The Académie française (French Academy) is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie, limited to forty members, has the task of acting as an official authority on the language, even though it has no enforcement power and its rulings are advisory. The Académie française is one of the five académies of the Institut de France.
In 1570, King Charles IX granted the charter of an "academy of Music and Poetry" to the poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf and a musician named Gourville, who named it the Académie française. The Académie functioned informally until February 10, 1635, when Armand-Jean Cardinal Richelieu, a minister of Louis XIII, obtained letters patent from his King formalising it into a national academy for the literati, and limiting the number of its members. In anticipation of the formal creation of the body, several members were appointed in 1634.
The role of "protector" of the Académie was originally fulfilled by Richelieu, and after his death by Pierre Séguier, the Chancellor of France. When Séguier died in 1672, the role passed to King Louis XIV. Thereafter, the French head of state always served as the protector.
The Académie is the French official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language, although its recommendations carry no legal power and are sometimes disregarded even by governmental authorities. It also encourages the use of French worldwide and awards literary prizes.
The Académie is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the French language . It has done so in 1694, 1718, 1740, 1762, 1798, 1835, 1878, and in 1932-1935. The Académie continues work on the most recent (ninth) edition of the dictionary, of which the first volume (A to Enzyme) appeared in 1992, and the second volume (Éocène to Mappemonde) appeared in 2000.
As French culture and language have come under increasing pressure with the widespread availability of English media, the Académie has tried to prevent the anglicisation of the French language. It is as a direct result of a decision of the Académie that the French word for "computer" is "ordinateur" and that the field of study dealing with computers is known as "informatique" (informatics), from the contraction of information and automatique. This latter term has then been adapted into a number of languages, including German and Spanish; it is also occasionally used in English, since it seems less oriented towards hardware issues than "computer science".
The Académie has forty seats, and all members are elected to a specific seat for life. They are known as the immortels (immortals) because of the device, À l'immortalité appearing on the seal granted to the Académie by Cardinal Richelieu. Famous current and former immortels include author Victor Hugo, author and director Marcel Pagnol, poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, playwright Eugène Ionesco, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and physicist Louis-Victor de Broglie.
Members are elected by their counterparts (the first forty members were all appointed). An individual may become a candidate by sending a letter to the Permanent Secretary, who is him or herself a member of the Académie. A candidate is elected if one receives the votes of a majority of members voting; the quorum for the election is twenty members. The election is valid only if the protector of the Académie, the President of France, grants his approbation.
The new member must deliver a speech to the Académie thanking them for the election and eulogising the member being replaced. Eight days thereafter, the new member is formally installed. Though the term of the members is for life, academicians may be "excluded." The first exclusion was in 1638, when Auger de Moléon de Granier was removed after having committed theft. The next was in 1685, when Antoine Furetière was removed after a bitter quarrel relating to the publication of the Académie's dictionary. Thereafter, several members were excluded during reorganisations of the Académie in 1803 and again in 1816. The last removal was in 1945, when Charles Maurras' seat was "declared vacant" (he was, however, not "excluded"). Maurras had supported the Vichy regime.
Members wear the habit vert (green habit) at the Académie's ceremonies. The habit includes a black jacket and bicorne hat, each embroidered in green. Furthermore, the members—with the exception of women and clergymen—receive a sword.
Listed by seat
- René Rémond , elected 1998
- Hector Bianciotti , elected 1996
- Jean-Denis Bredin , elected 1989
- Jean-Marie Lustiger, elected 1995
- Marc Fumaroli , elected 1995
- Jacqueline Worms de Romilly , elected 1988
- Michel Déon , elected 1978
- Alain Decaux , elected 1979
- Florence Delay , elected 2000
- Gabriel de Broglie , elected 2001
- Jean d'Ormesson, elected 1973
- Pierre Messmer, elected 1999
- Hélène Carrère d'Encausse , elected 1990 (Permanent Secretary of the Académie)
- Frédéric Vitoux , elected 2001
- Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, elected 2003
- Érik Orsenna , elected 1998
- Michel Serres, elected 1990
- Pierre Moinot , elected 1982
- Angelo Rinaldi , elected 2001
- Félicien Marceau , elected 1975
- René de Obaldia , elected 1999
- Pierre Rosenberg , elected 1995
- Jean-François Revel , elected 1997
- Jean Bernard , elected 1975
- Jean-Marie Rouart , elected 1997
- Pierre Nora , elected 2001
- Henri Troyat , elected 1959 (Dean of the Académie)
- Claude Lévi-Strauss, elected 1973
- Maurice Druon, elected 1966
- Jean Dutourd , elected 1978
- Alain Robbe-Grillet, elected 2004
- Michel Mohrt , elected 1985
- François Cheng, elected 2002
- Yves Pouliquen , elected 2001
- Jean-François Deniau , elected 1992
- François Jacob, elected 1996
- Bertrand Poirot-Delpech , elected 1986
- Pierre-Jean Rémy , elected 1988