Gender Equal French Sparks Controversy

Gender Equal

An attempt to make the French language more gender neutral has sparked controversy.

Called écriture inclusive, or inclusive writing, it attempts to downplay the traditional use of the masculine gender to describe groups that include males and females.

For example, the French word to describe a male friend is l'ami, plural les amis. The feminine is the same, but with an "e" at the end: l'amie and les amies. If you are describing a group that includes both men and women, or talking about purely hypothetical friends whose genders are not relevant, you default to the masculine: "Tom and Jane are mes amis," for example.

In écriture inclusive, however, unusual punctuation is added in the middle of words to break up the gendered and numbered affixes. So, all groups of friends, regardless of gender makeup, are les ami•e•s.

This version has slowly become common in the worlds of academia and politics, and is being backed by the state equality commission; the government's department responsible for equal rights has referred to the traditional version as a form of sexual tyranny against women. Mainstream politicians have jumped on board with the idea, too: President Emmanuel Macron's party has used "Vos député•e•s en marche!" as its election slogan.

However, linguistic traditionalists are fighting back: Sir Michael Edwards, the sole British member of the Académie Française, has decried the new form as mere “gibberish.”

The Académie Française was established more than 400 years ago (in 1635) and is the foremost authority on the French language. Unlike English, which has never been heavily regulated by the governments of its homeland or any other nation that speaks it, French is highly controlled; the "official, correct" rules are slow to change, and only do so after much thought and debate.

What remains to be seen is whether the common people will take to the new form. Though colloquial forms and slang obviously exist in French, the public can be as protective of their rules as the Académie members. Even with écriture inclusive having political backing, it is unlikely to catch on if the average person on the street, male or female, finds the traditional form adequate.

Perhaps we will find out next year, when keyboards will go on sale that make the mid-word dot easier to type.

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