L’Académie française: Terminology and Neology

Academie TerminologyThe French Academy was created in 1634 to allow French grammarians to unify their language by creating the corresponding language rules that would make it pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with the arts and sciences. The first dictionary took more than 50 years to publish from the moment the grammarian Vaugelas was asked to start composing it and the year 1694 when the final version was presented to the king for publication.

The Académie started taking note of the “mots de création nouvelle” (recently created words) from the 7th edition of its Dictionnaire, especially the technical terms. However, it was in 1994 when the French government enacted the law known as “loi Toubon” and a decree in 1996 on the enhancement of the French language, to avoid the use of foreign terms, especially English terms, in the scientific and technical fields.

Since the enactment of the law and the decree, the pertinent authorities have been charged with the task of making an inventory of the lexical gaps in the economic, scientific, technical, legal and other specialized fields, and to promote the French terms created to fill in those gaps. The new terms are published in the Journal officiel (the official gazette) to make their use compulsory in legal and normative texts and all the documentation and correspondence written by public entities.

In the framework of the above initiatives, the Académie has been present in different stages of term creation. For example, it participates in specialized committees in charge of the elaboration of terms, provides input on the morphological correctness of proposed terms, and is a member of the Terminology and Neology General Committee that examines lists of terms sent by specialized commissions and those who need urgent attention.

The 9th edition of the Dictionnaire (published in 1992) incorporates the recommendations on the avoidance of English terms to make the language heterogeneous and ambiguous. For example, terms such as “Random Access Memory” (or “RAM”) became “mémoire vive” and “e-mail” became “courriel”. The Académie also takes care of making sure that definitions reflect the concept with precision, clarity and simplicity.

The creation of official terms takes places in consultation with other French-speaking partners that intervene during the different stages of terminological work, be it at specialized commissions or by examining lists at the General Committee for which a final consultation with Quebec and Canadian partners is requested.

The Académie considers that terminology work not only provides the words to describe the modern world but also takes part in a “living language process” and as such complements the lexicographical work of its Dictionnaire.

Note: Visit WikiLF to propose new terms in French, or FranceTerm to check out the terms recommended by the official gazette (and an excellent terminological tool). Check out my Resources in French for more resources.


Webpage of L’Académie francaise. Terminologie et neologie. Consulted on April 5, 2015

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