Medieval French art was largely consisted of art that centered on the religious. This includes churches, abbeys, and monastic art such as writing styles and decorative drawings on the pages of manuscripts. One of the most interesting of these is the development of a standard form of writing which allowed texts to become legible, thus more easily transferring knowledge from one scholar to another. The standardization of writing forms is a precursor to the standardization of spelling which would occur much later in French history.
Around early 800 A.D., Charlemagne hired Alcuin of York to be in charge of running the school at the palace. The difficulties in comprehending the different written forms of text caused Alcuin to create Carolingian minuscule, a standardized form of writing that allowed scholars to learn to read more easily. As discussed in class, previous forms of writing had lacked both spacing and punctuation and contained no set way to form specific letters. Writing also contained several forms of shorthand that scholars would have needed to learn in order to decipher the meaning of the texts they were to memorize.
A standardization of writing form preceded the standardization of spelling by around 800 years. It is possible that spelling did not need to be standardized because only the elite were able to read, and with no widespread literacy there was no concern for how words were spelled. However in 1635, l’Académie française was formed by the cardinal Richelieu under Louis XIII. (Note that the printing press was not invented until 1440 and by 1500 millions of copies of literature were dispersed throughout Europe.) The mission of the Academy was, and still is, to assign rules to the French language so that everyone can comprehend that which they read.
France is still at work standardizing the French language and spelling, and thus allowing French literature to continue to be comprehensible to all. Today, French orthographe is threatened by new spellings associated with new technology as well as slang used by young French people. These spellings are seen as risks because they could once again render the French written language as incomprehensible. The recurrent theme of the standardization of French writing both in form and in spelling is a reminder of the everlasting link between the past and the present. It is a continual journey that allows us to grasp the meaning of the art of today and of yesterday.