The French spelling reform

You'd be forgiven for not realising, but French has had a spelling reform. Or at least, reforms to the French spelling system, originally proposed in 1990 but largely ignored, have recently seen fresh impetus. Various French dictionaries and spellcheckers are now including the reformed spellings, and the new spellings are supposedly being taught in French-speaking primary schools. It is fair to say that for the time being at least, real-life use of the reformed spellings in actual French publications is marginal and as we'll see, opinion about them is somewhat divided. Nonetheless, it is worth being aware of the proposals, as over the coming years we are likely to see more of a mixture of new and old spellings being used and potentially expected.

Survey data

In the sections below, we present an overview of the reforms proposed. We also include some preliminary information from a survey of people's opinions of the reforms. The survey asked respondents, for a series of "old" vs "new" spellings, which of the two alternatives they preferred. At present, combined results for 100 respondents are given. The respondents comprise 52 French native speakers and 48 non-native speakers, and we should bear in mind that of the latter, 18 had been studying or speaking French for less than 7 years. (A more detailed analysis, with twice as many respondents and differentiating native and non-native speakers, is planned for a future revision of this section.)

Proposed reforms

The reforms can be divided into several broad categories each aiming to address a particular perceived problem with the current spelling:

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This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2014. All rights reserved.