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Postscript on Diacritics

My basic position on diacritics is that unless they are normally used in a language, it is best to use them minimally in language teaching, perhaps only for the occasional help in pronunciation. Rather than saying that they are completely unnecessary, I would say that they are usually unnecessary.

In Japanese, in which diacritics are not used unless transliterated, they are unnecessary because transliteration (use of romaji) is unnecessary.

In Arabic, in which diacritics are sometimes used, they are generally unnecessary because the goal is to be able to read Arabic the way Arabic speakers do, without vowel markings.

Diacritics are unnecessary if a student has a teacher who can teach pronunciation and writing. But a teacher is no longer a given. Many language learners use online tools and programs such as Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. In those cases, with no teacher, limited use of transliteration and diacritics may be necessary to learn pronunciation. I use some transliteration and diacritics in my Arabic learning because otherwise at times I have no idea how to pronounce a word. But as soon as I learn the pronunciation, I do not allow myself to go back to the transliteration or diacritics.

Though I stand by my comments about Japanese, my comments about Arabic, with which I am much less familiar, may need significant modification.


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