Non le masculin ne l’emporte pas sur le féminin!

Oh, interesting. The Académie Française dit “non” to gender inclusive language.

The Académie Française, France’s ultimate authority on the French language, is under fierce attack for describing gender-neutral text as an “aberration” that puts the language in “mortal danger”.

The “Immortals”, as the 40 academy members – only five of whom are women – are known, have sparked a national row after declaring that “inclusive writing” has no place in the country’s grammar books, or anywhere else for that matter.

The thing is, having an “ultimate authority” on a language is a highly dubious enterprise to begin with from a linguistic point of view. I hate the way people say “it negatively impacted her” instead of “it harmed her” but I don’t get to enforce it. (Except when I’m editing other people.)

In a statement full of hyperbole, the academy condemned the increasing use of new spellings aimed at making written French less masculine, arguing that it could not see the “desired objective” of the changes.

French grammatical rules give the masculine form of a noun precedence over the female. Women on an all-female board of company directors are called directrices; if one man joins the board, they are referred to collectively as directeurs.

I remember being taught in school that rule that says “ils” trumps “elles” no matter how many “elles” there are and how few “ils.” If there are a billion “elles” and one “il” it’s still “ils.” It was an all-girls school, and we were deeply annoyed.

We weren’t wrong. That’s a stupid rule, and yes of course it sends a message.

I also remember someone saying to me a few years ago, “Oh, you’re an authoress.” A what? No I’m not. This is why “actor” is replacing “actress” and “wait staff” replacing waiters and waitresses.

For years, French presidents have addressed citizens as les Français et les Françaises instead of the strictly correct les Français, but the recent row was sparked by a new textbook aimed at primary school children that employs the inclusive style, and came into use for the first time this year.

After a vote last month, the Académie Française issued a unanimous “non” to the new style, deeming it far too complicated.

“Faced with the aberration of ‘inclusive writing’, the French language finds itself in mortal danger,” its statement read.

Established by Louis XIII’s chief minister Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, outlawed after the French Revolution and restored by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, there have been a total of 726 members, only eight of whom have been women. The first, Belgian-born novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, was elected in 1980.

Speaking of language police, that first sentence is a mess – “established by” and “there have been” don’t go together. But that’s by the way.

In 2014, the academy opposed the feminisation of job titles, making Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s subsequent insistence on being called Madame la Maire (and not Madame le Maire) grammatically incorrect.

Eliane Viennot, professor of literature at Jean-Monnet University in St-Étienne and author of the book Non le masculin ne l’emporte pas sur le féminin! (No the masculine does not take precedence over the feminine!), said: “They [the academy] are extremely conservative.”

“If you ask people to list their favourite écrivains (writers) they will only mention male authors,” Viennot told France24 television. “It’s not until you ask them to list their favourite écrivainsand écrivaines that they think of women.”

In an opinion piece in Libération, she called for France to “pull the plug” on the academy.

“For 30 years they have never stopped trying to torpedo any evolution of the French language towards equality,” Viennot wrote.

I guess they prefer fraternity.

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