Best of Blog: Who owns Le Petit Prince?

While the blog is on its summer holidays, here are a selection of the best posts from the past couple of years. We’ll be back on the first Wednesday in September with another question on an A-level text: ‘Just how clever is Lou from No et Moi?’

50 francs St Ex

posted by Catriona Seth

It is one of the best-loved tales in the world, translated into more than 270 languages, and with over 150 million copies sold. First published in 1943, Le Petit Prince has been turned into musicals, films and pop-up books, spawned T-shirts, mugs, dolls and pencil-cases… Its hero figures, with pictures of a plane, a map and the writer, on the last 50 franc note issued by France before it joined the euro.

The book’s author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, was a pilot with the French Air Force (the ‘Armée de l’Air’) during his military service. He continued to fly on his return to civilian life, and worked for companies delivering mail from Toulouse to Dakar in Senegal and then within South America. He drew on his experience with the ‘Aéropostale’ in novels like Courrier Sud (1929—Southern Mail) and Vol de Nuit (1931—Night Flight)—and indeed in Le Petit Prince with its aviator-narrator who is alone in the desert. He was in the ‘Armée de l’Air’ at the start of the second world war—Pilote de Guerre (1942—Flight to Arras) is based on his memories of the period during which he earned the ‘Croix de Guerre’, a war service medal for his bravery in landing a damaged aircraft. He joined the resistance. After spending time in North America, he returned to France, via Algeria, Morocco and Sardinia, and became part of a unit charged with photographic missions to prepare detailed maps for the allied landings in the South of France (the ‘débarquement de Provence’). His unarmed plane, in which he was flying alone, went down just off Marseilles on July 31st 1944. Though the wreckage was located and brought up to the surface at the beginning of this century, no-one knows, even now, whether it was an accident or whether the aeroplane was shot down.

Vol de Nuit

The question of who owns intellectual property (texts, tunes etc.) was raised seriously just before the French Revolution by Beaumarchais, who is most famous nowadays for two plays: his 1775 Barbier de Séville and his 1784 Mariage de Figaro, the basis for Rossini and Mozart’s operas. The Revolutionary government sought to protect the rights of creators. There were discussions over the decades about the duration of exclusive ownership and what happened after an author’s death. The law has changed over the centuries. The French distinguish two types of ‘droits d’auteur’ or authors’ rights. The ‘droit moral’ or ‘moral right’, for instance, for Saint-Exupery to be considered the author of his books, for all eternity; the ‘droit patrimonial’ of his descendants to receive revenue generated by his works for a set number of years according to legal dispositions.

In much of the world, currently, heirs to a dead author enjoy rights associated with his or her works for 50 years, after which the writings are considered to be in the public domain. In the European Union, the term is 70 years, as a result of legal harmonisation agreed upon in 1993 but only applied in France since 1997. As Saint-Exupery died in 1944, his works should have become freely available on January 1st 2015—though they were already considered to be in the public domain in countries like India or Morocco which are not as generous in their protection of literary property rights as European law. In the U.K. or Ireland for instance, Le Petit Prince, like Vol de Nuit or Courrier Sud, has indeed been out of copyright for over a year. The same does not hold true for France. Before the EU came to an agreement regarding the time during which works would be protected, France applied a duration of 50 years post mortem but also had a special clause for those who had lived through one or other of the world wars (or both): the war years were deemed to count twice, so for ‘Saint-Ex’ as he is affectionately known, you need to add 8 years and 120 days to the 50 years everyone was granted. In addition, as Saint-Exupery was engaged in active service, he is deemed (like Apollinaire in 1918) to have died for his country—‘mort pour la France’ is the official designation—which means a 30 year gratification is granted. Result: (50+8+30) years+120 days, added to 1944, means that, as there is no retroactive application of the 70 year rule, Saint-Exupery’s texts will only come into the ‘domaine public’ in France in… April 2033.

50 francs St Ex revers (1)

Here is a brief news film (some of which is in English) about a recent adaptation of Le Petit Prince carried out with ‘la bénédiction’ (the blessing) of the Saint-Exupery family. A short series of questions follows. You may need to listen to the French voiceover two or three times before you can answer them. Answers are given first in French, then in English.


De quelle nationalité est Mark Osborne ?

Où se diffuse et se diffusera le film d’animation tiré du Petit Prince ?

Pourquoi Osborne avait-il d’abord refusé de travailler sur Le Petit Prince ?

Pourquoi est-il difficile d’adapter une œuvre comme Le Petit Prince ?

Quand le DVD du Petit Prince sortira-t-il en France ?


Mark Osborne est américain.

Le film est à l’affiche au Chili et en Colombie. Il sera bientôt diffusé au Mexique.

Osborne avait refusé de travailler sur Le Petit Prince car il pensait qu’il serait difficile de rester fidèle à l’histoire

Il est difficile d’adapter une œuvre comme Le Petit Prince car chacun s’en fait une interprétation personnelle.

Le DVD sortira en France le 2 décembre.


Mark Osborne is American.

The film is being projected in Chili and Colombia. It will soon be shown in Mexico.

Osborne initially refused to work on Le Petit Prince because he thought it would be hard to remain true to the story.

It is difficult to adapt a work like Le Petit Prince because everyone has their own personal interpretation.

The DVD will be available in France from December 2nd.

Quelques petites remarques. Un film est à l’affiche quand il est donné dans les cinémas (qu’on appelle parfois aussi les salles obscures) : les affiches devant les cinémas indiquent ce qui se joue à ce moment-là.

Le film sera diffusé à partir du 2 décembre prochain indique que le clip d’animation a probablement été réalisé peu avant le mois de décembre. Il y a donc un effet d’annonce.

Spot the Grammatical Error! (Kids’ Books Edition)

posted  by Simon Kemp

It’s quiz time again, and once again, there’s an opportunity to feel smug and superior by spotting mistakes made by French native speakers. Last time, we were hunting out grammatical errors that unfortunate French folk had decided to tattoo on their bodies for all eternity. This time is if anything even worse. The mistakes are in picture books aimed at teaching very young French children how to read.

Below are pages from five picture books, with one mistake in each image. Can you find them all? Answers at the bottom of the post.

(Hint: as is common when native speakers make mistakes, all the errors sound OK when you read them out loud, but are written wrongly on the page, rather like English speakers confusing their, there and they’re.)








Scroll down for answers…






  1. Should be ‘ils tendent le cou (‘they stretch their necks out’).
  2. Should be ‘qu’il fasse moins chaud’ (‘until it gets cooler’).
  3. Should be ‘rassemble’ (‘gathers’).
  4. Should be ‘s’écrie’ (‘shouts out’). ‘S’écrit’ means ‘writes to himself’.
  5. Should be ‘histoires’ (stories).

Images borrowed from the French website Bescherelle ta mère (note: contains adult language!).

Starting from Scratch

These days, most languages that you might want to study at university can be started from scratch. Oxford offers beginners’ courses in all our languages apart from French and Spanish, which means you can pick up any one of the following that takes your interest:








Plus, within each of our language courses are options to explore further related languages, including Bulgarian, Croatian, Ukranian, Catalan, Galician, Yiddish, Occitan.

And as well as the Modern Languages Faculty, two other Oxford faculties teach languages, several of which are available to combine with ours in a two-language degree.

The Oriental Studies Faculty offers Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew or Turkish (last four available in a combined course with modern languages).

And the Classics Faculty offers Latin and Ancient Greek (both available in a combined course with modern languages).

So if you’re at all curious about trying something new, there’s lot’s to choose from.

Around the time that Oxford opened its Beginners’ German course, the Guardian newspaper published a story exploring beginners’ languages in UK universities. Here’s an extract:

Though it’s difficult to detect in admissions statistics, university language courses are changing, with more opportunities for students to study a language from scratch. Ab initio courses, as they are termed, once the preserve of Russian, Chinese and Arabic, are now being extended to include more familiar languages: Spanish, sometimes French and especially German. In some universities, such courses are long established, but others are making new forays: Oxford offered beginners’ German for the first time this year (available in joint honours to students with an A-level in another language); King’s College London, went further and this year offered German from scratch with a range of subjects. Manchester has introduced French from scratch – plus the chance to add a language as a minor degree subject.

For Lauren Valentine, 19, completing the first year of a single honours French degree at Manchester, the university’s new “flexible honours” programme has allowed her to fulfil her dream of learning Spanish, foiled when her school split her year into two random language groups and she ended up with French. “I was always embarrassed on family holidays when all I could say was una cola lite,” she says. “I couldn’t do Spanish at sixth-form college either, and I didn’t have the confidence to apply for joint honours with Spanish ab inito because I thought it wouldn’t ever be as good as my French.

“We did a lot of intensive grammar in the first year, and I feel that my Spanish is now above A-level standard, though the vocab will take more time to bed in. The course has given me even more than I’d hoped, and I now want to go into translation or interpreting.”

The new Manchester programme, introduced this year and allowing students to take a “minor” in a range of subjects including languages, is designed to catch students who might not have considered languages, or perhaps lacked the confidence to apply to study them at degree level. While the university still demands at least one good language A-level for traditional joint honours language courses, the minor courses require no prior language experience. This year, 30 out of 53 students taking a minor chose a language, and the vast majority plan to carry on – with a few even switching to full joint honours.

The scheme allows students to “dip their toe in the subject” for a year without risk, says assistant undergraduate director, Joseph McGonagle, and if they do continue they can get a language on their degree certificate. “The feedback is brilliant – they are grabbing it with both hands.” The hope is to double the numbers this September, he says. “This is about rebuilding from a low base – or a different base. We can’t let the popularity of school languages decline and not address that at university level.”

[…] At Oxford, ab initio German introduced this year has proved popular, and nine students are signed up for September (compared with 70 who have German A-level). Beginner students are taught very intensively and therefore their numbers will, for now, be capped at 16, says Katrin Kohl, professor of German literature.

The new course, Kohl notes, has attracted students drawn to German in diverse ways: perhaps through an interest in the economy, through family connections, or after reading something influential.

Jocelyn Wyburd, chair of the university council of modern languages and director of the language centre at Cambridge, sees the expansion of ab initio as “universities grappling with a pipeline problem” – a “woeful” 48% of the GCSE cohort last year took at least one language.

A strong fight back by language departments, mainly through the Routes into Languages campaign, plus government initiatives, may ultimately see a turnround in language take-up in the UK. But for now, Wyburd says, universities are “reinventing their rules. Each department is devising its own pathways and constantly reviewing what are the non-negotiables.”

Can ab initio rescue languages? “It can. Will it? I don’t know – I’d love it to. But it’s not a panacea.”

“Tiens la porte, Tinlaporre!”, Part Two


posted by Simon Kemp

Last week, I left you with the problem faced by the French dubbers of Game of Thrones, who needed to find a phrase that meant something a bit like ‘hold the door’ and sounded something a bit like ‘Hodor’. So what did they come up with?

From ‘Odorr, it’s only a small step to au-dehors, the formal French expression for ‘outside’, which is pronounced almost the same way.

So in French, Meera yells, ‘Qu’ils n’aillent pas au-dehors!’, which becomes ‘pas au-dehors’, which becomes ‘au-dehors’ and then ‘Hodor’.

If you’re not familiar with the grammatical construction: que + subjunctive can be used in French as a kind of third-person imperative. So, just like you can say Go! in the second person – Va! or Allez! and Let’s go! in the first-person plural – Allons! – you can use this construction to say Have him go! or Let him go!: Qu’il aille !

Or Let them go (outside)!: Qu’ils aillent (au-dehors)!

Or Don’t let them go outside!: Qu’ils n’aillent pas au-dehors!

It’s maybe not the most natural way to say it. Qu’ils ne sortent pas! would be a more obvious thing for Meera to say in the circumstances, and even with the way she does say it, just ‘dehors’ would be more usual than ‘au-dehors’.

Qu’ils n’aillent pas au-dehors! is a bit formal and old-fashioned, perhaps more what you’d expect someone to tell their cat-sitter about their long-haired pedigree Persians than what you’d naturally scream out as you ran from ravening undead hordes. But given the quasi-medieval setting of Game of Thrones and the slightly formal, archaic language the characters often use, it actually works very well in the context.

Here’s a short article in French on the Hodor dubbers’ dilemma, if you’re interested to find out a bit more.

And here’s a list of how other brave dubbers and subtitlers around the world tackled the problem, from ‘Halt das Tor!’ (not too bad, Germany) to ‘¡Aguanta el portón!’ (Hmmm, Spain, not so sure about that one…)


PS. The same grammatical construction appears in the most famous French quotation that nobody ever actually said. Marie Antoinette’s notorious ‘Let them eat cake!’ is, in the original French, ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!’