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In an English science book written by an American, I saw some questionable spellings:

  • rôle, with a circumflex accent (^) over the o;

  • coïncidence, with a diaeresis (¨) over the first i but not the second.

Can anyone explain this? I am not a native speaker and don’t understand this culture.

  • Sounds like a math book. Double and single dots are used to denote differentiation and sometimes the "hat" is used to denote vectors. – Jim Dec 5 '12 at 1:59
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    See: english.stackexchange.com/questions/66126/…; note, though, that if you don't know that ˆ is called a circumflex and ¨ is called a diaeresis, then you can hardly go looking up how and when to use them. In other words, I don't see how this is general reference. – Marthaª Dec 5 '12 at 2:38
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    Rôle is the original French spelling; it's a borrowed French word. The mark over the O is called a "circumflex accent," and in French it usually suggests that a consonant or a whole syllable has been lost -- the circumflex represents "compensatory lengthening". Coïncidence is a training-wheels spelling of coincidence; the double dots are called a "diaresis" and indicate in English that the vowel they're on should be pronounced seperately from the vowel right before it -- the way the /ɪ/ in /ko.'ɪn.sə.dəns/ is. Another example is coöperate. – John Lawler Dec 5 '12 at 4:23
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    Thank you for the reply. Does an English author write these French in his English book trying to hit that his French origin or hint he is more formal or something like that? – David Voyance Dec 5 '12 at 4:42
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    @Martha: certainly simply searching the site for role is not too much to ask for. The Wiktionary entry for role mentions rôle, too. In fact it's the very first thing it does. Likewise, it has a dedicated entry for coïncidence, as do many dictionaries. You might or might not call that general reference, but I will go out on a limb and call it lack of research. Sorry, David. Closing as dupe. – RegDwigнt Dec 5 '12 at 10:38

The mark over the o in rôle is a circumflex. In certain French words it can indicate a lost s, or show that the vowel is to be pronounced long. The mark over the i in coϊncidence is a dieresis, used to show that the vowel is to be pronounced separately from the previous one. They are hardly ever necessary in English, and I have not until now seen a dieresis used at all in coincidence.

  • I believe that coïncidence and coïncident occur only in French, where we got them from. The OED2 references those origins, but includes no citations in English with the diaeresis intact. – tchrist Dec 6 '12 at 3:56
  • @tchrist you mustn't read the New Yorker, that uses diaereses on any word formed by combination if it brings two vowels together, as per coïncidence. Generally, if some will use a hyphen with a prefix, the New Yorker will use a diaersis. – Jon Hanna Jan 26 '13 at 0:44

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