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French spelling scheme

From:Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
Date:Sunday, April 29, 2001, 22:42
I've always loved orthography design, and have devised some sort of
spelling "reform" (or just meddling) for most languages that I'm familiar
enough with. This is an old one by me, though I've never presented it to
the list...

In respelling French, I set three aims: a) minimize or wholly eliminate
diacritics - I always resented the time it took me to type that French
homework; b) make French more graphically similar to the other Romance
languages, and its ancestor, Latin; and c) all the while trying to bring
the orthography closer to the spoken language, especially in conjugations
and other morphological domains.

In achieving the first aim, I first rejected the need to distinctuate non-
conflicting homonyms (or different usages of the same morpheme, whatever we
call it) by using the accent grave; so "ou" and "où" are both "ou". The
preposition "à" is changed to "a", while the conflicting form "a", 3p sg
of "avoir", is changed to "ha" (and so is the entire verb paradigm - je
hai, tu has, il ha, etc).

Then there's the circonflex, which I simply eliminate in full - there will
be plenty of etymology when I'm done, anyways ;) ;) I do realize that the â
is pronounced distinctly as [A] by a dwindling amount of pedants (or that's
my impression, at least), but so be it.

Finally, there's the accent aigu, accent grave, and pas-d'accent making an
actual phonetic distinction between [e], [E], and [@] ({é}, {è}, and {e},
respectively). It is my impression that those distinctions are not
minimal... correct me if I'm wrong! :) To begin with, at least, I advance
to delete both accents, briefly not noticing any cases where the French
person would not be sure how to pronounce the unaccented word; "ai" could
be used to clearly mark out any [E]'s, if need be. I'm forgetting the
final -é; make that an -ee, and no more worries, just sit down and have a
cup of "cafee" :) -ez can also be retained to indicate an underlying
final /es/.

Almost forgot the c-cedilla... Somewhat more problematic. For the time
being, I suppose to simply replace it with "s" whenever applicable, though
I'm sure the French would really turn their noses to a reformed "Sa
va?" :) :)

And I've never liked all those apostrophes. Why bother? Just mark it with
an empty space: "l Avignon", "je t aime", "ce qu il ha fait", etc.

Hah; done with the diacritics... more or less :) How did they come up with
those in the first place? :)

Now on to my favorite, the "Latinization" scheme. My principal move is the
introduction of "silent l": syllable final {el}, {al}, and {ol} are
pronounced as {eau}, {au}, and {ou} (I know, {eau} and {au} are pronounced
the same - just hinting at where it's coming from), except when followed by
a vowel, in which case they're fully pronounced (pretty much the rule for
any final consonant in French). This actually improves the structure a lot:
instead of the orthographic variations of the adjective in "beau chanson"
and "bel homme", it's {bel} in both cases. Likewise, no -x plural thingie,
just "bels chansons". This sure would have helped me, back then, to
understand how à + le and à + les could become "au" and "aux"... this way,
you'd have "al" (also for the "a l'" form) and "als". Even more profits,
we'd see the return of "principals" and "animals". The relationship
between -eau and -elle would be re-established orthographically: "chapeau"
> "chapel", "bateau" > "batel".
Note that the silent-l rule is hardly any more complicated or less intuitive than the current nasal-vowel-skewering and silent-final rules. "Bon" is pronounced quite different in "bon chanson" and "bon homme", yet the orthography doesn't care. I should note in passing that I'd do away with all unnecessary double- consonants; "lunettes" > "lunetes", "homme" > "home". Silent-e takes well enough care of those things. "ss" remains to mark /s/ as opposed to /z/, and "ll" is retained and given the Standard Spanish value of [j]. You might be thinking that the silent-l rule would endanger existing final l's; why, we'd just add a magic e - "Rossignol" > "Rossignole". A slightly more controversial idea of mine is to replace most "eu" and oe- ligatures and "oeu" sequences with a simple "o". This is etymologically sound, and quite regular; the rule would be: pronounce back rounded before a non-silent m, otherwise front rounded (aperture as per current rules of "eu"). So we'd usher in a new age of "emperors" and "coulors". Some verb paradigms would become drastically more structural: "je pos, nous pouvons". The main problem would be various borrowed or learned /o/, such as in "motor". This might possibly be solved with the magic e: "motore". Not quite flexible enough, though... In any case, those are minor considerations. To increase facility, out with all those non-existing endings, such as 3p pl -ent in the regular verbs. So "ils parle ensemble", for heaven's sake. Finally, a few exceptions might be entertained to improve structurality: e.g. "eux" could be respelled to "els" and assigned a special pronunciation. Hmm, how to respell "est"? Out with the "s": "Il et alee." Which requires us to remove that pompous "t" of the conjunction "et": "Moi e toi." A quick sample text: "Le quatorce juillet et la fete nationale de la France. Al jour d hui, les drapels tricolores sont partout." "Excusez moi, quele hore et il? Il et huit hore moin quart." Thanks to ye Francophones for tolerating this so far, Óskar :) PS my spelling schemes are as much humorous as dead-serious. Please do not have strong feelings about anything I write of this kind :)


Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
D Tse <exponent@...>
Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>