamlaluno, what are the origins of those symbols? I always thought before that they were invented by pedagogues to torture school children – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 18 '11 at 16:27
@vgv8: they’re probably International Phonetic Alphabet symbols, in this case; more generally, see pronunciation respelling systems. – PLL Feb 20 '11 at 7:08

Does any of them include or plan to include foreign letters?

It is possible that English alphabet will include letters that are not included in the today alphabet, in the same way English passed from the alphabet used in Old English to the nowadays alphabet. I cannot say it is planned, as English doesn't have an academy (or any authoritative agency, see Regulatory bodies and authoritative dictionaries for English) that plans such things, or proposes those things.

share|improve this answer
The link to the other question was a kind suggestion™ from RegDwight. – kiamlaluno Feb 18 '11 at 9:16
Alphabet is not governed by any central bordies. As an example, I can cite Russia where the state civic language is modern Russian and Russian Orthodox Church uses Slavonic language which does not have even common typographic letters with Russian (or even words). An example in Church Slavonic. Besides, cyrillic alphabet is used in over 100 countries+languages – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 18 '11 at 15:12
@vgv8: you should know better than post that. The Russian alphabet has a long history of changes by "central bodies", starting with Peter the Great and ending with the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks kicked out four letters. Oh, and Church Slavonic is a different language altogether, so no wonder that it uses a different alphabet, just like many other Slavic languages do — Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Czech, Polish, to name but a few. – RegDwigнt Feb 18 '11 at 15:36
@RegDwight, I hope you know the origin of cyrillics and its name. It is derived from Greek alphabet and was created by Greeks Cyril and Metodius in Greece. I cannot recall how and when Russians governed Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, etc. I hope they did not distort Greek alphabet altogether? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 18 '11 at 16:41

Well, there are no letters in the Latin alphabet which are missing from English, so there is nothing more to add. On the contrary, English used to have more letters in the past, such as eth and thorn. They are not likely to come back, I presume.

As for letters with diacritics, there are several words, primarily (or always?) borrowed from French, that are often written in English with diacritics, such as naïve, naïveté, fiancé.

share|improve this answer
+1 thanks. One can directly type K(, Y, W) in Portuguese keyboard. How one does type the letters with diacritics in US keyboard? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 18 '11 at 8:08
I'm not sure how most people do it, but I usually use the Alt key with the numeric pad. Try Alt+0233 (é) or Alt+0239 (ï). By the way, you can find eth and thorn there as well (0240, 0254), because they are still used in Icelandic. I believe there are easier ways to do it in specific word-processors, such as Word. – Ilya Kogan Feb 18 '11 at 8:12
It may be worth noting that the classical Latin alphabet had 23 letters as J was usually written with I, and U with V; W was a development from the double letters VV (or UU). – Henry Feb 18 '11 at 8:24
Actually, the alphabet used in English is only part of the Latin alphabet, which includes also letters like à, è, ì, the Latin capital letter R with double grave, or the Latin capital letter A with ogonek. – kiamlaluno Feb 18 '11 at 8:26
@ShreevatsaR: The alphabet used from Spanish and Italian, for example, is still the Latin alphabet. English doesn't use accented letters, but those are still part of the Latin alphabet. – kiamlaluno Feb 18 '11 at 9:45

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.