Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, yesterday announced a small but dramatic change to the way the French write. When using exclamation, question marks and colons, the French have always left a gap between the last word and the punctuation. Sarkozy has decided that this space is wasteful of scarce resources. All French government documents and announcements will cease to use this gap from 2nd May 2010 – following the May Day holiday.
The announcement was made on Sarkozy’s return from Washington after his two day visit this week to Washington that included talks and dinner with President Barack Obama.
Michel Prenneur, an attaché de presse at the Elysée Palace, made the announcement to the press on behalf of the President.
“Sometimes an apparently small change can effect a huge difference to making the way we live more ecologically sustainable and to reduce our carbon footprint.
The French system of writing with frequent gaps between words and punctuation wastes an enormous amount of paper. I am today announcing an end to ‘les espaces d’interrogation et d’exclamation’. From 2nd May 2010 all Government departments will use ungapped punctuation. From the start of the new education year in September 2010 all schools will teach the new system. The French government is in discussion with newspaper groups and publishing companies with a view to them making this change as soon as is practical. I would urge the French people to join us in changing the way we write.
By making this change the French administration – both national and regional – will save an estimated 18 million tonnes of paper annually. Over 10 years this saving will equate to 1000 ha of forest saved from being pulped.
The French government has been in close contact with L'Académie française over this necessary change and I’m very pleased that they have given it their full approval. I was amazed to learn from their president that the French version of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace is 29 pages longer than the Russian and English editions purely because of our special system of punctuation.
Our system of gapped punctuation was introduced during the Directory in early 1796 as it was crucial that new documents could be easily distinguished from those of the Ancien Régime, which did not use gapped punctuation. Over 200 years later it is time to make another change to une écriture plus durable.”
(This is a translation from the text in French issued by the Elysée Palace on 31st March 2010.)