The Académie française is at it again. Shady Characters, alias Keith Houston, writes in The New York Times about the latest threat to the circumflex. This is the actualization of a decision made in 1990 but kicked repeatedly into the long grass since then. It includes spelling simplifications which go beyond the narrow case of the circumflex. In the end Houston adjudges the danger as less than at first seems the case: it’s not all circumflexes that are being circumvented. But isn’t just losing î and û (when they don’t affect pronunciation, e.g. du and dû) nevertheless a loss? It also seems illogical — if you are forced to keep î and û in some instances, what’s wrong with just keeping them in all? And aren’t the French meant to be all about logic? I suspect this is actually a cunning plan— we’ve gotten used to criticizing the Académie as a crusty old conservative — now they propose some dramatic new move, and we all rise up to shout no, no, thus preserving the Académie’s true wishes. The Economist‘s new Johnson column on language matters suggests that this is exactly what’s happening.
Of course as Johnson suggests, complex spelling is a nice marker of superior education. The desire to keep it going is really a desire to assert your superiority. It also comes back to the impulse which makes so much of the dull routine in training lawyers and doctors unreformable: “I had to do it, so why shouldn’t these whipper-snappers have do it too?” So let these kids suffer and learn where to put their circonflexes.
If the Académie does manage to dump î, I wonder if Apple will feel they have to do something about the fact that their keyboard creates a circumflex by Option-i?