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French Spelling Changes, 26 Years in the Making, Cause a Fracas

6 February 2016

From The New York Times:

In France, the land of Molière, questions of language are so sacred that every Thursday the “immortals,” the guardians of the French language at the Académie Française, meet to discuss — among other things — proposed changes to the institution’s vaunted dictionary.

The last complete edition of the dictionary was published in 1935, according to the academy, and changes evolve over centuries. The newest complete edition is not finished — the authors have reached the letter R.

So it was perhaps not surprising that tempers flared this week after a news report from the broadcaster TF1 that changes were afoot to cut back the circumflex accent, known as “the hat,” from French-language textbooks.

Adding to the horror, the report said that as of September, when the new school year began, teachers would also have to make changes affecting about 2,400 French words, including spelling oignon — or onion — as ognon.

Link to the rest at The New York Times


5 Comments to “French Spelling Changes, 26 Years in the Making, Cause a Fracas”

  1. Ah, yes. I remember here in the states them durn teachers tellin’ us we couldn’t go usin’ ‘ain’t’ ’cause ain’t ain’t in the dictionary, and then it twas … 😉

    The times they be ah changin’ …

  2. Ah, yes, no words from English…

    I had years of French in middle/high school, back in the 60s, so I was feeling cocky in the mid-80s, while salmon fishing in rural Gaspé (French Canada), when someone wanted to know how I earned my living.

    I assumed the term I wanted must be something like “computeur”, missing, alas, from my too-early-for-tech childhood vocabulary. When that drew a blank look, I tried defining it by famous American companies, like “IBM”. More blank looks.

    After long and involved circumlocutions, I eventually stumbled upon the answer: “inordinateur”.

    The downside of having a reputation for “precisely the right word” for a thing is not having any alternatives that might actually convey useful meaning in a pinch.

    I say: keep all the words you can, let God sort them out.

  3. “Language will … uh … find a way”

  4. Well, we Germans had our “Rechtschreibreform” about 20 years ago, with some recent updates. And even though it wasn’t mandatory for writing, it is mandatory for teaching in schools.

    It created an outcry. The Western civilization was threatened because of it. One famous writer (Günter Grass) threw a public fit (although he had declined the invitation to join the commission working on it). At least one major conservative paper is still using the old version after all these years.

    Personally, I simply shrugged and adapted my writing. Most changes were minor, and the one major change was well thought out, or so I believe.

    And the Western civilization hasn’t fallen yet. Those few changes in French orthography (which is a pain anyway!) won’t even make it stumble.

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