Accents for emphasis

Adding acute accents to the vowels of a word to signifiy that it should be emphasized is a purely Dutch typographical convention.

In English, you have to find other ways:

  • italicizing and/or bolding the stressed word is the usual way:
    “This is the book about computer graphics.”
  • depending on the format or context, underlines get used (where there’s no confusion with hyperlinks), as do capitals (when it won’t look like typographical shouting)
  • where there’s no option to use font changes, asterisks around the word in question will generally be understood too

Accents for the stresses in a word are a natural part of some languages (e.g. Spanish) but in Dutch it’s specifically about special emphasis rather than the punctuation, or to show which word needs the stress when a sentence would otherwise potentially be ambiguous – voorkomen = to prevent, happen or occur first (among other nuances) being the classic example.

Prevalence: moderate. Can occur in almost any kind of writing.
Frequency: high. Many Dutch writers assume blithely that all such tricks are universal. Mooi niet.
Native: no. It’s simply not a convention we use. We’ll just read straight over it, thinking it’s a typo.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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