Language and Government Interference

Soon the French language with its infamously archaic orthography will, once again, be subjected to government interference. That is, certain words will have their official spellings changed and one of my favourite accent marks, the circumflex, will be removed. The main words that will be changed are:

– Oignon >> Ognon

– Week-end >> Weekend

– Nénuphar >> Nénufar

– Coût >> Cout

– Disparaître >> Disparaitre.

It is their language so I suppose they can do as they wish with it, but it seems slightly absurd. Then again, unlike English with its myriad forms that have been allowed to develop organically French has since the 18th century has been “maintained” by a group of Francophone scholars. Despite arguably being one of the four main global languages, along with English, Spanish and Portuguese French has remained heavily Paris-centred. There is a fair degree of regionalism in the language, of course, but the standards of French are broadly accepted in ways that no form of English or Spanish are. I will no more go along with the new spellings than I went along with the 1995 reforms of German orthography.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

25 thoughts on “Language and Government Interference”

  1. I seem to remember that one of the main changes to German was the abolishment of the ß, but after a short while newspapers and most people continued to use it. Is the poor old ß still alive 20 years later?

  2. The ß is still used in Germany and Austria, but not in Switzerland. Its use was altered a bit. For example, in proper orthography Russia is Rußland but in the new orthography it is Russland. Another change was in the spelling of daß. It is now to be written dass. At the same time, street is still Straße and white is still Weiß. Admittedly I haven’t really kept up with all the changes. I just ignore them and keep spelling words as I always have. The older spellings were at times a bit eccentric but they were more consistent and made more sense. Then again, I also speak a relatively clean German and eschew words of English origin whenever a similar word exists making me sound more archaic than my grandmother at times.

  3. During my initiation to German language my course tutor taught me the word “Wonneproppen”. That evening I used the word as I preferred to use newly learned words as much as possible so as to make firm in my memory. My mother-in-law was visiting and promptly corrected me. She said I had pronounced it wrong. It is Wonnepfropfen. I said that she must be wrong as our teacher wrote it down for us. She was not happy that a foreigner like me would question her word on her own mother tongue. We checked in Dude. I was right. She was gutted.
    A month or so later, we were visiting h er in Munich when she proudly got out her Duden to prove that she had been right. It was an old Duden.
    Language changes. It is better to move with it.

  4. Gaz: There is a difference between accepting that languages change and moving along with it and following every banal trend. Those who follow trends become far more dated in their speech than those who are slightly more conservative. For example, “Telefon” has completely replaced “Fernsprecher” and there is little point to spelling Köln Cöln. You were both technically correct, by the way. She used what she learnt, you used what you learnt. Some people are like water — they change course with every shift and movement. Others are like wood — it takes a gale to make them bend a little and, once things quiet down, they go back to where they were before more often than not. There is good and bad to both. Balance is a good thing.

  5. Yes indeed language changes and moves on – but I hope that phrases like “would of” never, ever get accepted!

  6. All a bit of a closed book to me being firmly stuck the insular side of the channel linguistically!
    One curious thing I noted, that the Breton language is incredibly similar to Welsh. I had a Breton guest in Carms that could converse fluently with locals in Welsh, both understood each other completely. Needless to say, I understood neither!
    But I don’t think there are many people left that speak Breton, I am not under the impression that it is an official language in France anymore, anyone know?

  7. CO: Breton is closely related to Cornish, Cumbric and Welsh. During the Middle Ages a number of Celts from the south west Britain buggered off to north-western France bringing their language with them. For a very long time the use of Breton was actively discouraged in France and its use in schools resulted in legally-sanctioned public humiliation. The French State for the longest time shoved the culture of Paris and the Ile-de-France down everyone’s throat. Today Breton is regionally recognised and it isn’t as threatened as it was.

  8. Backside, my language adviser, can’t see how the new ognon can be pronounced like the old oignon. Oi(g) is wot a chien says, o(g) ain’t.

  9. haven’t you noticed things,any ‘things’ are always fine before some bastard changes them!
    Always for the better we are assured, but rarely achieved, generally resulting in a cluster fuck!

  10. CO: the world is like bloody Microsoft! As soon as something workable is devised, be it XP or 7, they decide to change things and make a complete dog’s breakfast of it! After much pain, suffering and gnashing of teeth they finally sort the mess out, somewhat. Of course things are never as good as they were but we’re told that it’s for “our own good” and that we’re so much more “secure” now! With each passing day I believe that the only good thing to come out of the French Revolution, the mass-decapitation of useless pollies, is the one thing that should never have been abandoned!

    Janus: To an extent they make sense, save that the circumflex is so very elegant, but oignon will always be oignon.

  11. I’m all for reinstating the guillotine!
    Spousal unit is particularly fond of the instrument and is always advocating it as a solution to all sorts of ailments in society. Being a knitter I bags the job of catching the heads between the knitting rows.
    If you like we could practice on onions?

    Reminder to self. spin red wool!

  12. Tina: Oh, I’d love to use the guillotine to sort out all sorts of people! This week, for example, I had the (mis)fortune of reading an essay in which the student wrote that California is a British colony. She’s the sort who is best classified by botanists…

    You might find this titbit amusing: in New Zealand a woman threw a dildo at the Minister of Economic Development which struck his jaw.

  13. There were official changes made to my adopted language a few years ago whereby usage, particularly spelling and accentuation, in continental Portugal was brought into line with the Brazilian version, which was/is spoken by many more people than the ‘mother’ tongue. There is a good explanation here.

    I was always slightly perturbed by changes in language, equating same, rightly or wrongly, to a general dumbing down for the benefit of those unwilling to be ‘bovvered wiv lernin, innit’ and the rest of the hard of understanding. Still, it could be worse. We could mirror the Portuguese example by adopting Septic English instead of The Queen’s. Shudder!

    Christopher – I was fascinated by a programme on the Beeb a few years back tracing the roots of the Brits during which a professor of Middle English visited some islands somewhere in or near the Friesian Islands. Using Chaucerian English he was able to converse perfectly well with the islanders, who spoke their own very similar dialect. I say he was able to converse perfectly well. It was fine as long as they were discussing cow byres and the ideal weight an balance for a throwing axe, but communications became problematic when it came to a debate on the relative merits of Windows 7 as opposed to the latest Mac. I guess languages have to evolve after all.


  14. OZ: I heard of those changes. The Brazilian of Infinite Wisdom and Compassion was positively chuffed to bits. Brazil by some measures has some 90pc of the world’s Portuguese-speaking population in its borders. Brazil dominated the Portuguese-speaking world for some time now. Unlike the Obamatanic, Brazil was already highly influential by the 18th century and seemingly destined to dominate in due course. I still don’t think that this standardisation was necessary. Only occasionally did problems arise in understanding written texts and even those could easily have been avoided by noting the differences between the two forms of the language. Some time ago Peter Carey, the nauseating Australian republican who has lived in New York City for nearly 30 years, whinged about Yank writers now being considered for the Man Booker Prize. He said that Commonwealth countries and the United States have very distinct literary traditions.

    English and Frisian belong to the same sub-branch of the North Western Germanic group. Those fluent in Old English can understand basic Icelandic. I suppose its really very similar to speaking in English with Weegie NEDS.

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