Which English dialects use non-English foreign letters in their alphabets?

Does any English dialect currently include any foreign letters as part of their alphabet? Are any English dialects currently planning to add foreign letters to their alphabet in the future?

For example, under the international treaty known in English as the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990, the official Portuguese alphabet was officially extended by three foreign letters:1

  • K: capa, pronounced like "kappa"
  • Y: pronounced ípsilon or ipsilão or i greg
  • W: pronounced dáblio [think diabolically] (Hmmm, Portuguese speakers certainly do hate W.)

There are many English dialects. For example, I know about the existence of British English and American English, and I guess there are a couple of hundred more English dialects beyond those two alone.

Do any of these English dialects include any foreign letters?

  1. From Wikipedia’s article on the 1990 spelling agreement:

    Base I – Do alfabeto e dos nomes próprios estrangeiros e seus derivados: Descreve o alfabeto com a designação usualmente dada a cada letra, introduzindo a letra w e restaurando k e y, proscritas do alfabeto português desde 1911 em Portugal e desde 1943 no Brasil. Mantêm-se, no entanto, as regras fixadas anteriormente que restringem o seu uso às abreviaturas, palavras de origem estrangeira ou seus derivados, assim como unidades de medida de curso internacional (p.ex., kilowatt, citado explicitamente no Acordo).


    It will also add three letters (K, W, and Y) to the Portuguese alphabet, making it equal to the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

  • 1
    SEE ALSO: Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Ævar Arnfjörð Bjarmason, and Laȝamon — just to name a few, plus this question.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 20:00
  • 2
    Dialects are spoken; alphabets are written. All English dialects use the same alphabet. There are a lot of jots and tittles one can add with borrowed words in foreign spellings, but they're not part of English orthography. Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 21:38
  • @tchrist ['dɑ.bliʊ] not [diáblio]
    – Centaurus
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 0:58
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    @Centaurus Thanks, I was just dressing up what the asker had already written there, and that curious spelling with the extra -i- was what I had found. Fixed now.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 1:12

5 Answers 5


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.

  • Did one once see coöperate anywhere other than the NYT? I'm used to seeing it hyphenated as co-operate. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 8:46
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    It was certainly standard usage in Canada and the UK in the '60s and earlier.
    – bye
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 8:59
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    Speaking of rarely seen forms, rôle is gone too. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 9:08
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    The rôle of rôle is now being played by role. I never like it when they change the actors mid-series.
    – bye
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 9:40
  • I always use rôle - just to be pretentious!
    – neil
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 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.

  • 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. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 15:15
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    @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.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 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 Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 16:27
  • @vgv8: they’re probably International Phonetic Alphabet symbols, in this case; more generally, see pronunciation respelling systems.
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 7:08
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    Diacritics do not count as separate letters in the English alphabet. So with imported loanwords naïve, façade, jalapeños, those are still the same English letters, just with extra diacritics added. This is not always true in the source language; for example, in Spanish the ñ is considered a letter in its own right not an n with a diacritic. In contrast, glyphs like þ, ð, ȝ, ƿ (respectively named thorn, eth, yogh, wynn) from Old English and Middle English which we now seldom use truly are different letters altogether.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 20:07

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.

  • The link to the other question was a kind suggestion™ from RegDwight.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 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 Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 15:12
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    @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
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 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? Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 16:41
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    @GennadyVaninГеннадийВанин As is actually mentioned in the Wikipedia article you linked to, Cyril and Metodius did not create the Cyrillic alphabet. Students of their school did, but they themselves did not. Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 20:16

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.

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    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
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 8:24
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    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.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 8:26
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    @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.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 9:45
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    @kiamlaluno: No, Spanish and Italian are not the Latin alphabet. (Even the letters J, U, W may be questionable, but they are included in the "ISO Basic Latin alphabet" linked above). If you look at Wikipedia, Italian alphabet says "Italian alphabet is a variant of the Latin alphabet" and Spanish alphabet says "Spanish alphabet […] is the Latin alphabet with one additional letter: eñe (‹ñ›), making exactly 27". The other characters are in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin-derived_alphabet Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 10:05
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    @kiamlaluno Latin did not use only uppercase letters. The lowercase letters we use now are quite different in style to the ones used in the Republic two millennia ago, and the way we use and distribute upper- and lowercase letters is quite different, too; but even back then they had ‘upper- and lowercase’ letters. Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 20:21

The English word "Hawaiʻi" has a okina in it between the last two is. The okina looks like a left quotation sign, sort of, but it is actually one of the 13 letters of the Hawaiian language. From Wikipedia: The ʻokina, also called by several other names, is a unicameral consonant letter used within the Latin script to mark the phonetic glottal stop, as it is used in many Polynesian languages. From Wordnik: n. The Hawaiian apostrophe-like letter (ʻ) used to indicate the glottal stop consonant. Etymologies Sorry, no etymologies found.

  • Interesting but it doesn't answer the question. We have not added the okina to the English alphabet. And Hawaii is usually spelled without it. Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 3:50
  • @ John Lawler I'm with John Lawler: "dialects are spoken; alphabets are written." The question asked for NON-ENGLISH FOREIGN LETTERS. As I see it dialects don't have alphabets, but I believe my answer is in the spirit of the question. As for the spelling of our 50th state, the official spelling uses the okina:Hawaii or Hawai'i: What's the official spelling? Updated: Mar 31, 2016 7:12 PM EDT You've seen the version with the okina or glottal stop between the two i's and others without. The state's “Hawaii Board on Geographic Names” is proposing a spelling change (Continued)
    – Airymouse
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 14:25
  • @AlanCarmack “Technically it’s not a name change. It’s a spelling correction,” said Kamana’o Mills, Hawaii Board on Geographic Names. “By leaving out the okina, it’s considered a misspelling. It’s like if we spelled ‘apple’ pple and excluded the a.” I admit I'm not certain the corrected spelling has been adopted, but I stand by my answer.
    – Airymouse
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 14:36
  • The apostrophe is already part of English spelling. Also, an apostrophe is not part of an alphabet.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 17:19
  • @Mitch I agree with your comment, but it's impertinent. When Wordnik says that the okina is the "Hawaiian apostrophe-like letter (ʻ) used to indicate the glottal stop consonant," it means that the letter, okina, from the Hawaiian alphabet is shaped like an apostrophe. But it is a letter, not just a diacritic or a punctuation mark; it comes from an alphabet other than the English alphabet and is used in a well-known English word.
    – Airymouse
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 2:11

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