“There are twenty-six letters in English.” Emily warmed her hands on the coffee mug I had just filled. “Not one letter more.”
“What about ç in façade, ï in naïve, ê in crêpe and in é in cliché? I count at least twenty-nine letters. Did my first grade teacher lie to me to make English seem easier than it actually is? And then did all my other teachers perpetuate that lie?” I gazed into my coffee, my eyes losing focus as the cream transformed into the shapes of those linguistic abominations. “I don’t even know where to start with açaí.”
“Those letters aren’t English. They’re borrowed. Those are diacritical marks that help with pronunciation. I’ll show you.” Emily started to tap her phone to summon an authoritative language website, but I gently rested my hand on hers. This was a conversation about philosophy and honesty, not passionless facts. It was Captain Kirk versus Mr. Spock. Emily may have logic on her side, but that doesn’t make her right.
“I have enough trouble finding the em-dash on my keyboard,” I said. “These marks unnecessarily complicate writing. They’re like a friend who asks if he can stay at your house for a couple of days, but is still there months later. I narrowed my eyes. “Look, this is how I feel: Either make these marks official English language letters and teach them from the get-go, or ban them. This twilight zone of language does nobody any good.”
“You were taught that plurals are formed by adding an s to nouns. Then along came mice. Somehow you survived.” She took a sip of coffee. “You’ll survive this, too.”
I shook my head. “These letters snuck into English, like spies crossing the border.”
“I don’t even know what purpose that job serves, other than somebody else to have to tip.” I forced a smile. “I’m changing my name to Bĭll.”
“You are not.”