There's been a bit of a brouhaha in the English press lately about French spelling. The ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport decided to officialize the timid orthographic rectifications that were published almost twenty years ago by the Académie française. As expressed in a recent Globe and Mail editorial, some people are under the impression that Québec is being "servile to language functionaries in the old country." "Why follow France's rules?" they ask.
A better question yet... why not follow France's rules? Unlike the USA or other English-speaking countries, Québec doesn't have the weight to impose its own spelling convention. And as if our kids needed more inconsistencies in their educational environment, teachers had started publicizing these rectifications with equivocal guidelines. The Ministry of Education's recent decision simply clarifies the inevitable and it's about time!
Through time, usage strays in mysterious ways and, for some people, getting you're point across in writing isn't the main idea anymore. Their intent rather becomes to impress the reader with ones writing skills and then, get the point across. This isn't very effective in today's fast pace communications.
French spelling is downright archaic and I personally long for a robust reform, one that would put written language in its rightful place. You see, communication between human beings starts with speech, not writing. As powerful as it is, writing was simply devised to support communications, not make them more complicated. Take a look at Spanish, for example. Hispanophones know exactly what spelling is for. No ridiculous "ph" for the "f" sound and no useless double consonants. Pero (but) and perro (dog) aren't pronounced the same way and don't mean the same thing. It's simple and effective, like it's supposed to be.
Oh... don't get me wrong. I know how to spell and I derive no small satisfaction from my proficiency with the French language. I've had my share of successful sparring with Frenchmen who felt they could teach me a few things. "But you don't understand... there's a whole history in the way each of these words is spelled." I was told. "Yeah right... as if we all needed to carry that weight. Following that rubbish logic, we'd still be speaking and writing la langue d'oïl." I replied.
Do you think anyone would care a hundred years from now, if somebody decided today that French, or any language, is just perfectly ripe and shouldn't change anymore? That's simply not how it works. In French, the word "connoisseur" became "connaisseur" because it was more representative of its pronunciation. The current English spelling of the word is evidence that it passed into the language before that particular correction came into force. Nowadays, French-speakers look at the English spelling and scratch their heads. Things evolve and it's sound to keep up.
Now... the fact that spelling is dictated by a governing body some thousands of kilometers away doesn't mean that the Québécois can't be imaginative; there are other ways to assert your distinctiveness. Québec is keen on creating new words using a French logic and its Grand dictionnaire terminologique is a clear example of this enthusiasm. The province could teach a few tricks to France in this globalization era.