L’Académie Française and a Changing Language

Written by Jasmine Grace, High School Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language is powerful. Our accents give us identity, and our words allow us to connect with each other. When our speech or writing is unclear, the rest of the world can’t understand us. Similarly, when we don’t have words to describe something, we have no way to tell others about it.

L’Académie Française was created for these reasons. Their job is to protect the French language by publishing the official grammar rules and French dictionary. Sometimes this organization is hard for English speakers to understand, as English has nothing equivalent to L’Académie. We just add extra words when new things are created, and even borrow words from other languages when it fits. Many organizations sell English dictionaries, and some of those different organizations even debate specific grammar rules, such as the Oxford comma

 

Cardinal de Richelieu

But for French, especially the French spoken in France, L’Académie rules the language. It began as an informal gathering of intellectuals. But in 1635, Cardinal de Richelieu made it public and gave it its purpose: to create the French dictionary and maintain language standards. 

The members of L’Académie are known as immortels (immortals). This nickname comes from the motto given to L’Académie by Cardinal de Richelieu: à l’immortalité (to immortality). There are 40 members allowed, and they are elected for life, although they may resign or be kicked out for misconduct. 

Many of the 729 total members in the history of L’Académie have been well known writers, and seven of them have been Nobel Prize recipients. Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Gustave Flaubert, and Jules Verne are among the more famous writers who have made it into L’Academie. 

Historically, L’Académie has been a highly respected institution, but recently people thought of L’Académie as outdated, a relic of a different time. This is because of L’Académie resisting a proposed change that would make French less gendered. 

In French, every noun has a masculine and a feminine form. For example, the noun writer has two, and only two, singular forms: écrivain (male writer) and écrivaine (female writer). There is also no neutral pronoun, meaning individuals who identify as gender neutral or nonbinary have no way to identify themselves. In English, a person may tell us their pronouns are ‘they/them’ and we can speak of that individual using those words. But in French, there are only two pronouns, and both are gendered

The current grammar rule dictates when addressing a group of people, the speaker must use the male form of the noun if there are any men in the group they are addressing. So if I am speaking to a group of five male writers and five female writers, I must refer to them collectively as écrivains. If more writers join us and there are now 500 female writers and only five male writers, I still have to address them as écrivains. Only if the five male writers leave and I am speaking to a group of only females am I allowed to call them écrivaines

 The proposal for change is admittedly messy, and would only work for written French. It takes the root of the noun and adds both endings, and the plural, separated by a period. Continuing the example above, the noun writer becomes écrivain.e.s.

L’Académie and others against this change argue this new form is far too messy, and the male root of the noun already functions as a gender-neutral form of the word. In 2017, when L’Académie voted on implementing these changes, they voted unanimously against them, and followed the vote with a statement that said such changes would put French “in mortal danger.” 

Marguerite Yourcenar, 1st woman to become a member of L’Académie

Advocates in favor of this change claim the masculine form is not neutral at all, and cite L’Académie created the grammar rule ‘masculine over feminine’ in 1647, with the justification that men are simply more ‘noble’ gender. And L’Académie itself is hardly the model for equality. Of the 729 members in their entire history, only 8 have been women, and only elected the first in 1980. 

Others claim these changes are necessary for the evolution of their language and also for women’s status in society. They admit a language change will not fix every problem encountered by Francophone girls and women, but they know a change like this is a step in a positive direction. 

The opinion of L’Académie is only an opinion, and they have little control over how people speak or write, or which works get published and which don’t. In fact, several books have been written explaining the necessity for a big change and how individuals can speak more inclusively. Some of these publications also talk about how people can speak about themselves and others if they don’t identify as strictly male or female (here’s another resource, this one in French).   

Both sides agree that their language is valuable and worth protecting. The only debate is which would harm the language more: resisting change and continuing to teach unequal rules, or writing in a way that isn’t neat and afflicting ‘impurities’ on the language?

French Art: From Monet to Van Gogh

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art is a vital part of any culture, often reflecting important symbols, philosophies, and events. French culture is no different, having produced many famous pieces of art and been home to many famous artists. The French cultural diaspora has been home to many modern art movements, including Dadaism (see the blog on Switzerland for a short introduction) and the Impressionist movement. France has had a long history of artistry. History often serves as a source of art inspiration, particularly during wars. Propaganda art during the World Wars and reflectionary art following the French Revolution are two examples of art that demonstrate history serving as the inspiration for art. The propaganda piece, depicted below, depicts a French man strangling an eagle, the sign of the Germans in WWII. This art served a distinct purpose in France, intending to boost troop morale. 

Not all French art was military-based throughout history, though. Quite the contrary, in fact. One of the most remembered French paintings is Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette. This painting, shown to the right, is one of the most influential in the Impressionist movement. The Impressionist movement was a modern art movement created and perfected by Parisian artists, some of whom often painted the countryside. The movement focused on the use of light to define a moment. Impressionist painting also introduced an array of colors into paintings, seeking to illustrate life as they saw it around the world while using brushstrokes purposefully blurred the image. Impressionist paintings diffused widely into the world, though they remained mostly contained to Western Europe and the US.

Claude Oscar Monet is widely considered the father of the Impressionist movement. Monet was a man of poor background, having been raised in a scene of poverty from a young age. In his younger years, he was known locally (in Paris and Normandy in particular) for his charcoal caricatures, exaggerated pictures of often human subjects. He developed his artistic capabilities under the mentorship of Eugène Boudin, who taught Monet how to use oil paints and the technique of “en plein air (in plain air). The “en plein air” technique relates to painting open-air environments using realistic qualities. Monet’s tragic life story began shortly after his mother died in 1857, which catapulted his fairly nomadic life into gear. At this point Monet settled into his life in Paris. 

In 1861, Monet joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria, while living in Paris. He was nearly immediately contracted out of the Regiment and agreed to take a position in an Art School. Here Monet met many of his fellow Impressionist artists. He became a student of Charles Gleyre and developed new styles to approach art, including the introduction of rapid brushstrokes and bright, realistic colors. One of Monet’s first paintings of this style was La Femme à la Robe Verte (The Woman in the Green Dress), which was among the first, of many, to feature his wife. Monet painted this piece just before he attempted to commit suicide for financial reasons following the birth of his first son in 1868. 

Monet later took refuge in England during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). It was during his stay in England that introduced him to English artists and inspired his more expressive use of color in his works. Following this, Monet went on a brief tour of Europe, creating over 25 paintings over a few years. He returned to France in 1871 to live on the banks of the Seine River. Monet painted his first Impressionist painting around 1872. This painting was called Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise), and featured short, choppy brushstrokes with a plethora of colors. Following this, there were a series of Impressionist paintings that sought to depict the French countryside. These were the paintings that brought Monet to fame. He then went on an adventure to paint a series of paintings, including a series of Weeping Willows in WWI to pay homage to the fallen soldiers.

Monet’s Impressionist Style is widely considered the inspiration for the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the most famous Impressionist painters of the period. Like Monet, Renoir focused on light, colorful, realistic scenes; Renoir focused on depictions of social gatherings and the French countryside. However, it was not those paintings that made him famous. Instead, it was his depictions of children, flowers, and women. These paintings focused on the essential Impressionist features, including choppy brush strokes for emphasis and an array of colors. Renoir was perhaps one of the most productive artists, painting thousands of pieces throughout his lifetime. But Renoir’s lasting importance was his influence on Vincent Van Gogh. 

Vincent Van Gogh puts the Impressionist style into the perspective of modern art styles in Western Europe. French artists and culture influenced Van Gogh’s painting, despite Van Gogh not being French. Van Gogh used many aspects of Realism of the Impressionist movement. Although Realism was a separate movement, the style seemed to blur with Impressionism at many points. Van Gogh did not start with Impressionist paintings, though. In fact, at a young age, Van Gogh began in black-and-white pencil drawings as he believed mastery lied in focusing on the basics. Van Gogh began his journey into color in 1881, during a study with Anton Mauve, serving as Van Gogh’s introduction to color. For much of these early color paintings, their earthy tones characterized Van Gogh’s paintings.

The Potato Eaters

This experience was the backdrop of Van Gogh’s movement into Impressionist styles after his visit to Paris. Van Gogh did not simply copy the Impressionist paintings. Instead, Van Gogh drew on another style as well, called the pointillist technique. This was the beginning of Van Gogh’s personal style, which mixed color and clean brushstrokes with points of light and realism techniques. This style was both unique to Van Gogh and inspired future art movements in the modern era of art, such as Post-Impressionist art. In his final days, Van Gogh took pride in this style of painting and was perhaps the most productive during this time. It was in this period Van Gogh took on a blue-green color spectrum and a curvature system to suggest movement in the painting. This was a transition from Impressionism into Post-Impressionism. Wheatfield of Crows is believed to be the last work of Vincent Van Gogh, ending his long reign over beautiful artwork.

Overall, France has served as one hub for artistic innovation and creation, serving as the home for many of the world’s most influential artists and creating perhaps the largest movements in modern art, including Impressionism. From the war-based propaganda to the brilliant and beautiful paintings of artists such as Monet and Van Gogh, France has helped shape global art trends, and will likely continue to do so. 

 

World of French: Switzerland

 

Written by Jasmine Grace, High School Intern 

 

 

French is one of the four languages spoken in Switzerland. This landlocked European nation is known for its diversity, neutrality, chocolate, cheese, and picturesque scenery.  But this small nation is home to so much more.

Dada Art

Many people think of Switzerland as Johanna Spyri portrays it in the country’s best-known literary piece, Heidi. But this nation isn’t just alpine lakes and villages; there are also many cities and urban areas. A unique art style originated in one of those beautiful cities, Zürich. When WWI refugees were being housed here, Switzerland’s artistic movement, called Dadaism, began in protest of the war. This art style is best described as nonsensical. It is organized artistic chaos, defined by negation, absurdity, and its spontaneous nature. Dada artists use a variety of mediums such as music, sculpture, literature, painting, theatre, and photography.

The city of Geneva is home to CERN, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research). It is the largest physical laboratory in the world, and is located 100 meters underground. The laboratory’s mission is to study nature at a subatomic level and create a diverse scientific community. Scientists from all over the world come here to search for answers about how our world works at a fundamental level and how the universe was created. These scientists use innovative technology and inventions to conduct their research. 

Another world-famous Swiss innovation is their chocolate. They were the first to add milk to their chocolate and developed a recipe that makes it flavorful. You’ve probably heard of the glory that is Swiss chocolate, and I’ll tell you everything you’ve heard is true. But of course, chocolate isn’t the only great food in Switzerland. The country is also known for its cheese. And not just the Swiss cheese. Switzerland has over 450 varieties of cheese. Fondue (melted cheese dip served with bread cubes) is very popular. As for the more nutritious foods, Switzerland is also the birthplace of birchmüesli, which is like oatmeal but many times more delicious. A Swiss doctor who thought of a diet of cereals, fruits, and veggies invented oatmeal which proved healthier than a meat-based diet. He created birchmüesli for the patients of his sanatorium in Zürich. 

Switzerland is also famous for its cultural diversity. Since the beginning of the nation, different languages, religions, and cultures coexisted peacefully. Many Swiss take pride in their nation’s diversity. And these different cultures living together means Switzerland is neutral by necessity. They avoid taking sides when their neighbors run into conflict. Switzerland has had no part in any war since 1505!

Switzerland even avoided both world wars, despite the internal strife. There were tensions between German, French, and Italian-speaking Swiss citizens. And the working class struggled because they had to take time off from their jobs to protect Switzerland’s borders, but weren’t compensated for their time off. After a nearly violent public demand for reform, several changes were implemented. This included a change to the voting system and more benefits for the unemployed.

Zürich

Because of this guarded neutrality, Switzerland maintained a stable economy, allowing them to become a major economic power on the world stage. This nation is a beautiful and peaceful place with a unique history, unique art form and many delectable dishes.

French Voices: The Acadian Dialect

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – high school Intern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Henri Vaillancourt, native French speaker and student of the language’s origins, for his insights which formed the basis of this blog.

While the Québécois dialect is perhaps the most well-known of the dialects of French, there are many more to be discovered, even in Canada alone. Through the period of colonization, the French took major stakes in Northern America. This established a sphere of influence over French culture and language around modern day southern Canada. However, the French introduced to the New World differed from the French spoken in France today. According to Henri Vaillancourt, who has a distinct passion for dialects, listening to Acadian and Québécois dialects is like a window into the past. This is because both dialects built on the older French dialects when France and Canada became isolated from each other. 

In my interview with Henri, we discussed the Acadian dialect in great detail. Henri began with the history of Acadia: while the French were settling into Canada and other parts of North America, they brought their language with them and eventually came to inhabit a region of Canada known as Acadie, or Acadia. Originally, the region only comprised Nova Scotia but grew to become bigger as the French influence spread. The remarkable fact of Acadia is the peacefulness the people had with the indigenous peoples of the area. The French settlers of this region were often found trading and socializing with these people, a stark contrast to much of North America. Later, the British rule of Canada forced the exile of all Acadians. In fact, they came to inhabit modern-day New Orleans in Louisiana, forming a bridge between the two dialects (the Cajun dialect will be discussed in a future edition of this series).

The Acadian dialect, which covers the region of Acadia in Eastern Canada, is another well-known French dialect in Canada. Acadia, the homeland of this dialect, is comprised of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and even small pockets of the Gaspé peninsula. Henri noted these regions have distinct dialects, which all fall into the overarching category of Acadian dialects. Acadia has a similar history to Québec; it was first controlled by New France and later by the British monarchy. Thus, the region was cut off from the developments of French in Europe and maintained a fairly historical dialect of French, according to Henri. In this way, the Acadian dialect mirrored the Québécois dialect in several phrases, and words in Acadian are exchanged with English-speaking peoples living close. In fact, Brayon, a specific dialect of Acadian, mixes the Acadian and Québécois dialects. 

Though it is in proximity to Québec, the Acadia dialect has a few distinctions. One of the more interesting distinctions is the first-person plural form of speaking. While there are two forms of French, like nous mangeons or on mange (both meaning “we are eating”), Acadian French introduces a third form. In Acadia, they use the first-person singular pronoun je and conjugate the verb for nous, resulting in something like je mangeons. Acadia was also special because it was mostly populated by Central French speakers, meaning some of their distinctions carried into Acadia. The most prominent example was the use of the “ou” vowel sound instead of “o” in words. For example, homme (man) in International French may become houmme in Acadian French. Pronunciation, particularly with “r” sounds, is also different in Acadian French. For example, “er” can often be pronounced as “ar” instead, changing the sound of many words, particularly verbs. “R” itself is also a bit different, being pronounced in the front of the mouth as opposed to the back, as in International French. The most distinctive feature is the use of point as a marker of negation. For example, one may say “je ne veux point ça” (I don’t want that) as opposed to the more common “je ne veux pas ça.”

Comparing the Dialects

 

Two sub-dialects in particular are unique to the Acadian group of dialects in this region of the world. The Chiac dialect is a mix of French in English where the two languages are mashed together to create phases. Another influence of the Chiac dialect is the Mi’kmaq language, which is an indigenous language from which words like matue (porcupine) were derived. Chiac is spoken mostly in south Canada, specifically in New Brunswick. There is debate about whether the spoken word of Chiac should be considered a dialect itself because the Chiac people combine French and English words. The most accepted idea is Chiac is just an accent of French common to New Brunswick. As such, Chiac is generally rated on a scale from heavy-Acadian to heavy-English. One common example of a Chiac line is from Lisa Leblanc, an Acadian songwriter: “J’ai du global warming dans la brain (I’ve got global warming on the brain).The development of the Chiac mixture of French and English is due to the presence of Candian English in New Brunswick, which differs from Quèbec. French is dominant and thus impacted little, in comparison to Chiac, by the English language. 

Brayon is another dialect of French that is found in New Brunswick, though it extends a bit farther than Chiac, and is often used about a group of dialects including Chiac. Brayon extends to border Canada and even extends into Northern Maine as well. The distinction Brayon has is that it is, essentially, a dialect of the Acadian group that mixes both the Acadian and Quèbècois dialects into one. Like Chiac, Brayon has some influence on the Candian English that surrounds it. However, this influence has not penetrated nearly as far as it has in the Chiac dialect discussed above. There has been some pushback to make Brayon its own group of dialects. But for now, it rests underneath the Acadian supergroup. 

The Acadia region certainly has deep historic French roots. As a result, this led to the development of their own French dialect, one whichstems from old French (much like the Quèbècois Dialect) but still maintained a distinct identity. Acadian French is a vast category of dialects that actually contains many subdivisions of the dialect itself. Brayon and Chiac are some interesting examples Henri provided me to research. Much like the Quèbècois dialect, some speakers of Acadian dialects are ridiculed, especially those who chose to integrate English and French into their dialects. This is unfortunate, as each French dialect is just one of a dozen global voices of French, each with its own sound. 

 

 

Ancient Gauls of France


written by Jasmin Grace, High School Intern

 

Most of us know at least a little about French History. Perhaps you’ve heard about the French Revolution, its Reign of Terror, and the infamous guillotine. Or maybe you’re familiar with some famous French kings, and the conflict between France and Britain in the Middle Ages. But what about the more ancient history of France?

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