From the Corruption of French to the Cultural Distinctiveness of German: The Controversy over Prémontval’s Préservatif (1759)

Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (2007:06):265-290 (2007)
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In July 1759 the French philosopher Andre´ Pierre Le Guay de Prémontval (1716-1764) published in Berlin a diatribe against the excessive and incorrect use of French in the Prussian capital. Far from being a mere guide to linguistic style, the Préservatif contre la corruption de la langue françoise generated a heated debate, attested by an official threat to ban its publication. The personal animosity between Prémontval and the perpetual secretary of the Berlin Academy, Jean Henri Samuel Formey (1711-1797) was amply demonstrated over the pages of the Préservatif, offering a rare insight into the complex web of social and intellectual tensions in mid eighteenth-century Berlin and its Academy of Sciences. At stake were the social status and the philosophical outlook of local Huguenots, compared to that of French philosophers who were granted asylum in Prussia by Frederick II. The debate also concerned the issues of academic freedom in an absolutist regime, the material production and distribution of texts, conduct and etiquette in the Republic of Letters and the formation of group identities in eighteenth-century Germany. Drawing on manuscripts preserved in Berlin, Göttingen and Krakow, this article traces the development of the controversy and the reception of Prémontval’s work by both French- and German- writing authors at the Berlin Academy and beyond its confines.



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Avi Lifschitz
University College London

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