Fury as France changes 2,000 spellings and drops some accents

Kim Willsher, writing in the Guardian, reports on resistance to spelling reform in France.

French linguistic purists have voiced online anger at the removal from many words of one of their favourite accents – the pointy little circumflex hat (ˆ) that sits on top of certain vowels.

Changes to around 2,400 French words to simplify them for schoolchildren, such as allowing the word for onion to be spelled ognon as well as the traditional oignon, have brought accusations the country’s Socialist government is dumbing down the language.

Nothing provokes a Gallic row more than changes to the language of Molière, but the storm took officials by surprise as the spelling revisions had been suggested by the Académie Française, as long ago as 1990.

The aim was to standardise and simplify certain quirks in the written language making it easier to learn.

The circumflex will be removed from above the letters I and U where the accent does not change the pronunciation or meaning of the word.

The reforms provoked a #JeSuisCirconflexe campaign (derived from the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag) on Twitter. As the row spread across the internet, some wondered why the reforms, decided 26 years ago, had suddenly become such an issue.

It was only when a report by television channel TF1 appeared on Wednesday this week that the ognon went pear-shaped.

A furious student union group issued a statement lambasting education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem for “believing she was authorised to overturn the spelling rules of the French language”.

The far-right Front National waded in with party vice president Florian Philippot declaring “the French language is our soul” and the centre right mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi calling the reforms “absurd”.

The growing fury forced the education ministry in France to reassure the public on Friday that the circumflex accent was not disappearing, and that even though school textbooks would be standardised to contain the new spellings, pupils using either would be given full marks.

Pierre Favre, school headmaster and president of the National Schools Union, said he hoped “wisdom would prevail”.

“What makes this subject so controversial is that people are passionate about it. To change spelling touches on their childhood, reminds them of the pain, the effort, the successes needed to learn the rules and triumph. The circumflex accents are a kind of trophy,” Favre added.

Some pointed out that the i-less ognon sounds less like a vegetable and more like ‘oh non’, which pretty much summed up France’s reaction to the changes.

When making the new spelling recommendations in 1990, the then “perpetual secretary” of the Académie Française Maurice Druon wrote that “language is a living thing”, adding: “Work should begin again in 30 years, if not earlier.”

10 spellings that will change

Oignon becomes ognon (onion)

Nénuphar becomes nénufar (waterlily)

S’entraîner becomes s’entrainer (to train)

Maîtresse becomes maitresse (mistress or female teacher)

Coût becomes cout (cost)

Paraître becomes paraitre (to appear)

Week-end becomes weekend (weekend)

Mille-pattes becomes millepattes (centipede)

Porte-monnaie becomes portemonnaie (wallet)

Des après-midi becomes des après-midis (afternoons)

Source: TF1

Source of article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/05/not-the-oignon-fury-france-changes-2000-spellings-ditches-circumflex