It's taken the French 25 years to get upset over 2,400 spelling changes

GlobalPost
A teacher writes the phrase "Today it is the start of the new school year" on the blackboard of her classroom on the first day of the new school year at a primary school in Nice, on Sept. 3, 2013.
A teacher writes the phrase 'Today it is the start of the new school year' on the blackboard of her classroom on the first day of the new school year at a primary school in Nice, on Sept. 3, 2013. 
Eric Gaillard

It’s been described as a “clean-up,” but some French language purists have been sickened by changes to the spelling of more than 2,000 words.

That people are upset over the scrapping of the circumflex “hat” mark that sits above certain vowels and the removal of hyphens from some words isn’t all that surprising. After all, the language of love is a major source of pride for many French people. 

What is strange is that the changes were introduced about 25 years ago, which leaves some people asking: What's the big deal all of the sudden? 

Vahram Muratyan on Twitter Lyonrail on Twitter Keith on Twitter

The uproar was sparked by a report on French television channel TF1 on Wednesday, which published examples of the revised spellings of 2,400 words that will be used in school textbooks in the 2016-17 academic year.

Among them: Oignon (onion) becomes ognon, maîtresse (mistress, teacher) becomes maitresse, and week-end becomes weekend.

Annabelle Baudin on Twitter

That single report ignited a firestorm on Twitter, with French language traditionalists expressing their outrage over the changes under the hashtag #JeSuisCirconflexe (I am Circumflex) — a reference to the #JeSuisCharlie slogan adopted by social media users following the deadly terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo last year.

Yep, the French are upset.

But here’s the thing. The Academie francaise, or French Academy, which is considered to be the preeminent authority on the French language, recommended the changes back in 1990 to make the language easier to learn, but they were nonbinding and were largely ignored by French textbook publishers and teachers.

Since then the Education Ministry has twice told teachers to start using the new spellings, once in 2008 and again late last year. Now, education publishers have agreed to apply the reforms. 

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

The French government has reassured students that both old and new spellings will be accepted even after textbooks adopt the changes. And contrary to the barrage of tweets claiming the circumflex is dead, that diacritical mark will continue to exist. 

So, in fact, not much has really changed. Quel soulagement!