(Thanks for the title, Rolling Stones, thanks for the vodka, Russia)
How could I ever forget my first French dictée in middle school with Mme. Fanelli? In shock, I tried to learn all those bizarre spellings by heart, but those weird little lines above the words, what did they mean, if anything, and how could you memorize something so seemingly random? On the big day, I wrote out the text as best I could and then to make it look “French,” I went through and placed “^” and “/ ” and ” \ ” here and there on consonants as well as vowels, admiring the result. Of course, Mme. Fanelli was not impressed and I spent many hours of the ensuing years committing the patterns to memory. I learned that the hat usually meant the word’s ancestor had an “s” after that vowel or distinguished it from a homonym. Etymology is an acquired taste to be sure, but after a while I learned to love the origin of words and the hat, or circumflex accent, gave clues to vocabulary family trees. Hatted vowels suggesting the exaggerated open pronunciation of bourgeois speakers appeared in comics and jokes. Slash accents were more complicated, one “grave” (low), one “aigu” (high) and I honestly have only started to really hear, much less pronounce, the difference on a’s and e’s. Still, the circonflexe has become part of my mental furniture and writing, a badge of honor almost as important as my French passport. Haven’t dared to look at the other spelling changes they plan, who knows what else is on its way to the guillotine…) (Did anyone see that old SNL skit, Best of Dan Ackroyd, “The Decabet”? Is that where we’re going?)
And…Rumor has it Mayor Hidalgo wants to merge the 4 tiny arrondissements in the city center and rename all the districts. Could our XIXth, which strikes fear into the more posh areas as (OMG!) far away, working class, graffiti-ed and supposedly jihadi-infested… become the new XVIth (!!!!!????) a number synonymous with tradition, wealth, class, power, culture, and the very Eiffel Tower… Much merriment among my neighbors, can’t stop laughing… (Would this be like calling the Bronx “Central Park West”?)
What’s next? When in doubt… Bottoms up! Down the hatch! Here’s mud in your eye! Santé! Tchin! À la tienne!
PS After all the outrage and “Je suis accent circonflexe” banners, the voice of reason has spoken on social media this morning. According to an article in Le Monde, the Académie Française made these recommendations years ago and they are being applied by school textbook publishers in the fall. ^^^^^ are still welcome, but not mandatory on “i” and “u” (except in certain cases?!? Doesn’t sound like much of a simplification…) Anyway, the moral of the story: language is a hot topic here…is there any other place in the world where dictations are public events and even aired on national TV? And the change of arrondissement numbers was a crazy joke/hoax! Vive la France!