It first appeared in the 11th century in the sequence ii (as in ingeníí), then spread to i adjacent to m, n, u, and finally to all lowercase i's.
The j, originally a variant of i, inherited the tittle.
In the Wali language of Ghana, for example, an apostrophe indicates a change of vowel quality, but occurs at the beginning of the word, as in the dialects ’Bulengee and ’Dolimi.
In abugida scripts, like those used to write Hindi and Thai, diacritics indicate vowels, and may occur above, below, before, after, or around the consonant letter they modify.
The tittle (dot) on the letter i of the Latin alphabet originated as a diacritic to clearly distinguish i from the minims (downstrokes) of adjacent letters.
The tilde, dot, comma, titlo, apostrophe, bar, and colon are sometimes diacritical marks, but also have other uses.
Not all diacritics occur adjacent to the letter they modify.
But the accented vowels á, é, í, ó, ú are not separated from the unaccented vowels a, e, i, o, u, as the acute accent in Spanish only modifies stress within the word or denotes a distinction between homonyms, and does not modify the sound of a letter.
For a comprehensive list of the collating orders in various languages, see Collating sequence.
Examples are the diaereses in the borrowed French words naïve and Noël, which show that the vowel with the diaeresis mark is pronounced separately from the preceding vowel; the acute and grave accents, which can indicate that a final vowel is to be pronounced, as in saké and poetic breathèd; and the cedilla under the "c" in the borrowed French word façade, which shows it is pronounced .
In Gaelic type, a dot over a consonant indicates lenition of the consonant in question.
In other alphabetic systems, diacritical marks may perform other functions.
Vowel pointing systems, namely the Arabic harakat ( ), which, respectively, mark abbreviations or acronyms, and Greek diacritical marks, which showed that letters of the alphabet were being used as numerals.
This has led to fears internationally that the marks and accents may be made obsolete to facilitate the worldwide exchange of data.