The decline of the umlaut

Many German firms have decided that the umlaut – the dotted accent added to the letters a, o, or u – is vexing for foreigners.

To make their products easier to find on search engines and pronounce on the phone, some companies have begun ditching it.

Actually, I think it’s email that is really doing it.

Working here in Bohemia and across the border in Saxony I’ve a number of people I correspond with who have umlauts in their name. But in their email addresses it’s always replaced with an e. So o-umlaut become oe and so on.

I’m not sure the exact reason: for all I know could be that the internet address system doesn’t recognise umlauts. Or could be a social thing. Dunno.

10 thoughts on “The decline of the umlaut”

  1. All the core internet protocols assume just ASCII text; nowadays there are extensions that allow arbitrary unicode characters, but all parties have to be using them or the results look like alphabet soup e.g. e.g., “bücher” ? “bcher-kva”

    We just have to look to heavy metal to keep the umlaut alive.

  2. Well, it’s been the case for a long time that oe and ö have been the same, just like ss and ß have been considered the same. In fact, the former date back centuries, and the variants which are simpler to type are the variants which are older; the less easy variants are forms evolved from the easier.

  3. No umlauts recognised in email addresses, web addresses, etc.

    In Bohemia you surely have even more fun accents.

  4. Plus it’s not much use if the people you are corresponding with can’t find umlaut letters on their keyboards.

  5. An umlaut originated as shorthand for the “e” of the dipthong.

    Although not all oe, ae, ue dipthongs get it, e.g. “soeben”.

    And in CH it’s never used on the first letter of a (place) name.

  6. abcab, the umlaut does not create diphthongs, it changes the pronunciation of the single vowel it marks. “ae”, “oe” and “ue” are shorthands for when you don’t have accented characters available

    Diphthongs are two adjacent vowels pronounced separately. Which is why “soeben” has no umlaut; you pronounce both the vowels rather than merging them into one sound.

    I think you are confusing it with the diaresis, an accent that looks identical and used to turn up more frequently in English than it does now. These days you only see it in a few reactionary publications like the New Yorker and occasionally in words like “naïve”, where its effect is the complete opposite – to signal that the two vowels are to be pronounced separately, i.e. not as a diphthong.

  7. James V,

    Ich glaube, dass Du mich ein bisschen falsch verstanden haben. Ich habe nich gesagt, dass ein Umlaut einen Dipthong macht. Nur dass er für das “e” eines ue, ae oder oe Dipthongs steht.

    Aber, danke für die Infos betriffend “soeben”. Ich hatte es nur geschrieben gesehen, und daher hatte ich nicht gemerkt, dass es eigentlich als “so eben” ausgesprochen werden sollte.

  8. abcab, the umlaut does not create diphthongs, it changes the pronunciation of the single vowel it marks

    Not exactly. The umlauted o and regular o are different letters entirely, so it’s not exactly modifying the pronunciation either. It’s like saying that a Q is a modified O.

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