From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The Hôtel de Rambouillet, the French Academy, and the "Précieuses," are acknowledged to have made French what it is; and in his history of polite society in France, Roederer plainly puts the "Précieuses" on a par with the Academy, and refers the origin of both to the famous Hôtel Rambouillet."--French Women of Letters (1862) by Julia Kavanagh
L'Académie française, or the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte (the Académie considers itself having been suspended, not suppressed, during the revolution). It is the oldest of the five académies of the Institut de France.
The Académie consists of forty members, known as immortels (immortals). New members are elected by the members of the Académie itself. Académicians hold office for life, but they may be removed for misconduct. The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language. Its rulings, however, are only advisory; not binding on either the public or the government.
The Académie's origins lie in an informal group that grew out of the salons held at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, which discussed literature during the late 1620s and early 1630s. Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of France, later took the body under his protection. In anticipation of the formal creation of the body, several members were appointed in 1634. On 22 February 1635, at Richelieu's urging, King Louis XIII granted letters patent formally establishing the body; according to the letters patent registered at the Parlement de Paris on 10 July 1637, the Académie française was "to labor with all the care and diligence possible, to give exact rules to our language, to render it capable of treating the arts and sciences". The Académie française has remained responsible for the regulation of French grammar, spelling, and literature.
Richelieu's model, the first academy devoted to winnowing out the "impurities" of a language, was the Accademia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1582, which formalized the already dominant position of the Tuscan dialect of Florence as the model for Italian; the Florentine academy had published its Vocabolario in 1612.
During the French Revolution, the National Convention suppressed all royal académies, including the Académie française. In 1792, the election of new members to replace those who died was prohibited; in 1793, the académies were themselves abolished. They were all replaced in 1795 by a single body called the Institut de France, or Institute of France. Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul, decided to restore the former académies, but only as "classes" or divisions of the Institut de France. The second class of the Institut was responsible for the French language, and corresponded to the former Académie française. When King Louis XVIII came to the throne in 1816, each class regained the title of "Académie"; accordingly, the second class of the Institut became the Académie française. Since 1816, the existence of the Académie française has been uninterrupted.
The President of France is the "protector" or patron of the Académie. Cardinal Richelieu originally fulfilled this role; upon his death in 1642, Pierre Séguier, the Chancellor of France, succeeded him. King Louis XIV took over the function when Séguier died in 1672; since then, the French head of state has always served as the Académie's protector. From 1672 to 1805, the official meetings of the Académie were held at the Louvre; since 1805, the Académie française has met at the Collège des Quatre Nations (now known as the Palais de l'Institut). The remaining académies of the Institut de France also meet at the Palais de l'Institut.
- List of all members, past and present, of the Académie française
- List of language academies
- Language policy in France
- Office québécois de la langue française
- Montyon Prizes
- Real Academia Española (Spanish: the Spanish Academy; modeled after the French Academy)
- Svenska Akademien (Swedish: the Swedish Academy; modeled after the French Academy; awards the Nobel Prize in Literature)
- Conseil international de la langue française