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In this document from 1916, on the last line of the first page is the word rôle. If context matters, the entire sentence is:

As might readily be supposed, the control of the lactic acid fermentation plays a very important rôle in the manufacturing processes of all types of cheese.

This appears to be the only occurrence of this word or character in this document.

What is the meaning of the ^ mark? Is this an old writing convention that has been lost? If so, when was it used?

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Did you look in a dictionary? What did it say? –  Hugo Oct 21 '11 at 4:36
    
@Hugo: Sure, and it gave me a proper definition (which I already knew), and showed both spellings, rôle and role. It didn't explain the ^ character, though. –  Flimzy Oct 21 '11 at 5:34
    
OK, thanks. At least that answers the Or is it a typo or reproduction error? part: "no, it's an alternate spelling". –  Hugo Oct 21 '11 at 6:53
    
Hotel is the same, the original spelling is with a circumflex but that's now archaic/pretentious. –  Optimal Cynic Oct 21 '11 at 10:02
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IMHO, if it contains glyphs that aren't in the Sesame Street Alphabet Song, it is not spelled right for English. :-) –  T.E.D. Oct 21 '11 at 13:15
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1 Answer

It's because the word has an circumflex in the original French and kept that as a borrowed word. As foreign words become more common in English they tend to lose accents etc because English doesn't have them.

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And insisting on the accents once they've been lost is more a symbol of the author's pretension than anything else. –  onomatomaniak Oct 21 '11 at 7:12
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And the circumflex has two, um . . . roles in French. One is to indicate a missing ‘s’. The other, as here, is to indicate the pronunciation. –  Barrie England Oct 21 '11 at 7:27
    
I sometimes forget whether we use accents in English or not; I always find myself wondering why naïve gets a red squiggly under it. –  tenfour Oct 21 '11 at 12:31
    
Since we have unicode it's easy to use the diacriticals and where the correct pronunciation is unintuitive (as in naïve), I think it appropriate to put them in. –  z7sg Ѫ Oct 21 '11 at 13:07
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@z7sg - it's easier now to spell foreign names correctly with accents but as foreign words become English then they lose them. Role and naive are now pretty much English words. We don't spell sky as ský because that's what it was in Norse. –  mgb Oct 21 '11 at 14:55
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