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Quebec wants its students to stop circumflexing. The province's Ministry of Education is allowing students writing provincial exams to provide alternative spellings for some 2,000 words. It shows a false flexibility, and Quebec should focus on other aspects of French. The way a language is used by its speakers, even one as regulated in public life as French is in Quebec, is about evolution, not prescription.

The changes trickled down to the ministry four years after being ratified by the Office québécois de la langue française, the body that regulates the language in Quebec, and some 19 years after France's Académie française originally approved the new spellings. Despite some fears, it's not all a concession to growing anglicization. New accents ( marketing becomes markéting) or French flourishes ( acupuncture becomes acuponcture) will be allowed on some words, while the accent circonflexe is being beaten back ( ile is now as acceptable as île).

In other words, the changes respect the evolution of a language, but only as long as that evolution is officially recognized and sanctioned by a foreign body.

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Occasional refreshments of a curriculum are generally welcome, but why follow France's rules? The province that coined or adopted memorable, vital words and phrases such as dépanneur (corner store), cabane à sucre (sugar shack), courriel (e-mail), fin de semaine (weekend) stationner (parking) and, of course, poutine should not ask its students to be servile to language functionaries in the old country.

The overregulation of French as it is used, and the continued looking to France for guidance, are misplaced. Indeed, as Quebec brings in more immigrants who already speak French as a mother or secondary tongue, from countries such as Lebanon, Vietnam, Morocco and Haiti, the language will continue to evolve in a distinctive fashion. New spellings distinctive to the province will emerge from the interplay of cultures and languages.

Orthography is like siding: a language's outer cladding. Far more important is the foundation: its vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Those are areas where instruction and rigour matter more. If standards are deteriorating, meaning is being lost and Quebec is faltering internationally because its speakers' French is not up to par, a renewed focus by the educational system on the foundation might be called for.

But the life Quebeckers give French (or that any people gives any language) through speech, writing style and appearance, and spelling, is something no Office or Académie can, or should, enforce.

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