C′est un scandale: Fury in France over spelling changes | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 07.02.2016
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C'est un scandale: Fury in France over spelling changes

Proposed changes could soon alter the spelling of 2,400 words in the French language. One major change will be the disappearance of the circumflex - and teachers, linguists and social media users alike are in uproar.

A government decision is about to change the spelling of more than 2,400 words in French, and people are outraged. Some of the changes will include the disappearance of the circumflex: "a mark (^) placed over a vowel in some languages to indicate contraction, length, or a particular quality," according to Oxford.

The changes will render circumflexless such words as "cout" (cost) and "maitresse" (mistress) and strip the hyphen from compounds like "porte-monnaie" (wallet), which will become simply "portemonnaie."

"Oignon" (onion) will become "ognon," and "nenuphar," or water lilly, "nenufar." Some words imported from English will lose their hyphens, as well, so the French "week-end" will turn to "weekend." The onomatopoeic "tic-tac" (the ticking of a clock) will become "tictac."

To express their displeasure, Twitter users have co-opted the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, which became instantly popular in January 2015 after the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Under #JeSuisCirconflexe (or, in Franglais, #JeSuisCircumflex), users are expressing their anger over the decision of the Academie Francaise, the official arbiter of the language since being established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu in his capacity as chief minister for King Louis XIII.

"The French government simply thinks we are all stupid," said Gilles Parmentier, a city council member in the town of Villiers-sur-Marne, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the center of Paris.

"Our parents have used circumflex, our grandparents have used it too, and no one seemed to have any problem," he told DW. "The new rules are doing an injustice to our language, which is beautiful and full of history."

'About to disappear'

Though the anger is fresh, the changes were approved back in 1990, as a set of recommendations that teachers and school books simply chose to ignore for two and a half decades.

The Union nationale inter-universitaire (UNI), a right-wing student alliance, has published a petition that accuses Education Minster Najat Vallaud-Belkacem of reducing the language and "to the level of imbecile text messages."

The petition appeals to nationalist sentiments, stating that the changes would lead to "a real impoverishment of the French language," adding that "the circumflex accents are about to disappear, just as the features and characteristics of the country."

The French newspaper Le Monde reported that UNI had a spelling mistake in the publication, which appeared to give credence to an argument made by supporters of the changes: that French people simply don't know how to use circumflex.

"This is not true," Parmentier said. "And, even if it were, shallowing the language is not the answer."

Die Bibliothek von der Academie Francaise in Paris

An interior view of the Academie Francaise's library in Paris

In a statement, the Education Ministry claimed that there would be no real changes to the language, and that the new spelling options are simply that: options.

"The rules are a reference, but they cannot be imposed," Vallaud-Belkacem told French media. "Both spellings are correct."

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