The Place of Words: The Academie Francaise and Its Dictionary during an Age of Revolution

ISBN : 9780190644536

Michael P. Fitzsimmons
272 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2017
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The primary responsibility of the Académie Française to compose a dictionary of the French language intersected with major undercurrents of the French Revolution, and its significance continued through the Napoleonic period and into the Restoration. Yet, despite being such a prominent institution under the Old Regime, scholarship on the Académie during these periods remains largely neglected. From its origins in the late seventeenth century, there have been nine editions of the dictionary—of those nine, the fifth edition (published in 1798) is unquestionably the most controversial. When the National Convention commissioned it two years after it had suppressed the Académie, it expected the edition to highlight the ideals of the French Revolution and republic. Instead, the Académie delivered a dictionary comprised of anachronistic values and present-tense definitions of abolished institutions, the Revolution mentioned only in brief in a hastily-prepared supplement consigned to the end of the second volume. For its failure to capture the current state of the French language, most contemporaries judged it harshly, and its deficiencies even led Parisian publisher Nicolas Moutardier to publish a competing edition in 1802. The dictionary became the focus of protracted litigation that Napoleon Bonaparte's government increasingly used to assert its control over language. Indeed, Bonaparte met personally with the Institut National preparing the sixth edition, making clear his desire that it not contain Revolutionary neologisms. Eager to see the new edition appear, the Bonapartist regime committed financial resources and established a timetable for its completion within five years. Bonaparte, however, fell from power before it was completed. The restored Bourbon dynasty, though also eager to see the new edition completed, was less concerned with the control of language, and the sixth edition appeared in 1835, five years after the Bourbon dynasty was overthrown. Drawing on previously unused sources, A Place of Words is the first book-length study of the controversial fifth edition of the Académie Française. Spanning over half a century of changing regimes, the edition provides unique insight into the ways in which each government between the beginning of its preparation after the fourth edition's publication in 1762 and the publication of the sixth edition in 1835 viewed the role of language as an instrument of control.


A Note on Usage and Dates

Part One - The Academie Francaise and its Dictionary under the Old Regime
Chapter 1. The Founding of the Academie Francaise and its Development through the Late Seventeenth Century
Chapter 2. The Academie and its Dictionaries under the Old Regime

Part Two - The Academie Francaise during the French Revolution
Chapter 3. The Academie and its Dictionary from the Beginning of the Revolution until the End of the Monarchy
Chapter 4. An Orphaned Dictionary in Republican France
Chapter 5. The Appearance of the Fifth Edition

Part Three - Who Controls Language?
Chapter 6. The Unexpected Appearance of a New Dictionary
Chapter 7. The Fifth Edition Superseded


About the author: 

Michael P. Fitzsimmons is Professor of History at Auburn University Montgomery. His previous works include From Artisan to Worker: Guilds, the French State, and the Organization of Labor (2010) and The Night the Old Regime Ended: August 4, 1789, and the French Revolution (2003).

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