From NY Times: The venerable Académie Française is in the throes of a rather significant exercise. Guardian of the French language since 1635, the academy in recent times has gained a reputation as being out of touch — and so, when it issued recommendations in 1990 for the “rectification” of about 2,400 words, they did not stick. Week-end should become weekend, said the academy to anyone who would listen. Oignon (onion) would be better off as ognon. Paraître (to appear) had no need for its silent circumflex. But no one was listening, and all of this was quickly forgotten.
Now, though, the academy’s reform has surged back to life. In November, the French government belatedly decided to revive the 1990 proposals, prompting educational publishers to announce new editions of their standard works; from there, the story snowballed into the biggest French language controversy since the advent of “freedom fries.” And though the academy’s tone-deaf spelling changes and hyphen cull have raised hackles, what has become most apparent is that the French really, really love the circumflex.