No circumflex zone

Many French words will soon be unable to flex their circumflex.

The circumflex is a punctuation mark used in a number of languages for a vast variety of purposes. In French, it usually denotes that the word used to have an “s” that is no longer pronounced.

While both new and old spellings will still be correct, according to France’s education minister, the new sans-circumflex spellings will be utilized in textbooks.

This change highlights the flipside of the evolution of language on a colloquial, day-to-day level — that is, the evolution of language brought about by regulatory or institutional change.

This change by itself is neutral, but it is noteworthy and an example of the power language holds. Another example of this is the distinction of the British spelling of many words — on the basis of a combination of tradition and regulation, we end up with the distinction of “trousers” and “pants,” “colour” and “color,” and “grey” and “gray.”

These distinctions are only slightly less than arbitrary, but they represent a degree of distinction, pattern and uniqueness, a sort of written dialect within the same language.

To me, these features serve as charming anomalies. They add a touch of art to everyday writing, spelling and, in some cases, conversation. To me, these quirks are what make any writing a piece of art.

As a copy editor, my job is to wrangle the news articles I am assigned into a template of specific quirks known as AP style (plus The Daily Californian style for specific cases), which itself undergoes annual revision.

One of the main themes on this blog is the ever-changing nature of language, influenced by location, technology, age and a slew of other factors. And ironically, even standardization seems to produce more variations and permutations.

Contact Patrick Tehaney at [email protected].