Is ‘inclusive’ writing putting French at risk?

Académie Française claims politically correct language puts French in ‘mortal peril’

22 November 2017
By Oliver Rowland

‘Inclusive language’ in a new school textbook has sparked a row, with the Académie Française claiming such innovations are putting French in ‘mortal peril’.

‘Inclusive language’ refers to new ways of writing aimed at making French less biased towards the masculine. Those in favour dislike the fact that, for example, if there is a group of 10 women and only one man, standard French would say: ‘ils sont arrivés’.

The Académie said in a statement it “raises in unanimity a solemn warning” and “a cry of alarm”. Changes would so complicate French that it would put off people around the world from learning it, it added.

This came as Hatier published a book for civic and moral education for primary schools including passages such as: “Grâce aux agriculteur·rice·s, aux artisan·e·s et aux commerçant·e·s, la Gaule était un pays riche”. However a staff member told Connexion this concerned only a few pages, given as examples, and Hatier had followed recommendations from the official advisory body the High Council of Equality between Men and Women.

The issue of French favouring masculine forms has become more prominent in recent years, including whether or not to feminise some job titles – for example la professeure, Mme la ministre or Mme la maire. Advocates say it would be better than keeping the masculine for everyone.

The issue becomes more complex when it comes to past participles and adjectives where traditionally the masculine ‘takes precedence’. A group of 314 teachers signed a piece at web magazine Slate.fr saying they will stop teaching this.

They claim this had only been enforced since the 17th century by writers who used arguments such as: “the masculine is more noble because of the superiority of the male”.
They suggest an older ‘proximity rule’ so that agreement is with the nearest word (les hommes et les femmes sont belles), which Slate says it will use, or using the gender of the majority or a free choice.

Another option is blending masculine and feminine forms to make neutral ones, such as: les hommes et femmes sont content.e.s d’être venu.e.s and using new words such as as iel (a mixture of il and elle).

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