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28 Sep 2023

“The Immortals” have spoken: the Académie Française, custodian of the French language, has elected a new leader. The Académie Française, France’s prestigious custodian and promoter of the French language, has a new leader in the form of French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf. Amin Maalouf was previously a TAKRREM Foundation board member. The writer, 74, becomes only the 33rd person to occupy the post of “perpetual secretary” since the body’s founding under King Louis XIII in 1635. Maalouf takes over from Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, who died last month having held the post since 1999, becoming the first woman to do so. She did not nominate a successor, but Maalouf, who won France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, in 1993 for “Le Rocher de Tanios” (“The Rock of Tanios”), was considered the obvious choice due to his highly active engagement in the 388-year-old institution since being elected in 2011. The academy is charged with setting the rules of the language to ensure it remains “pure, eloquent and capable of dealing with the arts and sciences”. Lately, the language watchdog has often gained notice when taking a stance against the entry of English words into French usage. Last year it railed against the common practice of using English-sounding terms in French ads and branding, or simple imports from English like “big data” and “drive-in”. There are currently 35 members of the Academy – known as “Immortals” in reference to their motto “A l’immortalite” (“To immortality”). Past members include such luminaries as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Victor Hugo. One of Maalouf’s priorities will be to complete its ninth dictionary, which the academy has been working on since 1986, and is reportedly close to completion. After studying economics and sociology, Maalouf worked as a journalist covering international news, from the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974 to the Vietnam War in 1975. Civil war broke out in Lebanon shortly afterwards, and he went into exile in France in 1976, where he worked as a journalist before turning to writing in 1984. As well as “The Rock of Tanios”, his novels include “Leo Africanus” and “Samarkand”. Among his best known non-fiction is “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes”. In Lebanon, several political figures praised his election. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati congratulated Maalouf in comments relayed by the state-run National News Agency. “I, like all other Lebanese people in Lebanon, France, and around the world, received the news of your election as the Secretary-General of the French Academy with great pride,” said Mikati. “Your diverse cultural background and profound human experiences, which have enriched your writings and your role in promoting the French language and the values it carries, have contributed to your well-deserved position among the elite.”

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