Halvor William Sanden

Misapplying é in Norwegian interfaces

Acute accent

My bank does it, Google does it and quite a few online stores do it. I'm talking about throwing an é in where it doesn't belong. More specifically adding acute accent (accent aigu) to the letter e in verbs that end with -er.

I also used it at some point, but in this age of pedants, it’s now the only typo I usually point out. Once you become aware of it, it will hurt your eyes every time you see it. Which is still every time I right-click in Chrome.

This will explain a bit about the Norwegian language. I'm writing in English because a lot of people who work with Norwegian services have a different native language.

Archive vs. archive #

A common verb to see in interfaces is archive. Which in Norwegian is arkiver. Quite similar in both languages. It's also a noun, which causes this misunderstanding. Notice the Norwegian imperative verb is identical to the plural noun.

Infinitive verb: to archive – å arkivere
Imperative verb: archive – arkiver

Indefinite single noun: an archive – et arkiv
Indefinite plural noun: archives – arkiver

A lot of, but not all, imperative verbs are spelled the same as indefinite plural nouns. The pronunciation is however not the same. The verb is pronounced arkivˈer (long e) and the noun arkˈiver (long i).

Both classes could potentially appear within the same UI, but I would say that rarely happens. Still, it's easy to think that some kind of distinction is needed when the words appear on their own. And then end up forcibly mimicking the pronunciation. Instead of arkiver, the verb gets written as arkivér – which is not only wrong, but it is completely unnecessary. In fact, it's just as far out as writing the noun as arkíver.

The difference is important, but there is rarely a need for anything special to be done, and never by resorting to accents.

It's all about context #

The distinction is, most of the time, given by the context.

Verbs are generally used in buttons, while nouns are used in links. As long as links and buttons are discernible from each other, it should be OK. Users are smart. When they see a button, they expect it to perform an action (verb), and when they see a link, they expect it to navigate somewhere (noun).

There is also the option to add the object, especially when the same action can be done to different objects. For instance "Archive report" and "Archive PDF". Which in Norwegian would be "Arkiver rapport" and "Arkiver PDF" – and only trolls (the internet kind) would try to pronounce it like nouns. In addition, you would probably have something in the navigation called "Report archive" and "PDF archive".

Summary #

You can, and should, always skip the acute accent. The users read more than just the literal text and understand the meaning (and pronunciation) through the setting.

Source (Norwegian): https://www.sprakradet.no/Vi-og-vart/Publikasjoner/Statssprak/statssprak-32016/aksenttegn-i-norsk/