That Squiggly Dash above an 'n'
(and its linguistic significance)
by aLfie vera mella
I have met a number of fellow Filipinos here in Canada who have
changed their names by removing that squiggly dash over a letter 'n'
in their surnames, because they felt that having a surname with a
"weird" mark like that was a nuisance or even embarrassing. They said
that they also got tired of having to explain to legitimate English
speakers how to pronounce their surnames correctly. So, to solve the
problem, they simply got rid of that "thingy."
I'm talking about surnames like Roño, Peñafrancia, Sobreviñas,
Arañas, and Dela Peña-surnames that have a tilded 'n', or an n that
has over it a diacritical mark called tilde (~). Now, what the heck
is embarrassing about having a surname like those? Just because words
with diacritical marks like the tilde are not originally English,
that you would already feel embarrassed about having them in your
surname. Pardon me, but I think removing the tilde (or any other
diacritical mark for that matter) off a surname is not simply
altering the linguistically correct pronunciation of the name; more
than that, it's tantamount to disrespecting one's name and ancestry.
Worse, it may also be seen as a display of ignorance about the
significance of diacritical marks.
It's there for an important reason
The tilde (~) is a fundamental unit in written language that has
several uses. One of these is being a diacritic (or diacritical mark)
placed over a letter to indicate a change in pronunciation, such as
nasalization. The tilded 'n' ('ñ', 'Ñ'), in particular, developed from
the digraph 'nn' in Spanish. In this language, ñ is considered a separate
letter called eñe, rather than a letter-diacritic combination. Borrowed
from Spanish, the ñ (eñe) of the current 28-letter modern Filipino
alphabet has the same function-it stands alone as a separate letter,
representing a palatal-nasal type of consonant, used for some loanwords
adopted from Spanish. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the symbol
that represents the sound of the eñe is ?. For English speakers, the best
reference to how they should pronounce the ñ in some Filipino surnames and
in some English loanwords are the words canyon, lasagna, onion, and union.
Furthermore, even though the English language does not consider ñ a separate
unit in its 26-letter alphabet, it still recognizes as entries in its
dictionary a number of loanwords that contain the so-called tilded 'n',
such as El Niño ("a global coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon"), jalapeño
("a variety of chili pepper"), mañana habit ("procrastination"), piña
colada ("a sweet, rum-based cocktail made with hard rum, coconut cream,
and pineapple juice"), piñata ("a brightly-colored papier-mâché, cardboard,
or clay container filled with any combination of candy, small fruit, food
items, and toys"), señor ("Sir or Mr."), señora ("Mrs."), and señorita ("miss or Ms.").
Now, who said ñ, or eñe, also known as the tilded 'n', is not recognized
by or does not exist in the English language? It's time to review or update your English.
The Last Leaf
So, before you remove that squiggly dash off your precious surname (in
case you have it)-a name which your ancestry has preserved all this time-just
because you thought that the tilde has no place in English, better think twice!
You're not only disrespecting your heritage; you're also betraying your ignorance
about the English language. If there's one person who should be proud of your
name, it's no one else but you! And if there's someone who should feel embarrassed,
it's those people whose first language is English who don't know how to pronounce
your surname properly. Why? Because they do not know that English-their very own
language-has long adopted as dictionary entries foreign words that have letters
with diacritics like the tilde (~), acute accent (´) and grave accent (`),
cedilla (¸), circumflex (ˆ), and umlaut (¨)-loanwords that include animé,
exposé, résumé, café, cliché, discothèque, doppelgänger, façade, karaōke,
mêlée, naïve, papier-mâché, smörgåsbord, and über.