A piece in today’s Times:
A cultural war over an unwieldy gender-inclusive form of French has reached a new level after 60 MPs tabled a law to ban its use in the country’s vast public administration.
Drafted by François Jolivet, an MP from President Macron’s La République En Marche, the bill seeks to halt the creeping adoption of so-called inclusive writing in the public services. The new form was invented in the progressive academic world and has been embraced by left-wing parties and councils.
The practice, which mainly involves adding extra suffixes to words, creates incomprehension, said Jolivet. “The fight for equality is just but the paths that it takes are sometimes disconcerting and pointless. They disrupt and fix nothing,” he said.
Like the impact of “woke” thinking in the English-speaking world, with its safe spaces and stress on inclusion and diversity, strong emotions have been triggered by l’écriture inclusive and its mangling of standard grammar. Édouard Philippe, the last prime minister, ordered ministries never to use it. The Académie Française, guardian of linguistic purity, has said that it puts French “in mortal danger”.
The aim is to rid French, which has the grammatical genders of a Latin language, of the primacy of the masculine over the feminine. When people are involved this means that the masculine plural is applied if a single male is involved in a mixed group. For example, 99 happy women and one man must be referred to as heureux and not heureuses, the feminine plural.
To overcome this, new, unpronounceable mouthfuls are written. Chers étudiants, or “dear students” in the traditional plural, becomes: Cher·s étudiant·e·s. Chers collègues (dear colleagues) becomes Cher·e·s collègues.
Addressing voters, a woke writer would use: électeur·rice·s — an extended ending that includes male and female voters in the singular and plural.
The inclusive campaign has decreed the use of gender-neutral forms when available. The traditional droits de l’homme (the rights of man) has become droits humains and artiste is supposed to replace both acteur and actrice.
Professions have been feminised, sometimes with odd results. Female sapeurs-pompiers (firemen) should be called sapeures-pompières, for example.
Isabelle Klock-Fontanille, president of Limoges University, said that inclusive writing made it harder to learn French. “It is not only useless but harmful. From the linguistic point of view, it’s an aberration which leads us to write words that do not exist,” she told the conservative Figaro newspaper.
Its defenders say that the practice is necessary because women and others who do not identify with the male gender suffer discrimination from French having a masculine bias. Laélia Véron, a linguist, has cited evidence that “the use of uniquely masculine terms for certain professions in job advertisements reduces women’s confidence”.
The very Parisian row over what critics call a novlangue — the French version of George Orwell’s newspeak — prompted Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman, to suggest yesterday that his MP colleagues find more important subjects: “They should concentrate on the priorities of our country — the health crisis, the economic crisis.”
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