Mon, Dec 26, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Sacrebleu! French are having difficulty with new spelling rules

By Sarah DiLorenzo  /  AP, PARIS

The changes have been easier to implement in Canada, Switzerland and Belgium, according to Romain Muller, who belongs to the Groupe de modernisation de la langue, an organization that groups representatives from French-speaking countries to talk about the language.

Muller said it could be that since those countries are multilingual, there is less of an attachment to French.

“It’s like we’re calling into question a part of their identity,” said Muller about the reaction in France.

In its nearly four centuries, the Academie has occasionally modified the spellings of words, including in its very first dictionary, which appeared in 1694, but many take the Academie’s mission to “defend” French to mean that it should ensure the language never changes.

In the recent television reports on the new rules, the word pharmacie kept cropping up as one of the ones that had been converted, to farmacie. In fact, pharmacie has not changed.

But the inclusion of the fallacious farmacie seemed to underline the fear the changes have whipped up: They’re erasing our culture, some French complain, our heritage, our place in Western civilization.

Patrick Vannier, who works for the Academie’s dictionary service, said that resistance to change is perfectly understandable among those who love the language. He himself admits that while in his professional life he follows the rules adopted by his employer, his personal correspondence is littered with circumflexes that are supposed to have been dropped.

However, he also insists that the changes are hardly intrusive: In a typical novel, there would be about one change per page — and many of them as small as a change of accent.

Despite the accusations occasionally leveled at her, Guichard isn’t trying to force everyone to use the rules. She just wants textbooks to use them, so she can teach them to her class. As she notes on her blog, teachers are the only French adults who are required to use the new spelling.

She said that her appeal — which asks teachers to print out a form letter and send it to publishers — is beginning to change things. Muller agreed that editors seemed to be coming around, now that they see that teachers themselves are asking for the new spelling.

However, the resistance could continue: In an informal survey of teachers who visit Guichard’s blog, a significant number said they would ignore the rules no matter what the textbooks said.

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