« EelmineJätka »
SPELLING REFORM IN FRENCH.
T is generally supposed that the necessity of a reform in spelling
is felt in England only, or that, at all events, there are more irregularities and abuses to reform in the spelling of English than of any other language. French, Spanish and Italian have often been held up as models of what spelling ought to be; and the spelling reform carried out in Germany by order of Bismarck has been appealed to as showing that where there is a will there is a way of removing at least the more glaring blemishes in the traditional systems of orthography.
We have lately been informed, however (see Times, Jan. 28, 1893), that in France also the shoe begins to pinch.
A committee appointed by the French Academy, which in literary matters is not less dictatorial than Bismarck himself, has reported in favour of a small ụumber of spelling reforms to be adopted in the next edition of its famous dictionary.* Hyphens, we are told, are to be abolished in such compounds as eau-de-vie, likewise the apostrophe in such words as entraider. Foreign words, such as break and spleen, are to be written brec and spline. Latin plurals like errata are to take an s, as erratas ; seur and paon are to become seur and pan.
Ph is to become f; and in plurals x is to be changed to s.
Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte, but the Academy will find that this premier pas, however small, will cost them a great deal of trouble. . Bismarck, indeed, was able to say, “So far, and no farther 3" but in a republic the large number of spelling reformers, now that they have tasted blood, will not be satisfied till they get a great deal more than such small concessions. Spelling reform is one of those questions where the argument is all on one side, but the heavy weight of unreasoning authority all on the other. What can be said against the arguments in favour of consistent spelling except what was said against Dr. Fell ? The supporters of the Fonetik Nuz in England have been indefatigable, but they are not popular, and what results can they show except here and there a newspaper venturing to spell program instead of programme, because there is epigram and telegram; or committing itself to the etymological anachronism of writing honor instead of honour. In France the Société de Reforme Orthographique has been very active in agitating and trying to get public support for a limited measure of reform which they wish to see introduced into the elementary schools, and adopted by Government in all official documents. It seems as if they had really succeeded at last in gaining the ear of the public. There are two kinds of spelling reform. One class of reformers is satisfied with nothing short of a complete phonetic revolution. They follow the example of the once famous Fonetik Nuz. Write, they say, as you speak; but they do not say how we are to speak, and in these days they would hardly venture to deny Home Rule in pronunciation to Ireland, Scotland, or Walesperhaps even to England. Another class of reformers is satisfied with less. They only want to remove glaring inconsistencies in the traditional spelling, which in many cases are quite recent, and often due to the whims of compositors rather than to the wishes of more or less pedantic authors. The radical party of spelling reformers is represented in France by M. Paul Passy and his friends; the more moderate party has put forward its programme through the Société de Reforme Orthographique. What M. Panl Passy would make of French spelling may be seen from the following specimen taken from Le Muftre Phonétique.
* Le Maitre Phonétique ; organe de l'Association Phonétique des Professeurs des Langues vivantes.
kõ:ferã:s a la sərbən
syr 1 asenmă de lãig vi:vã:t
Eiši k nu l avjã di, məsjø M. Bréal, də 1 ēstity, a komnă:se a la sörbon yn seri d kõ:ferž:s syr 1 åsenmã de la:g vi:vãil. la prənje:r a y lįs võdradi 26 fevrie, dvãtãn o:ditwa:r da 150 person, profesce:r, istitytris e,etydjā.
å komã:să sa kõ:feră.s" məsjø B. a raple 1 ēportă:s da I zsenmü de lãig vi: vã:t, generalmă rkony, pyisk i ja å s monã a parri, 157 kurr pyblik d õigle, 107 d almă, 47 d espanol e 6. d italjē. me si on a dakor syreportã:s də st isenm%, ni E ni syrlə byt ki dwa vi:ze ni syr le mwają k i dwa aplwaje; s ki tjê a 1 apsais du tut tradisjõ,
e orkrylmà dy personel asend, fe po o haza:r zyskə dů se dernjerz ane. [a s propo məsjø B. rakə:t ko pɔlɔne, vny å frã:s à la suit dez evεumã da 1832, e nome prɔfesocor d almž võzõ lise dy midi malgre se protesto:s 5 d inordis, s et akite t se lõksjö ĉprovi:ze än ÖSENã põdõ piyzjoerz ane 1 polone oljø d l almã. lorsk n Espektce:ki par uza:r save 1 alma, yt ã:iž dekuva:r la so:2, i lɛ:sa 1 profesce:r, deza aize, kö:tinye sôn ősenmã zysk a s k il y drwa a la rtret.]
syr lo byt me:m do I ősenmă de lă:y, i j a døz ɔpinjā pra:sipal.
lez dê di:s kə 1 ose vmž zgā:de:r dəvã vi:ze a forme dez om e nõ de spesjalist, i n fo pa rferse dã 1 etyd, de lãig @ byt imedjatmã pratik, me plyto la kylty:r general də 1 Espri. k In apren OZ ele:v a li:r lez o:tc:r, a ekri:r pasabləmž do tɛ:10 fasil; l 5 leer fas gute le bo:te d Goethe e d Shakespear; me k ön s alardo p% a fɛ:r dez egzersis da pronõ:sja:sjö u d kõ:versa: jó ; dajoe:r lə tā mākre pur ari:ve a parle yn lã:g elrã.zɛ:r; sø ki i ljen i parvję:drð ply sy:rmž par seguir a 1 etra:ze.
lez 0:lla repā:d kə le lõog vi:vã:t nə dwaf pa s äsene kon de lă:g tört. po:se tu I lã de klas a etydje de lãig kön a if no a savwar, sa finire par la:se la pasją:z dez ele: e de parã. lo tã k ön akordə mə:tná o lã:g vi:vã:t e largəmž syfi:ző (a kõdisjö d ad bji reparti). si läisenmã d yn là:g
France has passed through many revolutions, but it seems hardly credible that Frenchmen would now break so completely with the past as the writers of this page of phonetic French. It is true, the spelling reformers have high authorities to appeal to. Descartes, in 1638, declared himself a complete believer in phonetic writing. “I must openly express my opinion," he wrote, “that if we exactly followed pronunciation in writing it would be a greater advantage to strangers in helping them to learn our language, than an embarrassment to ourselves, owing to the ambiguity of certain equivocal terms. It is in speaking that one composes a language, rather than in writing; and if the pronunciation of certain equivocal terms should cause any ambiguity, usage would soon lead to a change in order to avert it."
These are brave words, and they are perfectly true in the abstract. Still, we must remember that even Descartes shrank from carrying out his reforming ideas. The members of the Société de Reforme Orthographique declare themselves satisfied with much smaller concessions. But they have at least the courage of their opinions, and carry out in their publications what they consider right. The wedge of their reforms is so thin that it has actually pierced through the armour of the Academy-nay, that it has even touched the heart of the Government, and elicited a certain qualified approval of a reform
in spelling from Ministerial authorities. One of their most plausible reforms is the suppression of the x when it has taken the place of an original s. Why should we write chevaux instead of chevaus? It is well known that the s of the plural in French is the representative of the s of the accusative plural in Latin. Chevaus, the old way of spelling, stands for cavallos. The plural of the articles is les—i.e. illos. Then why should the dative for à les be aux, instead of aus? And why should such Latin words as caules, regales, locos, be represented by choux, royaux, and lieux, instead of chous, royaus, and lieus ? There is no excuse whatever for it, as little as there is for curieux, but curieuse. Why should Latin pretium be written prix, but palatium, palais ? The æ in noix has nothing to do with the x of nux, for noix stands for the accusative nucem. And if noix is written with an 2, why should pois (i.e. royau) be written with an s? All these x's owe their origin to a mere misapprehension. The final s after vowels was often abbreviated in writing, and it was this sign of abbreviation which was mistaken for an x, just as in English the abbreviated spelling of the was misread as ye.
This x therefore seems to be doomed, and, like most reforms, this also will only be a return to the original state of things, for before the fifteenth century everybody wrote royaus, curieus, pris, nois, &c.
A very troublesome abuse in French consists in the doubling of consonants. Voltaire wrote aprocher, soufrir, courouc, alumer.
No printer would tolerate such forms now; he would correct them at once, and print approcher, souffrir, courroux, allumer. The same men, however, would correct aggréger into agréger. No reason is given for these double letters ; they may have an etymological justification, but they are certainly not pronounced, except by some people who seem to imagine that by saying cour-roux they can express a higher degree of wrath than by couroux. Why should we have to write honneur for “honour," but honorer, " to honour"; why ennemi for “enemy," but inimitié, “enmity"; why siffler, to whistle, but persifler', to mock, when neither etymology nor pronunciation requires it ?
As the termination of the third person singular is t, and as this t absorbs the final consonant--as, for instance il dort for il dormt; why should we not write il pert, il prent, il répont, instead of il perd, il prend, il répond. And, in the same way, as the termination of the first and second persons is s, why not write tu prens, as one writes iu dors. Racine still wrote je prens, j'attens, je répons ; why should we have to write je prends, j'attends, je réponds ?
The etymological argument has lost much of its former favour. Formerly it was most powerful, and for a scholar to propose to write in English det instead of debt was considered not very far from sacrilege. Yet, if Descartes is right in saying that language is spoken first, and
afterwards written; also if students of language are right that there is method in the mad phonetic changes which every spoken language undergoes; while there is none in the spelling adopted by various printing-offices, it is clear that what is possible in a language spoken must be possible in a language written, and that a knowledge of the system according to which a spoken language changes must be a safer guide to the etymologist than the present haphazard spelling of compositors and readers. If we once know that dissimilar consonants in Latin are assimilated in French, we know that dette may stand for debita, just as recette stands for recepta, a receipt. We have only to go back a few hundred years in order to discover the etymological spelling of many French words. But not even the Academy could now restore froid to froigd, though it retains doigt, 'finger,' or mênic to mesme, chrétien to chrestien, contrôle to contrerolle, or girofle tio caryophyllum.
We wish every success to the spelling reformers of France. The reforms which they propose at present are certainly very moderate and reasonable. But no pation is more sensitive to what is pedantic and awkward than the French, and it is not likely that they will ever tolerate such words as filosofie and téologie.
F. Max MÜLLER.