Minister at centre of French language row is brought to book

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The Independent Online
DOES THE French education minister know her French grammar? Apparently not.

French primary school pupils spend hours learning the complexities of grammar and spelling and, in particular, how e's and s's should be added to adjectives and participles which agree with female or plural nouns and pronouns.

Segolene Royal, minister in charge of primary school education, made two glaring blunders in seven lines - missing out an "e" and then an "s" - in an official letter reproduced triumphantly in Le Figaro yesterday.

The errors were all the more embarrassing because the minister is in the midst of a political-linguistic argument with the august guardian of the purity of the French language, the Academie Francaise. She is one of several women in the Jospin government who insists on calling herself la ministre. Ministre is a masculine word and should properly always be le ministre, whatever the gender of the minister concerned.

Several members of the Academie Francaise wrote to President Jacques Chirac last month asking him to stamp out the iniquitous usage of la ministre. Ms Royal responded that the academicians were, to paraphrase her French, a bung of sexist, linguistic stick-in-the-muds.

Imagine, then, the wicked delight with which Maurice Druon, a member of the academy, novelist and former Gaullist minister for culture, received a copy of a letter written by Ms Royal last month to a historian in Nancy. "Two huge errors in seven lines

He said he accepted that the letter had probably been typed by a secretary but should not the education minister check her letters for spelling mistakes? Horror upon horrors, Ms Royal's letter to the historian was an admission that she had mixed up two events in French religious history which are almost 1,000 years apart. - John Lichfield