Over the past week or so, les grenouilles have been extremely déçues by a new spelling reform, which appears to contradict the Académie Française’s stance on maintaining “la langue de Molière”. Since I have spent over a decade of my life attempting to master la langue française, I have decided to dedicate a post to the (à mon avis) nonsensical decision to alter the spellings of certain words.
First things first, qu’est ce qui se passe? The recent proposed changes to the French language have been met with a public backlash, amid claims that the language is being simplified for simplicity’s sake. Avant de continuer, here is my condensed version of the proposed changes:
- Au revoir circonflex! The circumflex – affectionately referred to as the ‘hat’ by schoolchildren – will become optional in certain cases, where the meaning of a word is not changed as a result of its absence, e.g. «coût» (cost) could be spelt «cout».
- Enlèvement des traits-d’union. Hyphens are set to be removed from words which previously incorporated them, e.g. «le-weekend» will become «le weekend».
- Simplification des mots. The proposed changes also include the written forms of certain words being simplified so that they fall in line with their pronunciation, e.g. «ognon» (onion) will become an acceptable spelling of «oignon».
Ces changements were initially proposed in 1990 by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (Superior Council of the French Language). They were concerned that French was losing popularity as a foreign language and believed that simplifying the language could be a solution. The Académie Française approved the changes, so long as both the traditional spelling and that suggested by the Conseil supérieur… would be accepted as correct.
Pourqoui, you may ask, is everyone making a fuss maintenant? Although the changes were approved twenty-six years ago, it’s only a result of publishers deciding to print the new spellings, alongside the old ones bien sûr, in textbooks and dictionaries in time for the start of the next academic year that the public have reacted in this way. Cependant, these changes – and the so-called réforme de l’orthographe – will remain optional. N’ayez pas peur, you can continue to use the beloved circumflex, write le week-end, and spell onion as oignon. Le Monde also stated that there remain several circumstances in which the circumflex will remain a part of l’usage courant in:
- Le passé simple (the tense we all love to hate): e.g. nous parlâmes, nous finîmes, nous fûmes, vous parlâtes, vous finîtes, vous fûtes.
- L’imparfait du subjonctif (which let’s face it, who knows how to use this tense?): e.g. qu’il mangeât, qu’il vînt, qu’il prît.
- Le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif (Anglophones, how many of you use this tense régulièrement?): e.g. qu’il eût joué, qu’il fût descendu, qu’il eût vendu.
- Words in which the absence of un accent circonflex would change the meaning or cause confusion: e.g. «mûr» (ripe) vs. «mur» (wall); «jeûne» (fasting) vs. «jeune» (young); «sûr» (sure) vs. «sur» (on top of).
Although the reform was initially proposed as it was believed it would make learning French an easier process, I think it could have entirely the opposite effect. Is it really that difficile to remember the circumflex on «maîtresse» (mistress), or maintain the hyphen in «mille-pattes» (centipede)? Since none of the proposed spellings are obligatoires, accepting both is akin to us Brits turning round one day and announcing that we’ll accept both British and American English spellings as correct. Non, merci.
The Académie Française is renowned for its disgust for Anglicisms (choosing to rename le binge-drinking as la beuverie express) and its hatred for any linguistic impurities, so such a move seems exceptionnellement bizarre. I have no intentions of learning a simplified version of la langue française: I would rather s’asseoir and manger la soupe à l’oignon (for arguments’ sake, ignore the fact that je déteste la soupe). #JeSuisCirconflexe.