For how long has the French language had accents and silent letters?

1 Answer

  • Tangi
    Lv 7
    4 weeks ago

    Accents appeared in the 16th century, mostly thanks to printers, who introduced them to make clearer the pronounciation of words. The Latin alphabet alone is not enough to represent all the sounds that are used in French. So you need either accents or digraphs and trigraphs (sequences of two or three letters that represent one sound). French has both. It even has an accent, the tréma ¨ indicating when a letter is not part of a digraph or a trigraph and is supposed to be pronounced separately.

    Silent letters are older than that. In fact, accents often replaced older spelling that had silent letters instead.

    For most of the silent letters we have, they used to be pronounced but gradually became silent. Since we don't know how French used to be pronounced, due to a lack of sound recording, we don't know exactly when they became silent.

    It's probable that it happened during the late middle ages, and it never stopped changing since then.

    It doesn't help that in the 17th century, Richelieu created the Académie Française with the goal to reform the language. But they were (and still are) elitist people who cared more about sounding sophisticated than being actually efficient and they introduced a lot of etymological spelling that made the language less phonetic, for even less coherent reasons than it was before. Thankfully, they are not relevant to anything anymore.

    So French had accents for about 500 years, and silent letters for at least 700 years and probably more, but got worse some 350 years ago. It got slightly less bad 30 years ago, but unfortunately most people didn't notice it.

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