Franco-Lebanese writer is new guardian of the French language

‘The Immortals’ have spoken. Amin Maalouf elected the 32nd ‘perpetual secretary’ of the historic Académie française, the French watchdog of linguistic probity

Man with the blue pencil: Amin Maalouf becomes the 32th permanent secretary of the Académie française
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“Fasionistas” who get a “buzz” out of using “hashtags” need to watch their language when they cross the frontiers into France. All three terms were put onto a naughty list by the Académie as part of its crusade to save the French language from the continual battering it gets from “Franglais”.

In the latest 2022 salvo functionaires working for the government along with teachers were told to favour French terms like “Jeu video de compétition” instead of “eSport” and “joueur-animateur en direct” in place of the clearly too short and vulgar word “streamer.”

Amin Maalouf, 74, a Franco-Lebanese writer, was elected Secrétaire perpétuel (perpetual secretary) on September 28.

He succeeds Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, the first woman to hold the position, who died on August 5 aged 94.

He is the 32nd to hold the position at the institution founded in 1635 by the philosopher and writer Richelieu in an effort to promote and unify the French language..

Read more: First chairwoman of top language body Académie française dies at 94

Read more: Meet Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, the guardian of the French language

He became a member of the Académie française on June 23, 2011 in replacement of Claude Levy-Strauss, the father of structuralism, and was considered the favourite against Jean-Christophe Rufin, the only other candidate.

The Académie is composed of 40 people only with new members elected after members die. They are commonly referred to as ‘Les immortels’

And do not think all of its work is negative. The Académie is not afraid to voice its strong opinions on subjects as delicate as the language of love.

One of its latest pronouncements concerns the word Amour.

“Love (in the sense of passionate feeling; carnal passion) is often feminine in the plural,” the Académie explains.

“We encounter it either in popular usage (songs, etc.) or in a rather rarefied literary language,” it continues.

“Apart from these senses, love is almost always masculine, in the singular as well as the plural; it always is when it designates representations of the love of God,” explains the Académie.

Mr Maalouf is a respected writer and notable figure within the French writing community, having been awarded several prizes including the Goncourt in 193 for Le Rocher de Tanios (The Rock of Tanios.) He is, however, a figure enjoying mild notoriety on the mainstream stage.

He is the uncle of famous trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, who was interviewed by The Connexion last August.

The role of perpetual secretary

Ms Carrère d’Encausse defined the role of the perpetual secretary when The Connexion interviewed for our July edition at her Paris flat overlooking the Louvre, an answer giving light to Mr Maalouf's next responsibilities.

“The perpetual secretary runs the books. There is nothing chic about it, but it matters a lot to me. There is no president, only a committee that changes every three months,” she said.

The perpetual secretary is also responsible for the ‘good usage’ of French in France and throughout the many countries where it is spoken.

The institution just released its ninth edition over its 400 years of existence, a considerable book reuniting more than 55,000 words or 23,000 more than in its eighth edition.

“Thanks to the Académie française, people can see how words and their definitions have evolved. Marriage is no longer ‘the union of a man and a woman’, but ‘the union of two people’, these sorts of things…,” said Ms Carrère d’Encausse.

Tribute to Ms Carrère d’Encausse

Mr Maalouf started his career as a journalist in the 70s by covering battles and wars, mainly the last battle of Saigon in 1975 or the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974.

He migrated to France after the war broke out in Lebanon where he joined Jeune Afrique newspaper and became a prolific writer from the 80s.

The Académie française held tribute to Ms Carrère d’Encausse the very same day Mr Maalouf was elected.

“There has been only one perpetual secretary for three and a half centuries. It is this idea of a continuity that must remain. It is a lineage that keeps on pursuing,” Sir Michael Edwards said in his farewell speech, quoting her.

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