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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Candice here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I'll answer your most common French questions.
The question for this lesson is What is l'Académie Française?
l'Académie Française, or “the French Academy,” is the foremost authority on the French language. They are the ones that decide the “standards and rules” or normes of the French language. The people who make up the Academy are known as “immortals,” or immortels. They are famous writers, academics, and politicians who are elected for life.
The Academy was founded in 1635. During the 17th century, France had a thriving salon culture. Here, men and women of different classes could discuss art, politics, and language on equal footing. This salon culture helped establish France as the center of culture. It also made French the language of refinement and reason in Europe. The Academy began as a salon, but Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, took it under his wing. He was determined to create a powerful French state, centered around the King. He turned the Academy into a public institution and charged it with making clear rules for the French language.
But what is the purpose of the Academy? Its main goal is to produce a French dictionary. However, historically, the going has been very slow. The first dictionary published by the Academy took 54 years to complete.
Today, the Academy still meets and creates dictionaries. Its rules are not always followed, even by members of the government. But it still has a powerful influence on French culture.
The French language is one of the main things that binds French people together. Many people see the French language as France’s greatest achievement. In the twentieth century Albert Camus famously said, ma patrie, c’est la langue française. “My homeland is the French language.” That said, French people were not always united in language. Instead of one language, there were many regional languages. In 1794, at least 6 million people out of 28 million French citizens couldn’t speak French at all.
During the French Revolution, for the first time, the government needed the consent of the people. The French language became one way to unify citizens. Some revolutionaries in Paris were extremely suspicious of regional dialects and identities. These days, regional dialects are not as common, but they still exist. Corsican, Breton, Gallo, Basque, Franco-Provencal, Occitan, and Catalan have official status in their regions.
Pretty neat, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A bientôt, see you soon!