French orthography encompasses the spelling and punctuation of the French language. It is based on a combination of phonemic and historical principles. The spelling of words is largely based on the pronunciation of Old French c. 1100–1200 CE and has stayed more or less the same since then, despite enormous changes to the pronunciation of the language in the intervening years. This has resulted in a complicated relationship between spelling and sound, especially for vowels; a multitude of silent letters; and many homophones (e.g., saint/sein/sain/seing/ceins/ceint (all pronounced [sɛ̃]), sang/sans/cent (all pronounced [sɑ̃])). Later attempts to respell some words in accordance with their Latin etymologies further increased the number of silent letters (e.g., temps vs. older tens – compare English "tense", which reflects the original spelling – and vingt vs. older vint). Nevertheless, there are rules governing French orthography which allow for a reasonable degree of accuracy when pronouncing French words from their written forms. The reverse operation, producing written forms from pronunciation, is much more ambiguous.
Modern French spelling was codified in the late 17th century by the Académie française, based largely on previously established spelling conventions. Some reforms have occurred since then, but most
This period also saw the development of some explicitly etymological spellings, e.g. temps ("time"), vingt ("twenty") and poids ("weight") (note that in many cases, the etymologizing was sloppy or occasionally completely incorrect; vingt reflects Latin viginti, with the g in the wrong place, and poids actually reflects Latin pensum, with no d at all; the spelling poids is due to an incorrect derivation from Latin pondus). The trend towards etymologizing sometimes produced absurd (and generally rejected) spellings such as sçapvoir for normal savoir ("to know"), which attempted to combine Latin sapere ("to be wise", the correct origin of savoir) with scire ("to know").
Modern French spelling was codified in the late 17th century by the Académie française, based largely on previously established spelling conventions. Some reforms have occurred since then, but most have been fairly minor. The most significant changes have been:
In October 1989, Michel Rocard, then-Prime Minister of France, established the High Council of the French Language (Conseil supérieur de la langue française) in Paris. He designated experts — among them linguists, representatives of the Académie française and lexicographers — to propose standardizing several points, a few of those points being:
Quickly, the experts set to work. Their conclusions were submitted to Belgian and Québécois linguistic political organizations. They were likewise submitted to the Académie française, which endorsed them unanimously, saying: "Current orthography remains that of usage, and the 'recommendations' of the High Council of the French language only enter into play with words that may be written in a different manner without being considered as incorrect or as faults."
The changes were published in the Journal officiel de la République française in December 1990. At the time the proposed changes were considered to be suggestions. In 2016, schoolbooks in France began to use the newer recommended spellings, with instruction to teachers that both old and new spellings be deemed correct.
The hyphen in French has a particular use in geographic names that is not found in English. Traditionally, the "specific" part of placenames, street names, and organization names are hyphe
The hyphen in French has a particular use in geographic names that is not found in English. Traditionally, the "specific" part of placenames, street names, and organization names are hyphenated (usually namesakes). For instance, la place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad (Square of the Battle of Stalingrad [la bataille de Stalingrad]); and l’université Blaise-Pascal (named after Blaise Pascal). Likewise, Pas-de-Calais is actually a place on land; the real pas (“strait”) is le pas de Calais.
However, this rule is not uniformly observed in official names, e.g., either la Côte-d'Ivoire or la Côte d'Ivoire, but nor
However, this rule is not uniformly observed in official names, e.g., either la Côte-d'Ivoire or la Côte d'Ivoire, but normally la Côte d'Azur has no hyphens. The names of Montreal Metro stations are consistently hyphenated when suitable, but those of Paris Métro stations mostly ignore this rule. (For more examples, see Trait d'union)