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French language revolution in France


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French language revolution in France

Pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué ? (Why make it simple when you can make it complicated?) This French sentence applies perfectly to the linguistic revolution that is underway with the French language…in France!

The new spellings, approved by the French Academy in 1990, will be effective from the beginning of the next school year in September 2016, some 26 years after its enactment. Since 1990, both the traditional and new spellings were accepted in examination papers.

Officially, the new spelling entered into French national education programmes in 2008, but it was optional. Many teachers, however, have shown reluctance to embrace the reform. France is therefore considered the ‘naughty kid’ in the Francophone bloc of countries. In Switzerland, Belgium and the Canadian province of Quebec, reform has been widely embraced and is being taught in schools.

So, what is exactly this reform?

The reform is based on 10 new rules “to simplify spelling” and removing “some anomalies.” Almost 2,500 words have been affected.

One of the central points of this reform concerns the fate of the circumflex (Rule 4). It disappears on the “u” and “i”. But not in every situation … It will be preserved in case of ambiguity (mur/mûr, sur/sûr – wall / mature, on / course) or in some forms of conjugation (simple past or subjunctive). N.B. Historically, the “^” generally results from the disappearance of an “s.” For example, in Old French, île (island) was isle.

Old spelling New spelling
coût cout
entraîner, nous entraînons entrainer, nous entrainons
paraître, il paraît paraitre, il parait

Rule 1 states that numbers will now be “systematically connected.” “Vingt et un” (twenty-one) will need to be written “vingt-et-un”. In contrast, Rule 7 states that “welding” is necessary in some cases (words composed of “contre-, entre, extra-, infra”..). Now, “extra-terrestre” (alien) is written “extraterrestre” and “porte-monnaie” (wallet) becomes “portemonnaie”.

Rule 2 provides compounds which names one of the elements was the plural the singular … … and vice versa … So, “un compte-gouttes” (dropper) disappears to become “un compte-goutte”, plural remaining “des compte-gouttes”.

Another accent affected by the reform is the umlaut. Rule 10 states that it must be moved to the letter “u” or in some cases added in else.

Old spelling New spelling
aiguë, ambiguë aigüe, ambigüe
ambiguïté ambigüité
arguer argüer

The following words have all being affected by the linguistic revolution.

Old spelling New spelling
nénuphar nénufar
punch ponch
oignon ognon
charriot chariot
asseoir assoir

There is still much resistance to the reform. On social networks, the “^” was chosen to carry the banner of revolt. The hashtag #jesuiscirconflexe is being used to defend the poor “pointed hat”. The fight has just begun. Many messages point out instances where the reform will not be applied and the old spelling will be accepted.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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