Creating diacritics

Internationalist Chris Rattan wonders how to create non-English characters. He writes:

When you are typing in Spanish, how do you make an N with an enye (~) over it?

The short answer is to hold down the Option key, press N, and then press N again. On the first press you’ll see the character as well as a line beneath it. That line indicates that this character will be placed over the next compatible character you type—for instance, you can type an N or A and the character will appear as ñ or ã. But if you type an R, which isn’t a compatible character, you’ll see ˜r.

The longer answer is that the Mac supports a variety of diacritical marks—those added glyphs that appear above or below letters. And they’re often produced this way. For example, to create an umlaut (¨), press Option-U and then type a compatible character. An accent grave (`) is Option-Tilde and then the character. An accent aigu (´) is Option-E plus the appropriate character.

It’s a bit of a burden to memorize the shortcuts necessary to produce these characters. Fortunately you don’t have to. In many applications you’ll find a Special Characters command at the bottom of the Edit menu. Select this command and a Characters palette appears. Within this palette choose Roman from the View pop-up menu, select Accented Latin from the list below, and a pane to the right will display accented characters. Select the character you’re after, click the Insert button at the bottom of the window, and the character will be placed in your document at the insertion point.

You can produce this Character palette even when an application lacks a Special Characters command. If you’re using Leopard, launch System Preferences, select the International preference, and click on the Input Menu tab. Enable the Character Palette option and you can now produce the palette by choosing it from the menu bar. The Snow Leopard steps are similar except that in this case you choose the Language & Text preference, select Input Sources, and then enable the Keyboard & Character Viewer option.

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