French purists vexed at demise of circumflex


French linguistic purists voiced online anger Thursday at the loss of one of their favorite accents — the pointy little “circumflex” hat that sits on top of certain vowels such as the “o” in “cote.”

A change in the spelling of some 2,000 French words will come into effect in new primary school textbooks being released for the start of the school year in September, the education ministry and publishers announced.

The circumflex accent will become optional for many words, as will other spelling changes which have purists rubbing their eyes — much like the effect of peeling an onion, which can now be spelled “ognon” as well as the traditional “oignon.”

However the changes, which has caused uproar on French Twitter, were first approved by the prestigious guardians of the French language, the Academie Francaise, in 1990.

Since then both versions have been accepted, but the new spellings only began appearing in official documents in the past few years.

And the 2015 official “bulletin on new school teaching curricula” refers to the 1990 changes as the gold standard for teaching spelling.

“What is new is a more explicit reference” to the reformed spelling in official material, said Sylvie Marce of the textbook publisher Belin. Some publishers had already made the changes.

The changes were made to fix spelling anomalies and inconsistencies, according to a website devoted to the recommended spelling,

It adds hyphens, takes them away, tweaks spellings and removes the circumflex from the ‘i’ and the ‘u’ where the accent makes no change to accent or meaning.

The circumflex is “one of the main causes of errors and its usage is random,” said the website.

But many are not convinced.

“I will continue to use the circumflex, and to judge those who don’t,” wrote one Twitter user.

The hashtag #JeSuisCircumflex (I am circumflex), a nod to the Je Suis Charlie phrase which swept social media after a jihadi attack in January last year, went viral in France.

In other changes, “week-end,” becomes “weekend” as in English, but the word “leader” takes on a more French spelling of “leadeur” in the recommended spelling.

“This has been the official spelling in the Republic for 25 years. What is surprising is that we are surprised,” said Michel Lussault, president of the school curriculum board.

“There were strange spelling anomalies linked to historic shifts so the Academie really made sure these changes were understandable,” he said.

It was not an upheaval, he added, more a “clean-up.”

When making the new spelling recommendations in 1990, the then “perpetual secretary” of the Academie Francais Maurice Druon wrote that “language is a living thing,” adding: “Work should begin again in 30 years, if not earlier.”