Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Dictionary Wars in Old Regime France: The Energy of Antoine Furetière


Modern Languages & Literatures Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


My paper focuses on the polemic between the Académie française and a renegade Academician, Antoine Furetière. To cleanse the language of the filth it had acquired was the remit of the French Academy, created in 1635 by Richelieu, minister to Louis XIII. To this end, the royal body would police literature and author the official dictionary of the French language. The Academy sought to record only le bon usage, or proper usage, defined by Vaugelas as the speech of the soundest part of the court, in conformity with the writing of the soundest authors of the age. One Academician parted company with his colleagues on what constituted good French and who spoke it; Antoine Furetière undertook to prove that he could produce a better dictionary by himself. In sociolinguistic terms, the French Academy embodied the selection of norms and their codification, whereas Furetière embraced elaboration of linguistic function. Whatever name we give his more inclusive philosophy of language, Furetière found himself expelled from the Academy, his Dictionnaire universel suppressed in the name of the Académies exclusive privilège over the genre. In the ensuing polemic, Furetière appealed directly to the public, pleading his case for a less elitist and more pragmatic conception of language and for official tolerance of competing books. In my paper I go so far as to argue for consideration of the Querelle des dictionnaires, as the affair was called, as a harbinger of the French Enlightenment.

Conference Name

2014 South Central Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Annual Meeting

Conference Location

Galveston, TX

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