One of our users, Stan Rogers, mentioned there was such a distinction, I think, when he answered a question and talked about how the orthography of foreign loan-words typically changes to conform with the usual rules of English spelling. In passing he used the word rôle as an example and said something to the effect that implied that artists made a distinction between the two spellings. Anyway, if I’m remembering the episode correctly, can someone make that distinction clear to me?
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives four definitions of role, the first of which is
- also rôle A character or part played by a performer.
while the other three definitions (related to functions or characteristic behaviour) do not offer rôle. So for some people the circumflex indicates a particular meaning. Not for me.
As an Englishman, I always use rôle, despite Microsoft's disapproval! I think there may be something of a US/UK difference on this one. The OED lists both spellings without distinction.
The evolution of language is somewhat quirky. One never sees the word "hotel" written with a circumflex in English, as it is in French; but some people still insist on writing "an hotel" despite the fact that we, unlike the French, do voice the "h". It sounds particularly silly when someone says "an hotel", pronouncing the "h".
I expect the circumflex in rôle will eventually be completely dropped, but it is still generally considered more proper in the UK.