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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Scipion Dupleix on how to pronounce "OI"

Pour mes lecteurs français:

Maintes fois, au cours de l'été 2008, j'ai entendu sur France Musiques et France Culture, l'expression la "Musique Françoise," prononcée comme le prénom féminine. J'ai déjà pesté sur ce site ­ et à plusieurs reprises ­ contre l'emploi de cette prononciation faussement "authentique" pour des chansons, des opéras et des pièces de théâtre créées au cours de la seconde moitié du XVIIe siècle. Or, cet été-ci j'ai trouvé encore une source des plus fiables et qui montre sans ambiguité que seul avocat, un parlementaire, voire un jeune clerc appartenant à la basoche, dirait "françoise" au lieu de "française" ­ un prononciation désuète dont se moquaient les nobles à la cour de Louis XIV.

Je résume ci-dessous cette source, avec des commentaires en anglais. Les lecteurs qui se sentent plus à leur aise devant un texte en français, peuvent télécharger chez les pages où cette source parle du dipthongue OI: Scipion Dupleix, Liberté de la langue françoise dans sa pureté (Paris, 1651), pp. 367-372.

And for my English readers:

Over and over, during the summer of 2008, I heard broadcasters on France Musiques and France Culture talk about la Musique Françoise, "French music." They pronounced Françoise like the woman's name. Several times on this site I have railed against people who use this pronunciation (The pronunciation of "OI", and la "Musique Françoise") for songs, operas and plays written during the second half of the seventeenth century. Now, not only does this trumpery continue in the performance world, but radio journalists as well are jumping on the bandwagon and being fooled just like the townspeople who admired the Emperor's new clothes. During the summer of 2008 I found yet another extremely reliable source that tells us that only a barrister, a member of the parlement, or clerks working in the Parisian law courts (known as the basoche), would actually pronounce Françoise the way one sometimes hears it these days.

I will summarize the source here, referring readers for the original French to, Scipion Dupleix, Liberté de la langue françoise dans sa pureté (Paris, 1651), pp. 367-372. Those pages are entitled "Quand la dypthongue OI doit estre prononcée comme elle est escrite, ou bien en AI."

Scipion Dupleix was educated in the South West as a lawyer. He became a magistrate and, having moved to Paris, served at the royal court. With one foot in the world of the Parisian barristers and their clerks, la basoche, and the other in the world of the great nobles, Dupleix was struck by how differently each group pronounced French. He was especially struck by how the dipthongue OI was pronounced. (His statements corroborate virtually every statement I cited in my earlier Musing on the pronunciation of "OI" in seventeenth-century France.

He draws a clear distinction between how OI is pronounced at the royal Court, and how it is pronounced in "le Palais," that is, among Parisian jurists and law clerks (p. 367). At Court "on prononce beaucoup de mots escrits avec la dyphthongue oi comme s'ils estoient escrits avec le dypthongue ai." This is the ideal pronunciation, he asserts, because it is "incomparablement plus douce & plus delicat. A mon gré, c'est une des beautés de nostre langue à l'ouïr parler que la prononciation d'ai pour oi."

In short, the courtly pronunciation of OI was "sweet" and "delicate"; it was "one of the beauties" of French speech. The sixteenth-century pronunciation used by Parisian barristers stood in stark contrast to this refined pronunciation. Indeed, the legal personnel working at the Palais on the Ile-de-la-Cité adhered to a pronunciation that proclaimed their separateness from other elites, just as their robes proclaimed their separateness. They pronounced every occurrence of this dipthongue "à pleine bouche," just as it was written: presumably "wa" ou "ouwa," or perhaps "oe" (that is, "ouê"?) as Foigny would suggest in 1675 (for Foigny's comments, see my Musing, "OI").

Dupleix provides several pages of rules that show very clearly that, by 1651, at the Court of young Louis XIV the great nobles pronounced the dipthongue OI in two very different ways. Sometimes they pronounced it as if it were actually written ai, as it finally began to be in the nineteenth century. [See the spelling of the Abbess of Montmartre, who in the 1680s was actually writing ai! See More on "oi" and how it was pronounced by non-rustics, circa 1680] But sometimes ­ in words that today are written with oi ­ the nobility pronounced oi more or less as we do today: "oua" or "ouwa" or perhaps closer to "ouê."

How foolish and faddish, in the face of Dupleix's emphatic assertion about mid-seventeenth-century aesthetics, to encourage singers and actors to use the pronunciation the basoche when they perform vocal music and theatrical works at the Court of Louis XIV ­ a category that would include Parisian theaters, the opera house in Paris, and the musical events sponsored by the great nobles of the capital! Actors playing peasants or domestics, yes; and perhaps actors playing barristers or notaries; but certainly not actors playing nobles or gentry.

Now, to Dupleix's rules for words written with the dipthongue OI. I have hig" highlighted in red the pronunciations that diverge from those of modern French. (I have semi-modernized some spellings, preferring "connoistre" over Dupleix's "cognoistre," for example.) Some of these highlighted pronunciations are quite astonishing. Interestingly enough, these truly authentic "sweet, delicate and beautiful" pronunciations are not to be found in the purportedly historical pronunciations that diverge so far from accepted pronunciation at the court of Louis XIV.


"All monosyllables" should be pronounced oi, not ai, as in: moins, néantmoins, loy, bois, dois, toy, moy, soy, quoy, "and all the other many monosyllables with oi in them."

In the seventeenth century there were, however, a few exceptions that surprise our twenty-first-century ears but that were renfinements preferred by the court:

froid = fraid; crois = crais; droit = drait; soit = sait; soient = sayent ­ except, that is, when onr says soit to approve something, when one prononces the oi as written. The same is true for soit when it is used to express "either ... or," as in soit que or soit ... soit.

words that end in -oir:

mouchoir, parloir, recevoir, mouvoir, etc.: the dipthongue is always pronounced oi, and never ai.

verbs in the present tense:

The three singular forms of verbs in the present tense are always pronounced oi, never ai: conçois, reçois, apperçois, and never conçais, reçais, apperçais.

syllables other than the final syllable:

Sometimes one says oi and sometimes ai. For example, one says boire, mémoire, gloire, foire, etc., not baire, mémaire, glaire, faire, which would be ridiculous.

But for croire, accroire, croyance, etc. [including croistre, accroistre, connoistre paroistre], one says craire, accraire, créance, craistre, accraistre, connaistre, paraistre, etc. In addition, a few people insist on saying "véage" for voyage, and "réaume" for royaume, neither of which should be tolerated.

a convenient general rule:

Wherever oi does not come at the end of a word, it is pronounced as written, not as ai. Thus, one should pronounce avoine as written and as the entire Court pronounces it ­ "avoine" ­ and not "aveine," as "all of Paris" does.

imperfect-tense verbs:

Verb endings (such as je faisois, j'allois, ils alloient) are pronounced as if written ai: je faisais, tu faisais, il faisait, ils faisaient; j'allais, tu allais, il allait, ils allaient. There is no exception to this rule, asserts Dupleix.

present-tense singular verbs:

je connais, tu connais, il connait ­ but this group is very small, because it does not include the verbs that are really monosyllables to which a prefix has been added, for example, je prévois, je revois, j'entrevois, etc., where the dipthongue is pronounced oi.

names of inhabitants of nations, provinces, and cities:

Français, Anglais, Hollandais, Milanais, Polonais, etc, not François, Anglois, Hollandois, Milanois, etc.

Yet one says Genois, Suedois,and Liégeois, not Genais, Suedais, Liegais.

conditional-tense and subjunctive verbs:

je voudrais, tu voudrais, il voudrait, ils voudraient, etc.

Two pages later, Dupleix re-presents the above information in the form of six rules with slightly different examples:

I. The most certain rule is that there is no absolutely certain way to determine exactly how the dipthongue oi or oy is pronounced in French. Although one writes oi, sometimes this combination of letters is pronounced oi and sometimes ai. That is, some monosyllables are pronounced as written: noir, voir, loy, croix, dois, quoy, toy, moy, soy, mois, foy. Yet one pronounces froid, crois, droit, soit as if they were written fraid, crais, drait, sait [when soit is not part of the expression soit que, or soit... soit].

II. One says craire, accraire, creance, craistre, accraistre, connaistre, paraistre instead of croire, accroire, croyance, croire, cognoistre, paroistre, but one must say oi in mémoire, gloire, foire, noire.

III. One says Rayne or Reyne for Royne; but one says Roy, Royauté, Royaume, Loyauté, not Ray, Rayauté, Rayaume, Layauté. And it is preferable to say moins, néantmoins, and avoine, rather than mains, néantmains, avaine.

IV. Words that end in oir, such as mouchoir, promenoir, parloir, vouloir, recevoir, mouvoir, devoir should be pronounced as written, for one never says mouchair, voulair, mouvair, etc.

V. The most common instance of pronouncing oi as ai is in verbs: je connais, tu connais, il connait, not je connois, tu connois, il connoit; and je connaissais, j'aimais, je disais, not je connoissois, j'aimois, je disois, etc. In the future tense of these verbs (whose root contains an oi), one says je connaitrai, je paraitrai, and the same is true for participles ending in -ant: connaissant, paraissant. There are, of course, exceptions, because one says je vois, je revois, je prévois, not je vais, je revais, je prévais.

VI. The dipthongue is pronounced ai in the final syllable of nationalities: Français, Anglais, Hollandais, Milanais, Portugais, Polonais; but one does not say Suedais, Genais, Liégais [for Suedois, Genois, Liégeois.]