Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Civics & Democracy

Accents, Other Diacritic Marks Could Soon Be Allowed On California Government Documents

Cars are parked outside a brick building with a sign reading: State of California DMV
If passed, a new bill would allow California residents to have diacritic marks like accents and tildes displayed on government documents like drivers' licenses.
(Justin Sullivan
Getty Images)
Our June member drive is live: protect this resource!
Right now, we need your help during our short June member drive to keep the local news you read here every day going. This has been a challenging year, but with your help, we can get one step closer to closing our budget gap. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership.

Since 1986, when California voted to make English its official language, residents have not been able to include diacritic marks like accents and tildes in official documents — like drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. But now, the proposed Assembly Bill 77 would allow diacritics to be added onto new documents and for residents to request an update to their current ones, for a fee.

Efrén Pérez, who teaches political science and psychology at UCLA, told LAist's public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 FM, that this proposal is indicative of the demographic sea change California has undergone in recent decades — once mostly white, California no longer has a singular majority demographic.

“One way to view it is that the absence of one's ability to signal their genuine name really comes down to who gets to define, in this case, what it means to be a Californian,” Pérez said.

When names in some languages, like Spanish or Vietnamese, are shoehorned into English, a lot can be lost in transcription.

Support for LAist comes from

“Your reaction is often to try to minimize how much you stick out,” Pérez said.

Pérez added that much of his family is very proud of their ethnic backgrounds, retaining the accents on their names. But he said growing up in L.A., he remembers very few of his classmates doing the same. He also remembers his wife’s grandfather, Carlos — whom everyone called Charlie.

Ana Celia Zentella is a professor emerita at UC San Diego and an anthro-political linguist — meaning, she looks at the power that language has in society and politics. She said that she was raised to fully understand the importance of accents — she remembers her mother playfully yanking on her sister’s hair to show her where to place the accent in Christopher Columbus’ real name, Cristóbal Colón.

Your reaction is often to try to minimize how much you stick out.
— Efrén Pérez, UCLA professor of political science and psychology

“It's very personal for me and also, academically important for me, for my profession, but also politically an issue,” Zentella said.

While the use of the accents has historically been tied to classism, with the Royal Spanish Academy regulating it even back in 1720, according to Zentella, times are changing now. March 31, both Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Biden proclaimed César Chávez day — with both the accents intact.

Listen to the conversation

Driver's License Accent 04.05.2023
What questions do you have about Southern California?

Most Read