Some French orthographic history notes


So we got a comment on our video about dialects asking about whether French orthography is the way it is because of people making explicit decisions to keep less educated people from breaking into literacy. And then I did a bunch of reading to answer that, so I thought I’d share it here, too. Particularly since this meant struggling with some old French stuff.

The simple answer is that it seems like the class barrier stuff is part of the story, but there’s more to it than just that! If you want more, take a look below.

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So just the other day I was proofreading something in French, and saw the word “apparaître” (‘to appear’) – except it was written as “apparaitre”, without the accent on the i. So of course I drew the attention of the text’s writer to this… And then he told me, supported by several other people in the office, that while I wasn’t looking (*cough* 1990 apparently) French went and put into use a whole giant pile of spelling reforms. One of which was removing the accent there.

Now, I’m still not quite sure how pervasive they are – it looks like a lot of people fought them. Some of them seem sort of wacky to me, even! So they have this weird intermediate officialness that some people adopt and others not. Still! I’m surprised I somehow failed to even notice this! >_>

For more info:

Wikipedia article on the topic

Lexicon of words with new spelling