Chloë Hails the Umlaut

Umlaut 2I always demand that Mike (who does my typing) put the umlaut over the e (ë) every time he types my name.  I consider it a part of me, something to distinguish myself from all the run-of-the-mill Chloes and Chloés out there. It’s my trademark, like Colonel Sanders’ goatee or LeBron’s headband.

That’s why I was gratified to hear about Lindström, Minn., a small city (4,442) 35 miles northeast of the Twin Cities that calls itself America’s Little Sweden.  In 2012, a state highway project replaced the city’s welcome signs, removing its umlaut, and the state DOT later denied the city’s request that it be restored, citing a rule stating road signs use only a standard alphabet.  Local Swedish-Americans were incensed. This spring, however, the governor ordered the umlaut back.

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Democrat Mark Dayton said in a press release. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.”

In a segment on Public Radio International, local  historian Sally Barott said umlauts affect pronunciation and, more importantly, express the region’s cultural history and link to Swedish immigrants. “It’s important,” she said. “We have the old and the new. The blend is happening all over America, but I believe being able to retain our history and cultural ways, and to recognize and be traditional, honors the way we were taught and the way it was meant to be.”

In an article in The New York Times, University of Minnesota lecturer Lena Norrman added: “These are not just two dots. It’s a a significant letter with its own sound. You can’t just take them away.”

All of which is fine, but begs the question: Should umlaut have an umlaüt?

One response to “Chloë Hails the Umlaut

  1. So how would your name be pronounced in your native tongue if it is written without the umlaüt? Clo? (with long “o”). With my German studies while at S.U. with your master, we learned that there are no phonetic exceptions, what you read you pronounce without any exceptions to the rule, like English. You can pronounce the words without ever knowing what they mean when speaking German. If you removed the little designer dots and dashes in French and Swedish, there would be a lot less to do or read or interpret. Although German is simple to pronounce, it’s a tough to understand as they put all the action at the end of the sentence. “With gusto, I the ice cream cone licked.”
    English, well, that’s another matter altogether. There are 19 different ways to pronounce the phoneme “ough.” Through, thought, bough, thorough, etc. I guess your little umlaüt will not be such a big deal, and I will remember to add it to keep you happy, Chloë!

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