You may, or more probably may not, have heard about the controversial changes to the French language earlier this year. Changes to over 2000 French words were approved to simplify them for school children (and me!). The Académie française is the French council for matters relating to the French Language …and had apparently approved these changes years before.
French linguistic purists were horrified by the removal from many words of one of their favourite accents – the pointy little circumflex hat (ˆ) that sits on top of certain vowels – and allowing the word for onion to be spelled ognon (formally ‘oignon’).
“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,”The Guardian Feb 5 2016
Most people I’ve asked about the changes have been against and I’m not sure whether that disapproval is rooted in nostalgia, a belief that the changes are dumbing down the language or a conviction that suffering through hours of spelling lessons and dictation (and lots of red pen corrections) is a necessary rite of passage to becoming a worthy French citizen.
Personally, I’m quite happy about the changes 🙂 French, like English, is a living language and so will naturally evolve over time.
Speaking of which, about a year ago I noticed a change in the Australian-English language. I had heard it but I actually saw it posted all over a major supermarket during my last visit to Australia: “There’s 42 cards” which without contraction would be “There IS 42 cards” rather than the correct form: “There ARE 42 cards”. This incorrect use of the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ (‘is’ instead of ‘are’) is now part of the Australian-English living language….It does sound wrong though.
The English language doesn’t have the equivalent of the French Academy. It wouldn’t be possible in any case because there is no longer a ‘standard English’. I have lived in a number of anglophone countries (Australia, England, The United States) I can attest to the fact that English vocabulary and grammar is very ‘fluid’. If only the French language was as fluid, flexible and forgiving about grammar as it is becoming about spelling!