The senate has voted in favour of a proposed law banning gender-inclusive language from official communications in France.
The law will now be subject to a vote by MPs although no date has been announced for this as yet.
President Macron recently spoke out against adapting the French language under the weight of cultural pressure, saying France “must not give in to trends”.
The law, proposed by rightwing (Les Républicains) senator Pascale Gruny (Aisne), seeks to ban the use of such language “whenever the legislation (or regulatory bodies) require a text to be written in French''.
The ban will extend to documents in the workplace, advertising and contracts.
The language in question includes:
- iel used for both il and elle - or he and she
- celleux, used for both celles and ceux - or those
- The use of the suffix .e at the end of words. For example “président.e.s”, to refer at once to both male and female presidents.
The proposed law describes such uses as “typological and editorial practices aiming to substitute the use of the masculine form, despite it being used in a generic way, in order to highlight the existence of a feminine form.”
It remains unclear exactly how this law would work.
Senators disagreed whether the use of combined masculine and feminine forms such as né(e) le (born on), constitutes gender-inclusive language.
Similarly, they disagreed whether this law obliges people to use awkward double mentions such as français, française or sénateurs, sénatrices when referring to a mixed group.
A debate along political divisions
The Senate passed the proposed ban of gender-inclusive language on Monday (October 30) with 221 votes against 82, with many left-wing senators voting against it.
“Right-wing senators are imposing their retrograde and reactionary whims on us,” argued socialist senator Yan Chantrel, adding that “attempts to freeze the language will lead to its death.”
Ecologist senator Mathilde Ollivier also spoke against it.
“When we talk about inclusive language, we really mean a pathway to equality between women and men,” she said.
On X (formerly Twitter) Marine Le Pen of the far-right Rassemblement national supported the ban, arguing that the French language was a treasure that “must be protected against wokeism, of which inclusive language is another sinister and grotesque manifestation.”
Minister of Culture Rima Abdul-Malak called the ban “excessive”.
“The role of the state should not be to police language but to ensure peoples’ equality within it,” she said.
Speaking in Aisne at the inauguration of the Cité internationale de la langue française, a centre devoted to promoting French language and culture, President Macron said: “In our language, masculine acts as neutral.
“We must adhere to the foundations of its grammar, the strength of its syntax. We do not need to add dots in the middle of words or use hyphens or other things to make it understandable.”
‘An obstacle to comprehension’
While many of the arguments in favour of a ban have focussed on the preservation of the French language, the authors of the law were more concerned with the intelligibility of gender-inclusive language, which they called “an obstacle to comprehension and ease of reading.“
The Académie française had previously argued this point in an open letter discouraging the use of such language in 2021.
“Inclusive language is against the democratic nature of language,” wrote the then Perpetual Secretary Hélène Carrère d’Encausse.
“Asides from the fact that it does not correspond to the spoken language, it essentially imposes a second language, the complexity of which penalises people with cognitive disabilities, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or apraxia.
“Ultimately, this attempt to make things fairer simply reinforces inequality.”