By SARAH DiLORENZO, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Here's the good news for those who remember struggling through dictation in French class: French spelling has been simplified. Here's the bad news: Few have noticed, and those who have don't like it.
An official body that includes government ministers and a representative of the Academie Francaise, the eminent French language institution, issued a new set of rules to simplify the spellings of many words, either to bring them in line with pronunciation or to eliminate exceptions.
The changes were made in 1990 — but French media are just getting wind of them.
For example, "aout" (August) drops the pointy circumflex accent over the "u''. "Baby-sitter" gets Frenchified into "babysitteur." Bonhomie, which has come into English with that spelling, becomes bonhommie — to reflect its root "homme" (man).
Both the new and old spellings remain acceptable, but the new ones are supposed to be taught in schools, so they will eventually — in theory — replace the old.
The problem? Few people seem to know about them, many are opposed, and most school texts don't use the new spellings. Even the Academie Francaise itself has chosen to include only some of the new spellings at the end of its dictionary — explaining that it would like to wait it out and see which spellings are adopted in general usage before giving its official blessing.
When television stations became aware of the "new" rules last month, they sent reporters out into the streets to test the French. Very few identified the new spellings as the correct ones — they all looked so strange! — though frequent, significant hesitations underscored how difficult even the French find it to spell their own words.
A few weeks later more evidence emerged of the difficulty of French spelling and grammar: a press release from the president's office was littered with mistakes, including a spelling error.
Confusion over the new rules has often been a breeding ground for resistance: On a chat board with a heading "against the new spelling!" the discussion is initially about the rules but quickly turns to lamenting the language of text messages and the loss of all accents in typed writing because of the use of "English" keyboards — both of which are far from being sanctioned by any linguistic body.
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