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I already asked about the use of circumflex accents to mark the former presence of a deleted letter here: Circumflex and deletion of letters.

The word "théâtre" in French requires the circumflex accent on the "a", and this is the only currently accepted spelling, afaik.

After a bit of research, I could not find any conclusive indication as to why the "a" comes with the accent in French, more so if one considers the etymology "theatrum" in Latin and "θέατρον" ("theatron") in Ancient Greek, which do not seem to carry any "extraneous" letters.

Is there a plausible explanation for the presence of the circumflex in "théâtre"?

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  • One does notice the unusual hiatus. It might actually function as a tréma here.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 15:25
  • Same for Cléopâtre. Maybe influenced by pâtre ?
    – XouDo
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 7:46

1 Answer 1

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An explanation for that circumflex is that this /a/ started to be pronounced as a long vowel in the 17th century or earlier, possibly influenced by words like bleuâtre where the -âtre ending is an etymological -aster.

Nowadays, I would say the vowel is either short or only slightly longer than that in most parts on France.

It is however still possible that people in Eastern-France, Belgium and Québec use a longer A and say /tea:tʁ/ or /teɑ:tʁ/.

A few references:

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  • I reckon this /a/ is still pronounced as a long vowel today (although maybe not by all speakers), isn't it? Are there other, equally plausible explanations or is this the only one?
    – Maiaux
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 19:06
  • Answer updated.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 1:51

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