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I like the idea of using ligatures like ‘æ’ and ‘œ’ for diphthongs in Latin, so that the spelling is closer to one letter/character per sound. However, it would not work to write ‘æ’ for everything, because words like aer (also spelled aër) do not contain a diphthong but two different vowels.

Is there a list of such words?

Edit: Current list

  • aer, a(h)eneus
  • Greek names: Aerope
  • Hebrew names: Israel, Michael, etc.
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  • Would it be sufficient to have a dictionary that indicates whether the ae is a diphthong or not? Presumably you are using a dictionary to look up words anyway, so that'd be a natural place for such details.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:26
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Yes, this could work, but having a list would be helpful for me to know how many words are involved, are they common ones, is there any chance of just learning the list so as not to have to check the dictionary every time, etc.?
    – richardIII
    Commented Mar 17 at 12:47
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    I can only think of Israel (Isrāēl) Commented Mar 20 at 7:59
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    @richardIII It's worth noting that aer was a transliterated borrowing from Greek ἀήρ: I'm curious now if there are native Latin words that have a dieresis.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 20 at 15:00
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    @cmw I meant that those verbs have inflected froms with an oe but no diphthong, such as inchoes. My point was just that verb inflection produces situations where one might want to use a dieresis to guide pronunciation.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 21 at 21:56

1 Answer 1

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I don't know of any such list, but they're almost exclusively foreign loans.

The only native Latin word I know of with a non-diphthong ae is ahēneus "bronze (adj)", also written aēneus. Fortunately, in this case the long vowel can serve as a marking…or you can always write it with the h, if you like. The exact etymology of this word is unclear—De Vaan thinks it might be a loan from Umbrian—and it's possible that the h was inserted specifically for this reason, to mark that it's two syllables instead of one syllable ae. But it's almost certainly native Italic, given the connection with aes. (That would, as a side note, make it cognate with English "ore".)

Beyond that, there are plenty of loans from Greek (including loans from Greek that were originally from Aramaic and Hebrew) that transcribe αη as . Again here the length marker can serve as an indication that this isn't ae, but even books that don't mark vowel length consistently will generally write this as with a diaeresis. Āēr (ἀήρ) and Michāēl (Μιχαήλ) fall into this category.

Finally, there are a smaller number of loans from Greek that transcribe αε as ae. In this case, the length markers won't help you; in theory, you could write this as , but I don't know of anyone who does that. Instead, these words are practically universally written with a diaeresis, . Aëropē (Ἀερόπη) is one of these. I imagine there might be some of these from Hebrew or Aramaic as well, but the main cause of the non-diphthong in those names is the ending -ηλ, which universally has a long eta.

Overall, then, the standard solution to these issues is the diaeresis. It originated in Greek, where it's important to distinguish the diphthong αι from the non-diphthong αϊ. (These non-diphthongs were common in Homer and became steadily less so over time, eventually disappearing almost entirely: earlier Ἀΐδης became later ᾍδης.) In Latin it comes up pretty rarely, but when it does, it's important to have a way to indicate it.

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    I focused on ae here since that's the question in the title, but as pointed out in the comments, oe not being a diphthong is somewhat more common in native Latin words.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 22 at 15:45

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