THE IMPORTANCE OF ACCENT MARKS
If you’re learning Irish, you probably already know just how important the long accent, or síneadh fada, is. Leave it out when it should be there (or put one in where it doesn’t belong), and you have a problem: A misspelled word that will be mispronounced by readers of Irish and that may even change meaning.
Seán (shawn) – noun, a man’s name
Séan (shayn) – a verb meaning “to deny” or a noun meaning “sign/omen.”
Sean (shan) – an adjective meaning “old.”
I know, I know. I use these specific examples all the time. They’re handy, because just about everyone is familiar with the name “Seán.” But there are plenty of other examples.
If you’re curious, check out Rossa Ó Snodaigh and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill’s book “Our Fada: A Fada Homograph Dictionary.” The subject is serious, but the authors treat it with a great deal of humor. The cartoons alone are worth the price of the book!
BUT MY KEYBOARD WON’T TYPE THEM!
If you’re an English speaker who has never studied another language, chances are you’ve never had to deal with typing accented characters.
You may even have overlooked their importance up until now. After all, it’s standard practice in the U.S. to simply leave accents off imported words and names, which is why you’ve likely never met a Seán in San José, visited México, or eaten a jalapeño in a café.
In fact, most U.S. registries don’t allow diacritic marks, so if you want to name your wolfhound “Oisín” or your daughter “Caitlín,” (pronounced “KATCH-leen,” by the way, not “KATE-lynn”) or to put “Éire” on your car license plate, you’re out of luck.
But now you have a real problem. You’re learning a language that requires long (aka “acute”) accents and you have no idea how to type them. You may even think that your computer, phone, or tablet is incapable of producing them. Fortunately, you’re wrong.
EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
When I first started learning Irish I had no idea how to type fadas. It didn’t help that the advice I got (to use my “ALT GR” key) didn’t seem to apply to my keyboard.
People in Ireland, you see, can type a fada by simply holding down a special key on their keyboard while typing the desired vowel. When they let go of the “ALT GR” key, the accented vowel magically appears.
(Yes, I know it’s not really magic, but it seemed pretty magical at the time!)
U.S. keyboards, unfortunately, don’t come with an “ALT GR” key.. In fact, I spent that first year copying and pasting accented vowels from a Word document (after having cut them from various forum posts and then pasting them into the Word document), which, as you can imagine, was pretty awkward.
I did eventually learn how to type fadas, however, and now I’m going to pass that wisdom on to you (and, hopefully, spare you some frustration!).
HOW TO GET ACCENTED CHARACTERS ON PRETTY MUCH ANY DEVICE
On a Mac
If you have a Mac, you already have something very like an ALT GR key: your “option” key. To get a vowel with an acute accent, simply hold down your “option key” and then the “E” key. Release both keys and type the vowel you want. For example, to get “Á”:
Hold down the “option” key and “E”
Release both keys and type “A”
What you’ll get will be “Á”
Easy peasy! (Or, in Irish, “éasca péasca”!)
Here’s a complete tutorial on using the “option” key to get accented characters of all types:
On a PC
PCs don’t have “option” keys, but you still have options.
Option 1: Use ALT Codes.
If your keyboard has a number pad on the right, you can use it to type fadas. Be sure the “Num Lock” key is on, and then simply hold down the “alt” key while typing the numbers below. When you let go of the “alt” key, voila!:
ALT + 0225 = á
ALT + 0193 = Á
ALT + 0233 = é
ALT + 0201 = É
ALT + 0237 = í
ALT + 0205 = Í
ALT + 0243 = ó
ALT + 0211 = Ó
ALT + 0250 = ú
ALT + 0218 = Ú:
There are ALT codes for pretty much any diacritic mark or special symbol you may want to type on a PC. The site below gives a comprehensive list:
This may seem like a lot of keystrokes at first, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you are able to touch-type the ALT codes for the letters you use most often.
Option 2: Alternative keyboard layouts
There’s little doubt that using an alternative keyboard layout is the most efficient way to type accented characters. If your keyboard doesn’t have a number pad, it’s the only way.
An alternative keyboard layout will allow you to type the accented characters you use most with much fewer keystrokes than typing ALT Codes.
I do have to say that I don’t personally use an alternative layout because I have a hard time remembering where some of my most frequently used keys, such as @, have migrated to.
Also, by the time I discovered alternative keyboard layouts I was already touch-typing ALT Codes and didn’t figure it was worth changing up at that point.
But that’s just me.I’m lazy that way. If you’re not, an alternative keyboard layout is probably the best way to go. The link below will take you to a tutorial for choosing an alternative keyboard layout in Windows 10:
For other versions of Windows, or for other operating systems, a quick net search should uncover plenty of tutorials.
On a touch screen
If you’re using a smart phone, or a tablet with a touch screen, getting accented characters couldn’t be easier.
Simply hold down the letter you want accented, and a menu will appear. Slide your finger up to the one you want, give it a tap, and Bob’s your uncle!
DON’T BE A FADA-LESS CHILD!
Now that you know how to type fadas, you have no excuse not to use them properly! Regardless of the kind of device you have or the method you choose, it really is pretty simple. And it is important.
For more on the importance of the fada in Irish, as well as basic pronunciation for accented and unaccented vowels, have a look at the blog post I wrote on this subject for Bitesize Irish Gaelic in 2013:
Update: 9/10/17 — Microsoft Word
A commenter, Bruce Burrill, has turned me on to a nifty feature of Microsoft Word of which I had been unaware.
When using Word, if you simultaneously press the “ctrl” and the apostrophe keys, release them, and then type a vowel, you’ll get that vowel with the fada.
For example, when working in a Word document, press “ctrl” and your apostrophe key at the same time. Release both keys and type “a.” What you should get is á. No special set-up required.
Featured image © 2008 by Audrey Nickel. Taken along a roadside in Glencolmkill, Co. Donegal. “Baaaaa! Have you seen my fada?”
In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada. For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/