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When one pronounces the acronym initialism (thanks @Laure) ENS (for École Normale Supérieure), does one pronounce the E

  • as /ə/ (like the French letter "e"),
  • or as /e/ (like the sound "é" usually makes)?

And does this rule generalize to other initialisms involving letters with accents?

  • 2
    Strictly speaking ENS (/ə.ɛn.ɛs/) is an initialism. Is your question about how to pronounce E in initialisms or acronyms? Different rules might apply for each. ESPÉ is an acronym /ɛs.pɛ/ where both letters e are pronounced as in the source word. In acronyms it is usually the case (EHPAD). Initialism RER is /ə/. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Aug 22 '17 at 7:00
  • I don't teach French but é is pronounced like that in whatever position. By the way, you would say é in an initial position [in a word]. Normally, one does not pronounce the acronym for that school. One says in spoken language: Normal Sup. No one goes around actually saying: l'ENS. ENS is used in written texts only. Ergo the issue is moot. They either say the whole thing or Normal Sup, not l'ENS. But if you did, you would pronounce the é that is not put in the caps in French. – Lambie Aug 22 '17 at 16:43
  • @Lambie I agree ENS is rarely used but they are many alternative examples where the norm is to pronounce the letters individually like HEC (Hautes Études Commerciales) or EDF [Électricité de France). – jlliagre Aug 22 '17 at 22:37
  • It's not unusual for "E" in an initialism to be pronounced /e/ in Belgium, especially if it's the last letter, but that's unrelated to the orthography, or the pronoucition of the word that supplied the initial (OCDE /ɔ.se.de.e/ E is /e/ in the base word -économie-, ONE /ɔ.e.ne/, PME /pe.e.me/, E is /ɑ̃/ in the base word -enfance and entreprise-. – Eau qui dort Aug 23 '17 at 10:56
  • People actually say: Il travaille à l'O-C-D-E, the é is not pronounced. And they don't say: Il a fait l'É-N-S. It's pronounced like a regular E in French. E-N-S. Also, in English, we don't say initialism. We say an e in initial position. Also, il a fait l'H-E-C [for pronunciation], also without the é sound. Just regular e in French. The e is said, but the é is not heard even if the word has an é. – Lambie Aug 24 '17 at 12:17
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Accents on capital letters must be written, they have a full orthographic status so writing Ecole, albeit frequent, is a mistake. See Accentuation des majuscules — Accents on upper-case letters

However, the rule is relaxed with most acronyms (or more precisely initialisms1) with which accents are often traditionally omitted like with ENS and HEC.

See also: http://www.hec.ca/qualitecomm/chroniques/franstan/sigleaccentues.html

If the accent is not there, the pronunciation normally follows the rule so these initialisms are pronounced as "euh enn ess" /ə.ɛn.ɛs/ or "hache euh cé" /aʃ.ə.se/.

There are nevertheless some people that write the accent "ÉNS" and more rarely "HÉC" and thus pronounce "é enn ess" /e.ɛn.ɛs/ and "hache é cé" /aʃ.e.se/.

That said, ENS is often "pronounced" Ulm or Normale Sup'

1 Thanks @laure for bringing that word to our knowledge

  • Thank you for your answer. So, the pronunciation exactly follows the orthography (specifically the inclusion/exclusion of the accent aigu), and the only ambiguity is whether one chooses to include the accent or not, for which one way may be more common than the other (e.g. your comment about HÉC being rarer than HEC). Would that be a fair summary of the situation? – angryavian Aug 22 '17 at 16:31
  • Oui, la rue d'Ulm oú cela se trouve, Normal Sup. Juste une chose: ne pas écrire É avec l'accent ne veut pas dire que ce n'est pas prononcé comme é. Voilà la confusion..... – Lambie Aug 22 '17 at 16:47
  • It should always follows the orthography when an accented acronym is read but otherwise, personal preferences plays a role too. For example, some people say /e.de.ɛf/ instead of /ə.de.ɛf/ while reading EDF. They are of course understood. – jlliagre Aug 22 '17 at 19:30
  • Il y a plusieurs ENS : ENS Paris, ou ENS Ulm, situé rue d'ULM à Paris ; ENS Lyon, à Lyon ; ENS Cachan, à Cachan (et bientôt sur le plateau de Saclay en 2018, plus précisément à Gif-sur-Yvette sauf erreur). Bien entendu, Ulm est la plus connue, et pour certaines personnes qui ne sont pas "du milieu", dire "ENS" ou "Ulm" est équivalent. Mais on peut distinguer, en disant par exemples "les ENS", pour les désigner toutes les trois, etc. – SdaliM Aug 24 '17 at 0:11
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First we can point that in French with capital letters, the accent is not compulsory, therefore École = Ecole; the word would still pronounce the same.

I don't think there is a real strict agreement for acronyms (or initialisms) and you are free to use them as you wish but for moderation the general rules are:

  • we always use capital letters
  • we never retain the accents

Any large instance/company will follow as much as possible these rules.

For the pronunciation it is the same, there isn't a real strict agreement but we pronounce the letters as they are written. the motivation is that acronyms are not meant to be used for representing each word but to give a shorter name to a fixed redundant set of words.

therefore ENS (for École Normale Supérieure), will pronounce as /ə/ (the French letter "e")

This said if you pronounce /e/ or even write ÉNS it is not incorrect, but those who already use the acronym for a long time may feel uncomfortable. Also those attached to rules may bring the ones I described above.

  • 1
    This is a personal opinion and you are entitled to it, but answers should say when opinions vary. Even the Académie Française says capital letters should be accentuated. ENS is not an acronym although the rest of your an answer only deals with acronyms (check here for the difference). Then you say "for acronyms ... we always use capital letters": a lot of people will say when the acronym has become a new word it can be accentuated (espé, cédex...). – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Aug 22 '17 at 7:43
  • é in initial position in acronyms is not accented in writing and is not pronounced when spoken. Accented and not accented. Not accentuated which means something different. Capital letters may be accented but é in acronyms are not. HEC=Haute École Commerciale. Not in the acronym and the é sound of the word not pronounced in the acronym. – Lambie Aug 24 '17 at 12:23

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