Orthography and Literacy in French

Authored by: Jean-Pierre Jaffré , Michel Fayol

Handbook of Orthography and Literacy

Print publication date:  September  2005
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780805846522
eBook ISBN: 9780203824719
Adobe ISBN: 9781136781353


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As a starting point, this chapter presents a brief description of the early history of the French writing system. Subsequently the linguistic aspects of French orthography are discussed. Studies of acquisition of literary skills by French children indicate that they may not go through a logographic stage when they learn to read but rather they latch on to the phonological principles as a starting point. Even though the French language is more regular than English as far as orthography is concerned, this statement is only partially true. French is more consistent than English when one proceeds from spelling to phonology; it is, however, less consistent when one proceeds from phonology to spelling. In addition, French morphology is more opaque when compared with that of English, which makes French difficult to master. This is so because there are many graphemes that have no phonological counterparts. One source of difficulty for poor readers is inflectional morphology rules because there is a considerable amount of difference between written and spoken forms of French. The unlikely event that any orthographic reforms would even be envisaged in France has given rise to a paradoxical situation: The French have great difficulty in learning to master their orthography, but they are extremely fond of it.

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