Postscript: Um, it's not an umlaut

MnDOT restores umlauts
The Minnesota Department of Transportation restored the sign for the city of Lindstrom.
Minnesota Department of Transportation

It was one of those "gotta have it" stories. Everyone could see that. And everyone included CNN, the Washington Post, MPR News and the website Geography Education, which describes itself as "a place for geography students and teachers to find interesting, current supplemental materials."

For starters, it transpired in a town where the water tower resembles a giant Swedish coffee pot. It's hard to beat that. Then there was the conflict. For decades, the signs at the city limits identified the place as Lindström. When the Minnesota Department of Transportation updated its signage, the community of about 4,400 became Lindstrom. And that didn't sit well with some of Lindström / Lindstrom's residents.

The headlines, for good or bad, basically wrote themselves. "Townsfolk go dotty over lost umlaut" (The Times of London). "Umlaut and Clear" (The Pioneer Press). "Lindström seeks Swede deal from MnDOT on dots" (Star Tribune).

All of a sudden, it was all about two dots over an "o." "Even if I have to drive to Lindström and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I'll do it," proclaimed Gov. Mark Dayton.

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Seemingly lost in what at least one TV station called "Minnesota's Great Umlaut Crisis" was that, technically, there was no umlaut.

This is not an o with an umlaut.
The Swedish alphabet has three distinct letters that come after 'z'. This is one of them.
Swedish alphabet

Posts on the Minneapolis-based American Swedish Institute's Facebook page called attention to the character in question, the second-to-last letter in the word Lindström.

Garth Grugal‪: ... It is NOT an umlaut. An umlaut is a modification of an existing letter, in the German language, to indicate a sound change. In Swedish, it's a completely separate letter...

‪Bo Thidé: ... You are absolutely right. The Swedish letter Ö is not "an O with an umlaut over it." Just as the letter "Q" is not "an O with a tilde under it" ...

"Just because something looks like an umlaut does not mean it is one," confirmed Anatoly Liberman, a professor in the German, Scandinavian and Dutch Department at the University of Minnesota. "This is not a letter with an umlaut on it like it would be in German, where it's considered a version of an 'o.' In Swedish, the 'ö' is a specific, distinct letter of the alphabet."

Swedish uses the same letters as English, but adds three more: "Å," "Ä," and "Ö." They follow "Z" in the Swedish alphabet. The character generating all the buzz — the "ö" — sounds like this:

And that "ö calls for pronunciation different from that of an "o," said Jackie Listemaa, who teaches both German and Swedish at the U of M. Lindström, she said, should sound like this:

There would be no correct way to pronounce Lindstrom — sans the "ö" — in Swedish.

Using the term "umlaut" in reference to the town name Lindström — "Well, it's wrong," said Listemaa. "But more people are familiar with the concept of the umlaut. So it's easier to say that in a headline."

Back in "America's Little Sweden," things ended with "A double dot victory: Dayton restores umlauts to Lindström" (Star Tribune). On April 15, Dayton signed an executive order requiring MnDOT to add two dots above the letter "o" on the signs outside town. The very next day, Lindstrom was once again Lindström.

Whether the road signs will elicit the proper Swedish pronunciation from drivers-by is hard to say. But there's always a chance it will give the town a bit of an edge. Just ask Mötley Crüe.