The French language has a long and complex history, and its spelling system is no exception. From the beginning, French orthography has been based on etymology, with a focus on creating a learned spelling that gives access to the origin and history of words. However, this approach has resulted in written forms that differ significantly from their oral counterparts, making French orthography challenging to learn.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to simplify French orthography, with varying degrees of success. These efforts have often focused on tolerances rather than reforms, with changes implemented gradually over time. For example, it has been legal to omit the circumflex accent in the word “connaître” since the Haby law in 1985, and it has been academically correct to do so since 1990.
Despite these changes, there is still no formal regulation for French orthography in schools. According to the French Ministry of Culture, dictionaries are the reference for teachers, and their evolution is decisive in this regard. However, the Académie française, which has been tasked with standardizing French orthography for centuries, has been slow to update its reference dictionary. Its ninth edition, which began in 1935, is only up to the letter S.
The challenges of French orthography extend beyond the difficulties of learning it. The system can also create barriers to communication, as written words can be difficult to recognize or understand for those unfamiliar with their etymology. This can be particularly problematic in a globalized world where clear and efficient communication is essential.