As I was surfing the web this week, I stumbled upon an interesting article about a book whose concept made me quite skeptical. The book, entitled «Zéro faute, l’orthographe : une passion française» (Zero mistake, spelling: a French passion) allows its author to express his point of view regarding the so-called complexity of the French language – that French spelling should undergo a reform for the benefit of all. On the various websites mentioning this book debates were quite passionate – is French really too complicated to write? Should we make the language “simpler” to limit the number of spelling mistakes amongst French-speaking people?
I stand firmly against these enemies of the French language and I think these kinds of statements are outrageous. Of course, it is clear enough that French is a very difficult language to write (even for natives!) because of its complicated rules, its numerous exceptions and its illogical written form. We all know that you don’t pronounce French as it is spelled! But is it really a reason to essentially make the language poorer and tear apart all of its riches? Some people evoke other Latin languages like Portuguese or Spanish, whose writing is phonetic and thus much easier to write for people speaking these languages. As this is the case it would, according to them, be judicious to reform our language to follow the example set by these “more logical” models.
It has been said by those wanting to simplify French that it is a language for scholars, and therefore apparently impossible for the majority of the population to write it without any mistake. Strangely, about twenty years ago, French people wrote in a very correct way. So have we become stupid in the past two decades? Some may blame the complexity of the language, but it would seem the problem lies elsewhere. Nowadays, it has become nerdy to read books, and everyone is chatting away and butchering the language. Can we really pretend that French is “too hard”? The real problem is that less and less people bother to really learn the language properly. Well, it can’t be that illogical as everyone seems able to learn it. Otherwise, how could I explain that many people of my acquaintance write without making practically any mistakes? Loving your language and its literature is a good start.
What the people unsatisfied with French spelling rules suggest is quite simple – they would like to see the language reformed so it can be more “phonetic” and therefore more “available” for the majority of the population, and not only for bookworms and scholars. But should we really take things that far? The French language has an incredible richness; even I discover new things about my mother tongue every day. Some may reply that it is really painful to write in French and say it is impossible to enjoy because the writer’s head is close to exploding while always thinking about the spelling of words and the agreement of past principles. As for me, I dare say that if a musician does not know his instrument well enough, he should avoid playing and practice more. Practice does, as they say, make perfect.
Another statement puzzled me somewhat – that the complexity of the French language would place it at a disadvantage globally speaking. Essentially by holding on to its illogical rules, we would take it to its death. If French does not undergo any reforms it could easily follow the path taken by Latin by becoming a language exclusively used by the intellectual elite. If this is the case then why would English work as an international language? I heard that English pronunciation was far from easy…
French is obviously a language whose spelling rules are very delicate to master. It is also a very rich, precise and interesting language. Rather than ‘dumbing down’ the language for those who are struggling (since everybody makes mistakes while writing, let’s reform our language), why not insist on the teaching of our spelling like they used to do in schools? Reading official letters or students’ essays with countless huge spelling mistakes now happens all too often, however this is only a recent phenomenon. It is really necessary that pupils once again become interested in reading and bother to use a dictionary when facing even the slightest doubt about spelling.