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article imageFrance bids ‘Adieu’ to û and û and î!

By Robert Myles     Feb 9, 2016 in Entertainment
Paris - Last week, after 25 years' deliberation, the Académie Française decreed that the French accent, the circumflex — the little "hat" in words like bête, fête and tempête — had had its day, at least in so far as providing headgear for certain vowels.
Henceforth, the circumflex will disappear from above the vowels “u” and “i” where it presently features in words such as “coût”, “entraîner” and “paraître”.
When the Académie Française, the official custodian of the French language, announced the partial demise of the circumflex it unleashed a mini “tempête” on Twitter as the hashtag #JeSuisCircumflex, a hat-tip to #JeSuisCharlie, gained traction. Many francophones declared their unswerving support for the circumflex, resolving to continue to use the little Chinese hat, regardless, as Digital Journal earlier reported.
Thankfully, the Académie Française stopped some way short of banning the circumflex from the world’s sixth most widely spoken language altogether.
Good news, not just for French linguistic purists, but particularly for anglophones learning French. For the circumflex accent has, for many years, been a handy shortcut to understanding many French words.
In linguistic terms the circumflex has something of a chequered history.
It first started to appear in the French language during the 16th and 17th centuries, shortly before the foundation of the Académie Française in 1635. But it would be another century or so before the circumflex featured in the 1740 edition of the Académie Française’ official dictionary.
Initially, francophones introduced the circumflex to denote the dropping of a letter previously contained in French words. Thus, what had been French for “castle,” namely “chasteau”, in itself closely aligned to the English “castle” and the Spanish “Castillo,” became “château”.
The “s” had gone but wasn’t forgotten, thanks to the circumflex.
But it’s in French words containing the vowels “e” and “o” where the circumflex’s neat linguistic shortcut is perhaps most to the fore.
When the Normans invaded England in 1066, William the Conqueror might have described his home soil, the then mostly wooded Normandy countryside, as having many large “forests”, that’s to say, the same word that remains in use in English to this day.
Similarly, William the Conqueror may have played “host” at many a banquet. But back home in France, the French language started to diverge from Norman English. “Forest” became “fôret,” while “host” transmogrified into “hôte,” as in present day French bed-and-breakfasts, otherwise known as “chambres d’hôte – “rooms of the host.”
Taking the examples quoted earlier in this article, “bête”, “fête” and “tempête,” if a student learning French didn’t immediately understand their meaning, a neat trick is to remember that where an “e” appears with a circumflex in French then the chances are the circumflex is a place-marker for an ancient “s.”
So “bête” becomes beste (or beast) and “fête” is, you guessed it, “feast” — easy. The website 200 Words a Day contains many more examples of circumflex use in French.
But, sadly, as France bids “adieu” to “û” and “î,” so to speak, those studying French in years to come will discover to their “cost” that there’s no longer an handy way to translate “coût”.
More about French language, circumflex, learning French, academie francaise, french accents
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