To Be or Not to Be a Circumflex Accent


I confess. I’m not a football fan. Men ramming into each other for a ball? Helmets and shoulder pads? A little weird, no?

I’m incorrigible when it comes to American football.

But I listened to Lady Gaga singing our national anthem. She was good, wasn’t she? And to Beyoncé. She is too good. And Coldplay, too. Who doesn’t love Viva La Vida?

Then I scrutinized the stadium in case I could spot a familiar face. After all, Santa Clara is only a few miles away from the town where I started my new American life. But how can you distinguish one person from another in a sea of people?

No, really, Super Bowl is not my cup of tea (ma tasse de thé) or my jam, as my youngest daughter likes to say.

So during the 50th Super Bowl I … read the French news, while my husband served us Mexican tortillas, guacamole, and other yummy Mexican food. Pretending we were like every American tonight. But Super Bowl is not Thanksgiving.

My husband is like me with American football. We both like so many other American things that we wonder if something is wrong with us.

Maybe we should take a football class for dummies, I thought, while I browsed through the French news that I found a little depressing. Between the state of emergency, the unemployment, the Syrian migrants, and the spelling reform, I picked the spelling reform.

I learned that the seeds of the reform were planted in 1990, when I was leaving France. The reform, though, will only be implemented in the fall to thousands of French students.

It took a quarter of a century to decide if Hotel should go without its circumflex accent (also called hat) on top of the O. By the way, the little hat on Hotel arrived when Hostel lost its S. Several familiar French verbs will also lose their circumflex accent. I feel a little bad about Gouter (the small French after-school meal) that tasted somewhat better with its small hat on the U. After all, the circumflex accent signals an emphasis on the pronunciation. Gouter versus Goûter?


It also took a quarter of a century to make sure it’s okay to write the English word Weekend without an hyphen between Week and End and as long to make sure the French would write Nenufar (Lillypad) with a F and not PH but continue to write Orthographe (Spelling) with PH.


Things are sometimes slow in French and as weird as American football’s helmets and shoulder pads.

I’m not sure the spelling reform will make it much easier to learn French for non native speakers. In fact, for people like me who acquired French many moons ago, these changes will make spelling more complex. I’m quite sure that younger French people will at some point find my spelling outdated.

Curious about the changes? You can read about it here and here.

As for me I’m just hoping that no similar reform will happen in the USA.

I’ve just worked too hard, word after word, to acquire this powerful language.


Now, your turn.

What do you think of spelling reforms? Mes amis bloggueurs français? And my Francophile American friends?





  1. Well, Okay when you put it that way. That they are grown men fighting over a leather ball with helmets and armor it does look silly lol! What a sport though! 😉

    • I would agree that the men’s speed can be quite extraordinary, Andy. That’s probably what I admire most. The way they can propulse themselves in such a brief time is really something. But I tend to favor skiing or swimming or still gymnastics performances over football. That’s only a matter of personal preferences, of course. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. It was rather challenging to link Amercian Football and the french spelling reform …. thanks – your text is like sunshine in this depressing environment…!

    • It was a bit of a stretch, I agree. But the game gave me the opportunity to read while peeking at the screen. This French spelling reform made me smile and cringe a little too. Your opinion can be interesting, since French is not your native language, if I’m correct?

      • Toutafé – mais je n’y ai pas trop réfléchi, juste parfois secoué d’un rire quand je vois les blagues sur FB avec les jeunes/jeûnes, sûr/sur ce qui devrait m’inciter à penser un peu à ce que sera la langue dans 3 générations… mais trop de boulot pour me casser la tete (tzzz). Bizzz

  3. a language that never evolves is a language that dies but it has to have a right purpose for that change, if that change is only motivated to make it easier for younger generation who are not good enough to write correctly french right now it’s not the right way to do it in my humble opinion.

    En français dans le texte : une langue doit évoluer pour continuer à exister, c’est ce que le français a toujours fait, sinon elle devient une langue morte, mais ces évolutions doivent avoir un sens et un but. Ici le but voulu est de faciliter la vie aux plus jeunes qui ne savent déjà plus écrire correctement français? est ce une raison suffisante ? c’est quoi la prochaine étape ? écrire ” sa va ” au lieu de “ça va ? ” car le c cédille les fatigue et que le langage SMS est ce qui leur va le mieux ? non.

    Je disais déjà que quand on prend le temps d’expliquer une langue et sa construction elle prend son sens. J’ai fait du latin ça a aidé je maîtrise ( maitrise du latin master) aussi l’espagnol , le portugais et l’italien donc en langue latine j’ai à peu près fait le tour alors quand on m’explique qu’en français l’accent circonflexe n’est la que pour faire part de l’évolution de la langue française pour remplacer le “s” de certain mots comme île au lieu de isle , ou têtu au lieur de testu , être au lieu de estre… etc… cela trouve son sens non ? et pourquoi ne prend on pas le temps d’apprendre cela aux plus jeune? je plains le boulot des profs et des soi disant têtes pensantes qui font les programmes sans en mesurer l’impact d’apprentissage des jeunes générations. bref… merci de l’article et bonne journée…

  4. I think it’s great, Evelynne. Writers can enrich their expression with the various forms of spelling, maintain aloofness and propriety if need be, insert the hip and slang for emphasis, mix it all up to write how we think. Frankly, I try to lean towards the old ways that certainly date me. But what a leap into the end zone, spelling from football!

    • Thank you, John. It was a bit of a stretch, I agree, to link football to a French spelling reform. It’s only because I’m not a serious fan that I was able to do that. Languages evolve and a French friend reminded me that in fact some newly spellled words were actually spelled that way in the medieval times. It will still be a little bit of a challenge for me and I hope that my French spellchecker will be updated on my computer as well. I don’t rely on it so far, but I might have, starting in the fall. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. Je suis d’accord sur le fait qu’une langue se doit de changer au fil du temps puisqu’elle est le reflet d’une époque. Ce qui explique par exemple l’ajout de nombreux mots de la langue anglaise dans le Robert et Le Larousse. Il est vrai que simplifier l’orthographe pour les enfants est une bonne chose. Mais les règles sont un peu bizarres pour le F par exemple. Est-il plus difficile d’écrire nénuphar que photographie ou encore orthographe? Et les changements d’accents aigus pour des accents graves et vice et versa? Un peu bizarre, non?
    Je suis aussi 100% d’accord avec vous sur l’importance d’expliquer pourquoi et comment une langue vivante change. Le latin aide, c’est certain. Est-ce que moins d’élèves l’étudient en France? La connaissance d’autres langues comme l’italien et l’espagnol aide aussi, c’est vrai. J’imagine que l’espagnol doit être populaire maintenant aussi en France.
    Et puis il y a nos nouveaux outils de communications. Merveilleux mais sans aucun doute une erreur pour des enfants très jeunes qui n’ont pas eu le temps d’engranger l’orthographe et les règles de grammaire de leur langue quotidienne.
    Le travail des enseignants (ici aussi) devient plus complexe du à ces changements.
    Merci en tous cas pour votre opinion et de l’avoir donnée en deux langues.

  6. The news IS depressing. Everywhere. We’re running clowns for national office and we don’t have language to reform. No one in the U.S. can remember how to make a proper sentence and punctuation — we don’t have accents, after all — has gone the way of the dodo. Football may be incomprehensible, but it’s better than reality.

    • You are probably right about the role of football in our societies. The news is not much fun, regardless of the countries. At least the French spelling reform takes the mind away from the more depressing topics. Enjoy the beauty of the snow up in New England. Snow has the power to beautify things too.

  7. Je suis horrifiée! Et pourtant, j’en fais des fautes. I

    • Tu trouves les changements bizarres? Il semblerait que les français de l’étranger réagissent de cette façon. Sans doute sommes nous plus sensibles à la France que nous connaissions lorsque nous y vivions. Le manque de consistance pour moi est un peu déroutant. Si on passe au F plutôt qu’au PH faisons le pour tous les mots. But who am?
      En tous cas merci de ta visite.

  8. I am not a particularly strong fan of sports. I prefer to be out and doing to sitting and watching. I did watch the Super Bowl, however, it was the only game of anything I watched all of the way through this past year. In ways, American football reminds me of Roman gladiator fights, although the physical harm is stretched out over time. I guess it captures the Walter Mitty in all of us and plays out a number of fantasy themes. After all, the Super Bowl tested old beat guy battling the powerful your up and comer. Being an old guy, I had to root for Denver. (grin) As for language, it seems to be changing as fast as the times we live in. When French becomes involved, it really speaks to the extent of the change. 🙂 –Curt

    • I also compare Super Bowl to the Roman fights. 😊
      I appreciate the speed and agility that some of the players demonstrate, but like you I’m more comfortable hiking or biking than watching a game on TV. As for the spelling, I suppose that making it easier for kids is a good thing, changing it or returning it to a past form can be confusing. I would do it for the words borrowed to other languages. Weekend is a good example.
      Thank you for stopping by, Curt.

  9. Je dois avouer que je n’ai jamais été tres bonne en orthographe. J’ai passé ma tendre enfance allant d’un pays à un autre avec un papa francais mais une maman australo-anglaise, apprenant par ci par là de nouvelles langues, oubliant certaines avec le temps. Et me voilà debarquant en France, sans savoir parler l’argot , langue essentielle dans la cour d’un lycée… J’ai eu mon bac avec mention en partie grâce aux langues… J’ai commencé à travailler pour des sociétés américaines , plutôt en anglais, adieu les accents qui n’existent pas sur les claviers d’alors… Je surveille toujours mon orthographe , c’est probablement une question de respect , je fais toujours des fautes (je ne savais pas qu’hotel avait un ô 😳) mais tres sincèrement je pense que le plus important est de communiquer , d’échanger , partager …avec ou sans accents 😊😊…ou avec un accent étranger …Nous venons de retirer le trait d’union dans weekend et une part significative des mots anglais ont une origine française … Quelle langue parlerons nous dans un siècle ou 2?

    • Tu as complètement raison sur l’importance de partager avant tout. J’apprécie aussi de lire à propos de ton enfance et de ce qui rend chaque enfance singulière. Pas facile de naviguer entre deux voire trois langues.
      Je me demande en effet aussi quelle langue sera parlée dans un siècle. En attendant il reste cependant vrai que ceux et celles qui contrôlent parfaitement la langue officielle de leur pays contrôlent aussi l’économie et les finances. Et plus. Donc peu importe l’orthographe adoptée pourvu que tous et toutes y aient un accès égal. Merci de ta visite, Ellen. À plus.

  10. Behind the Story says:

    Does France have an academy that makes these decisions? I think in the United States English is allowed to form and change itself. When enough people habitually use a new spelling or form, it is accepted, grudgingly at first until, if it keeps gaining popularity, it edges out the previous spelling or form.

    China went to the opposite extreme. In the 1950s and ’60s, the People’s Republic started promoting a simplified method of writing that made a rather large change to most characters. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it. “Simplified character forms were created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizable proportion of traditional Chinese characters.” In the meantime, Chinese in other countries continued using traditional characters.

    • Yes there is an academy and a long process behind the spelling reforms in France. I agree with you about the evolution of a language. Since I wrote this post I exchanged a few e-mails with French people and we all know that a language mirrors a society.
      Some changes seem strange to me, mostly because I’m gone now.
      Interesting about China. I always meant to ask you if you spoke Chinese or at least some.

  11. American football doesn’t even appeal to some American (even some men) – but I’m a fan. I couldn’t help but be a fan, I grew up in a football city. On Friday nights in the fall, the 11:00 news was delayed by the High School football report. As for language reform, American English could lose all the letters that don’t do anything, and I’d be fine.

    • I think baseball is still more your sport, right?
      In all fairness I admire the speed of some of the guys. But team sports aren’t my favorites. 😊
      Ah yes a few letters don’t make much sense to the non native speakers either. If France gets rid of some PH sounds we should do the same here with TH. This is what pinpoints at the French natives. 😊

      • The NFL is trying hard to dethrone baseball as America’s sport. I think there is more intense passion around football, but I do appreciate baseball more as a fan. There’s less pressure. Every game is important, but not critically so. It’s also a sign of summer.

        I was never a participant in team sports, way to much of an introvert for that, and, no so coordinated, but I’ve enjoyed being a fan. Lately, with the Internet and better communication, being able to share the experience with my daughter and my brother, it’s even been a little more fun.

  12. I’ve never watched a football game all the way through. I think I have a mental block against learning the rules. Interesting about the circumflex. I’m not sure it will make learning French easier, at least not for English-speakers — English spelling is so bizarre that French spelling seems blessedly consistent. It helps keep editors like me in business!

    • Since I wrote this post I read several interesting French articles, most forwarded from French readers of my blog. It seems that there is a desire for simplification and also sometimes a return to an older spelling (nénufar, for example). A language evolves and the children who will learn this new spelling will probably be surprised when it will change by the time they are grown-ups.
      As for English (at least American English) I’d like to keep it that way since it took me a while to get there. See you soon, Susanna.

  13. I started school in Germany when they were changing spelling here and there. My books were in the old spelling but should have been in the new. Over the years some things were reverted to the old spelling and so on.
    When I finished high school I was supposed to be the first year to apply only the new spelling, did that happen? No! Books came in old or new spelling depending on edition or publisher and the teachers were often lost themselves.
    Now teaching German my students often work with texts still using the old spelling, it’s not fun, seen that they are expected to use the new… Some German newspapers are completely against the new spelling and continue to use the old, and university professors well they tend to know the old spelling better too, just like the teachers…

    I do hope that this won’t be too bad as a reform. Because when no one knows how to spell correctly anymore things get confusing…

    • Interesting to read your comment, Solveig, from a German view point. My French bloggers friends sent me a few links that I found really good to educate me since I left France when the seeds of the current spelling reform were planted. Like you said for your experience, both spellings will be used at the same time, except in schools where the new spelling will be taught, starting in the fall. Young students will learn how to write using the new spelling since the textbooks have already been printed that way. I always thought that my spell checker was wrong when it insisted for weekend in one word while I knew it took an hyphen in French. In fact Word had already entered the new spelling a while ago. So it could be easier than it looks… at least if I trust my computer’s spell checker. Thanks, Solveig for stopping by. Au revoir.

  14. Well Evelyne, I think spelling is far more interesting than football, whether it’s the American or the English kind!

  15. par “déformation professionnelle”, je suis évidemment intéressée par l’orthographe des langues que je “cause” et j’écris… 🙂 toute cette histoire aurait été montée par “la droite”:”Parce qu’ils ont été ministres de l’éducation nationale ou de l’enseignement supérieur, François Fillon, Luc Chatel, François Bayrou ou Laurent Wauquiez ont trahi ces exigences élémentaires du débat public dans une démocratie telle…”

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