[lg policy] Belgian teachers who find French conjugation rule 'absurd' want to change it

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Sep 10 09:03:21 EDT 2018

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Belgian teachers who find French conjugation rule 'absurd' want to change it
By Cristina Abellan Matamoros  <https://twitter.com/cr07cristina>• last
updated: 05/09/2018
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Belgian teachers who find French conjugation rule 'absurd' want to change it
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Two French teachers from Belgium want to "modernise" the French language by
getting rid of one of its most complicated conjugation rules.

*Here's what's complicated:*

The verb *to have* (avoir) in French is essential for mastering French
conjugation because it’s used as an auxiliary verb with the past participle
to make compound tenses and it can also be used as an adjective. This only
affects, however, direct objects that are either singular feminine or
inRead invented by Teads <http://inread-experience.teads.tv>

Sound like a mouthful? Here's an example to show how it works:

The sentence: *J'ai mangé des pommes* (I ate apples) is one way of writing
that you ate some apples. This is how most people would say the act during
a conversation in French.

In this sentence: *Les pommes que j'ai mangées* (The apples I ate),
teachers pushing for the reform would say the conjugation of *manger* in
this case is antiquated, and not what French speakers would think when
talking. So advocates for changing the principle are arguing that the rule
should be uniform so that it becomes correct to say: *Les pommes que j'ai
The two Belgian teachers who find the rule 'antiquated'

Arnaud Hoedt and Jérôme Piron find the current conjugation rule way too
complicated. In an opinion piece
published on Monday, they wrote: “Children ask themselves why the past
participle is conjugated differently depending on the placement of the
direct object."

To them, the rules detailing “how past participles are conjugated with
auxiliary verbs are completely obsolete and complicated”.

The French teachers say it takes them "80 hours on average" to teach these
rules to students only for them to "complain about the complexity of the

To them, time "would be better spent developing (the French) vocabulary,
learning syntax, developing a taste for literature, understanding
morphology or exploring etymology."
inRead invented by Teads <http://inread-experience.teads.tv>

"It would be more valuable to teach kids how to master the language rather
than make them remember the most arbitrary parts of the language,” the
teachers said.
So what’s their proposal?

The teachers believe they can simplify these rules to everyone's advantage
by introducing the “uniformity of past participles with the auxiliary *to

“It’s not about destabilising the system or getting rid of what makes our
spelling, but to maintain a unique rule that makes sense,” wrote Hoedt and

"What we want is to decriminalise how past principles are conjugated with
the auxiliary verb to have ... children should not be sanctioned for
reasoning another way that is grammatically correct," Hoedt told Euronews,
adding that ultimately what they sought was the "improvement" of French

The teachers came up with the proposal after talking with linguists who
explained the changes would not affect the grammatical "correctness" of the
But can their proposal become official?

Technically not. Hoedt explained that unlike the Spanish language, the
French language doesn't have an international body that dictates grammar
and orthography rules.

"There is no institution that can legally impose orthography to people,"
said Hoedt.

L'academie francaise de la langue — a renowned language institution in
France — "is a false reference since its work is only symbolic," according
to Hoedt.

Euronews has reached out to the academy for comment.

However, the teachers presented their proposal to the French Language
Policy Council of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the International
Council of the French Language (CILF) who issues proposals on advisable
spellings. In 2015, CILF advised the Belgian government to take up the
reforms in 2015 to no avail.

In an email to Euronews, Nathalie Marchal, director of the French language
department of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, said that her department
found the teachers' proposal "very interesting" since "it offered a real
rationalisation of French spelling."

But Marchal highlighted that the final decision on whether this proposal
would be suggested to schools would ultimately fall on the Belgian ministry
of education.

According to Hoedt, schools and teachers can put in place new orthography
rules if they want to but they cannot be forced to do so.

Euronews has reached out to the International Council of the French
Language for comment.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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