What’s does that squiggly line do?
The little squiggly line, called a tilde, is used in Spanish to make the letter ñ (eñe), it is also used in Portuguese on top of vowels to indicate nasalization. As Nicole said, when you add a tilde to n it sounds like the ni in onion.
Respect the ñ
Last week, after a lot of media buzz around the release of the new movie about César Chávez starring Michael Peña, Latino Rebels asked the media to please #RespectTheÑ after many media outlets spelled his last name with an ‘n’ and not an ‘ñ’.
The actor is so passionate about having his name spelled and pronounced correctly that he even made a video about “putting a mustache on your n” to use Ñ in English.
Special characters and technology
The Associated Press tweeted that they don’t use accent marks because many computers do not recognize them. This may be the case for the accents on vowels in Spanish, however the ñ is not an accented letter but a whole different letter and sound. If our technologies cannot recognize or produce the letter, I think that writing an ny or ni instead of ñ would at least create a similar sound and give the letter the respect that it deserves. This way we would see El Niño written as El Ninio similar to how the German ö is often written as oe in English, since many computers do not recognize or cannot create the umlaut.
The Alphabet in Spanish
When I took my first Spanish class over a decade ago, we learned the alphabet with 29 letters – the 26 that we have in English plus ch (che), ll (elle) and ñ (eñe). However, in 2010 the Real Academia Española made a few changes to the ‘official’ Spanish alphabet which no longer includes ch or ll but did keep ñ, so it must be important and we should respect it.