Is this on the level? It looks like an April Fool’s joke—a site in simplifyed speling for “pêrsone ki on dê z’inkapasité intélêktuêl” (peepul hoo are not so brite)—but it’s part of the official site of the city of Montreal/la Ville de Montréal, so I guess it’s real. But I can’t help but think it’s ill advised; it reminds me of the “Rezedents Rights & Rispansabilities” brochure (pdf of actual document) published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development some years ago and quickly withdrawn because of the ruckus it caused (see the Straight Dope summary). I mean, really—check out the page for the “Bibliotêk”:

Il i a dê bibliotêk
dan bokou de kartié de Montréal .
Il fo t’avouar une kart d’aboné
pour anprunté dê livr
dan lê bibliotêk de Montréal .
Pour avouar une kart
demandé o kontouar de la bibliotêk
de votr kartié …

[Thair are liberries in lotsa naberhuds of Montréal.
Yu gotta hav a liberry kard to borro buks in the Montréal liberry.
To hav a kard aks at the counter at yer naberhud liberry.]

If people are gratefully making use of this, I stand corrected. But it looks to me like politikul corektnus run wild. And as Koant of Madame Martin, from whom I got this, says: “I fail to see how this alternative spelling is any simpler than the usual one.”


  1. Michael Farris says

    Prepare for the latest in my continuing series of wildly unpopular opinions.
    Although it’s not _quite_ how I would do it, I like it better than traditional French orthography* (and think your respelled English is not a good comparison).
    That said, I’m not sure why it exists.
    *I’ve always resisted learning French since the written form is such a poor reflection of spoken French (if I had more and easier access to written Kreyol, I’d give that a try as it appeals to me). My bias runs toward languages where the spoken and written forms work together rather than at cross purposes, and I’m sure if I weren’t a native speaker of English I’d really try to avoid learning it.

  2. Have you read the page concerning their reasonings for having Ortograf Altêrnativ? Click here.
    In my personal experience with being contact Québécois on the internet, using a more phonetic is not that uncommon. Those who primarily did it were the under-30 crowd. I was learning French at the time when I first started being in contact with you and let me tell you I had a helluva time deciphering what they had to say!
    With that said, the text from the site does not appear to be in the way Québécois kids usually write it online; it looks kinda forced. But keep in mind I’m not a native speaker so…
    But, a native speaker wrote about it in a blog entry of his.

  3. Michael Farris says

    More information about the system is here:
    though I could read the first paragraph (in ortograf altêrnativ) easily enough the rest is in traditional French which takes mucho more effort than I feel like extending right now.

  4. I first started being in contact with you
    Oops! This should be with them!

  5. Chris: Yeah, I saw their defense of the practice (obviously they’ve had complaints), but I simply don’t believe this is based on actual demand — it smells like something thought up by bureaucrats paid to expand accessibility in all directions. A noble goal with which I do not quarrel, and as I said I’ll be happy to retract my doubts and sarcasm if it turns out substantial numbers of people are happily using it, but that’s how it looks to me. And I’m glad to see (via your second link) that at least one native speaker agrees with me (and is even more sarcastic).
    Michael: While I feel your pain concerning the peculiarities of French orthography, the site is not designed for foreigners who would prefer a more rational spelling system but for persons of Frenchitude who “on dê z’inkapasité intélêktuêl.” And persons of Frenchitude, whatever their kapasité, are presumably used to the French spelling system, with which this clashes in a confusing fashion. See the fellow Chris linked to above: “Que peut bien signifier par exemple «Akey», en haut de chaque page? Accès? À qui? Assez? Ben non! Accueil!”
    My English version is not intended as a scientific equivalent but as an analog of how the site reads to me. Your mileage may vary.

  6. I’ll chime in briefly to say that as a native speaker (from France), I find it both appalling and scary. Without one last e, akey and travay end in just another ê sound, which rather defeats the point. I hope so-called simplification won’t take over: they’re thinking of another reform in France, I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with now.

  7. Michael Farris says

    “Without one last e, akey and travay end in just another ê sound, which rather defeats the point.”
    (respectful tone, respectful tone) what point?
    “I hope so-called simplification won’t take over”
    Because a writing system can never be too complicated?

  8. How is this done? Is it a transliteration of the IPA spelling?
    As far as ‘akey’ is concerned, I presume a trained reader of the writing system would understand ‘e’ to be pronounced as in ‘de’ and ‘y’ to be pronounced as in ‘payer’, so they’d combine the sounds. Does that sound like ‘acceuil’? I’m not a native speaker and I don’t have a dictionary to hand so there’s a good chance I’m mistaken, but is the last sound of ‘acceuil’ and ‘seuil’ and ‘deuil’ a kind of a semivowel that has its own IPA representation? So maybe to the trained reader of the writing system the ‘ey’ combination stands for that sound, overriding the individual ‘e’ and ‘y’ sounds?
    But it is about being a trained reader, as the braille analogy in the justification would also suggest, so presumably this website would have to be accompanied by a training program for the personnes qui ont des incapacités intellectuelles to whom it is targeted.

  9. LH: I find that your English comparison presents a certain bias. Spelling notwithstanding, your example paragraphs follow proper internationally recognized French grammar, and phonetically is in line with formal Quebec French pronounciation. There are no examples of colloquial expressions such as “lotsa” or “liberries”. (For example, in Quebec it is VERY commonplace to say “il y a” as “Y’a” but no one would say or write it in formal communication). Consider yourselves lucky it isn’t rendered along joual pronounciation, or we’d all be staring at it for a while.
    Re «akey, travay»: I believe that they are indeed striving for a one-to-one grapheme to phoneme relationship (I believe these are the terms?). Indeed the only digraphs I see are «ou», «gn», «ch», for which French has no single character for. I can’t find an instance of «tch», but certainly it would also remain.
    Overall, I find this site to be at best misguided, at worst condecending (a large font I understand, but why such a childish-looking one?). Furthermore, unless this writing system is put forth as part of broader coherent movement, it’s absolutely futile. To continue the example, Braille systems vary between languages and regions, but imagine having just one single Braille document in the world: What good does it serve?
    Re Quebec spelling: Writing French in Quebecois pronounciation was an art mastered by the playwright Michel Tremblay. You’ll see more phonetic renderings in e-mail and in chat in Québec, especially in slang, but I don’t believe that this is moreso the case than among Anglos. I agree with Chris that what we have here is a whole other beast and feels forced, constructed.
    Re standard French orthography: I’m an anglophone Quebecer, and I’ve always contended that French was easier than English to learn from a phonetic viewpoint. In French many combinations can make the same sound (e.g. ‘o’, ‘au’, ‘eau’, ‘ô’ = ‘o’), you can be 98% sure that every instance will sound the same. Whereas in English, the same combination can give you a variety of renderings (‘ough’= ‘uf’,’o’, ‘oo’, ‘af’, etc.). It’s not the level of simplicity of Spanish, or even German, but French spelling and pronounciation have English beat.

  10. Michael Farris says

    I’m assuming that this is one of the first times this is being used for some kind of practical purpose (this is a very new system). So I think criticism that it’s not backed up by years of other publications is a little misplaced. Would such scorn be heaped on the first book in Braille?
    That said, I’m not sure what is meant by people who “on dê z’inkapasité intélêktuêl” does this mean some level of retardation or people with certain kinds of learning disorders?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both groups might find this easier to read and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t, that’s what research is for after all. If there’s research that says they do, then why not act on it? (Or this page might be part of some sort of research to determine if it would be useful).
    The native French speaker that Christopher Sundita links to seems to make the trivially true point that people who are not trained in a system will find it more difficult than those who are.
    What I took from it is that those who have mastered the current system have no special interest in making it easier for the sake of those who haven’t or can’t.

  11. Martin Masse says

    Michael Farris: “The native French speaker that Christopher Sundita links to seems to make the trivially true point that people who are not trained in a system will find it more difficult than those who are.”
    In fact, my point was that this is just another silly, useless and wasteful invention by bureaucrats and politicians who are forever trying to please new interest groups (in this case, community groups and academics dealing with the illiterates and mentally retarded) and buy their support with taxpayers’ money.
    I don’t believe this project will help anybody. Not only is it difficult to read when you’re used to seeing standard French spelling (which is presumably the case also for those who have reading problems), but the spread of this jargon would encourage its users not to learn the standard language and leave them forever standing apart from the rest of society.
    However, I am not at all opposed to any private group trying to launch any new systems of writing French if they believe in its value. The (language) market will decide if there is a use for it or not. I just don’t think Montreal bureaucrats and politicians should spend our money on this.
    The blog where this appeared is connected with Le Québécois Libre (http://www.quebecoislibre.org), a libertarian webzine that defends individual freedom and the free market, and denounces government interventionism in the economy and people’s lives. States have always been trying to control the use of languages to socially engineer change and please certain groups (Bill 101 in Quebec is another typical example). Denouncing this latest attempt was the point of the post.

  12. I’m not sure how talking down to the pêrsone ki on dê z’inkapasité intélêktuêl in Comic Sans is supposed to help either.

  13. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the photo they show on the Bibliotêk page is the decommissioned library building no longer in use.

  14. Heh. Those are both nice touches.

  15. “I’m not sure how talking down to the pêrsone ki on dê z’inkapasité intélêktuêl in Comic Sans is supposed to help either.”
    I completely agree with you there; I was desperately hoping this was a hacker’s idea of a joke…
    I guess, as a native Québécoise, I lack the kapasité intélêktuêl to know how to pronounce “Akey”.
    I am embarrassed that my city would use taxpayer’s money to produce such a… thing.

  16. I am a native Québécoise (Yes, francophone despite the name!) and I have worked with children suffering from Down’s syndrom. The vast majority of these children had a really difficult time learning to read and write in French (I have no idea if they have as much trouble with other languages). And because reading is difficult for them, they are somewhat discouraged by texts that look “official”, which is probably why the site what written in Comic Sans.
    I understand the reasons behind the creation of the site and the alternative spelling. However, I don’t believe that it is helping anybody. They should invest their money in learning programs and techniques that will enable people with intellectual difficulties to learn French as it is used in society rather than on an alternative spelling that will rarely, if at all, be used in public spaces.

  17. Michael Farris says

    Thanks to the miracle of comment spam, this subject is brought up and so I thought I’d return to it for real.
    “They should invest their money in learning programs and techniques that will enable people with intellectual difficulties to learn French as it is used in society rather than on an alternative spelling that will rarely, if at all, be used in public spaces.”
    I can’t help but be reminded of arguments against sign language “they should invest in programs that will enable deaf people to learn English as is used in society rather than on an alternative language that will rarely, if at all, be used in public spaces”
    for that matter, I gather that similar arugments have been made against Braille. (which this reminds me of more than sign language)
    As a matter of fact, I don’t know if this kind of respelling will be of short or long term aid in helping people with cognitive disabilities navigate thru life and can imagine results going either way (that’s what research is for I repeat). I do think it’s worth examining and letting the results of research (as opposed to prejudice) determine the future of this system.

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