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My mother tongue, Romanian, has a bunch of diacritics, like ă â î ș ț. All of them change drastically the way the sound is pronounced (for example, while s is pronounced as the s in song, ș is pronounced as sh in shell). However, in the casual written conversation, mostly because of the ubiquity of the English keyboard layout, most people drop them. This does create some confusion since might change the meaning of some words but this is rarely a problem - most of the time the correct meaning is picked up from the context.

How does this happen in the French speaking communities? Everybody uses the correct diacritics where they are needed, or for casual conversation is acceptable to drop them?

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Some diacritics used in French do not change (or only marginally change) the way the affected letters are pronounced but are there for etymological or grammatical reasons (à/a, â/a, ô/o, ou/où). They are often dropped by mistake. The 1990 rectification about circumflex accents on top of most î and û is even endorsing this evolution.

A notable exception is the C-Cedilla ç, before a, o and u, which has a strong effect to the pronunciation and so is rarely replaced by a simple c, even in written informal conversation. When the language is really simplified like with texting (SMS), an s is sometimes used to keep the proper phonetics, e.g.:

  • Bonjour, ça va ?bjr sava?

Another exception is caused by French speaking people having to use non French, often US English keyboards, with which there is no intuitive way to enter diacritics.

Finally, there is the specific case of capital letters that are much more likely to lack diacritics, due to the widespread misconception they are not mandatory. See Accentuation des majuscules — Accents on upper-case letters

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AFAICS we continue to use é, è, ç etc. But it mainly depends on the media. We don't write SMS the same way we write a letter, most of the time because of the keyboard of the smartphones !
In France, we all have french keyboards for our laptops. I don't have a ref for that but I'm pretty sure. So casual mails are most of the time correct (or try to be), SMS not that much and we don't care (my opinion).
Language diversity matters ! Don't loose your language.

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As long as one doesn't use a non-AZERTY keyboard or a rather old cell phone (modern smartphones usually make the use of French diacritics easier than ever), there's no valid reasons to omit diacritics. I cannot talk for very young people and teenagers but, from my experience, people who are over twenty years old tend not to omit them, most of the time.

I would say that, in French, confusions mainly arise when diacritics alter the meaning of a word or a sentence rather than the pronunciation, so even in an informal conversation people would be better off not to omit them in this case if possible. This may be subjective, but I find it more confusing to read in a sentence

e.g. ou / a / du / arrive instead of où / à / dû / arrivé

than

e.g. eleve / tres / fete / naif / ca instead of élève / très / fête / naïf / ça.


That being said, I disagree with @jlliagre about the ç. In my opinion, omitting the cedilla is really not a big deal when it comes to understanding the meaning of a word. I've friends who don't bother with the ç when texting on their phone and replace it with a simple c instead. It has never confused me. Though, if people who can't write the ç would replace every ç with one or a double s for phonetic reasons, we would expect to see, e.g. fasson / fransai / apersu instead of facon / francai / apercu, which is not the case, and is actually more confusing than anything else.

As for ça being written sa, this is a mistake made by people with poor grammar, who can't make the difference between the possessive determiner sa and the demonstrative determiner ça. This awful mistake is so widely spread that we're sadly getting used to it, to the point where we are no longer confused by it… That doesn't mean that sa va should be less confusing than ca va. Quite the opposite I would say.

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