The French spelling reform: circumflex accent
The French spelling reform proposes
a change to the use of the circumflex accent over the letters i and u.
When written over these letters, the circumflex is simply a historical artefact,
generally representing an s that was present at a previous stage of
the language; it does not signal any difference in pronunciation over the
unaccented i and u letters. (Conversely, over the e
and o vowels, it can signal— though not consistently—
whether an "open" or "close" vowel is pronounced.)
The proposal is as follows:
- in cases where the circumflex disambiguates two words, e.g. dû
("due") vs du ("some/of the"), the circumflex remains1;
- where the circumflex is part of a verb ending it is also
retained (in forms such as eût it is also considered to be
a "verb ending");
- in other cases, the circumflex is not required over i or u:
connaitre, il connait, croute.
- this rule actually introduces some inconsistency: e.g.
mû "mature, ripe" retains its
accent to disambiguate it from mur "wall", but mûre
(the feminine form of mû) loses the circumflex;
- a further cause of inconsistency is that
for deciding if there is an ambiguity, compounds are considered
words in their own right: so whilst il croît ("he grows") and
il croit ("he believes") retain the distinction,
the verb accroître loses the circumflex in all cases,
since there is no corresponding verb accroitre to cause
- in mûre ("blackberry") and mûre ("mature, ripe"),
where the circumflex occurs on both words and doesn't disambiguate them,
the circumflex is removed from both words and
the ambiguity remains.
Removing the circumflex does not appear to be a popular move. In our survey,
only 10% of respondents were in favour of writing cout instead of
coût and only 20% in favour of writing il parait instead of
il paraît. Interestingly, enthusiasm for removing the circumflex
does not appear to be dependent on whether doing so introduces ambiguity:
similar percentages (17% and 20% respectively) favour writing
sur (et certain) and (il est très) mur instead of
sûr and mûr respectively.
On the next page, we look at proposed reforms to the use of the hyphen.
This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.