Inclusive writing: So the debate about the French language rumbles on…

 

France is currently involved in a nation-wide debate about the French language which is becoming increasingly heated. Recently, there has been a call for the language to be made gender-inclusive, as opposed to being masculine dominated as it currently is.

 

For example, if there is a group made up of 10 girls and one boy, the group would be referred to linguistically as masculine. Many in France want to change this, at least in the written form, to be inclusive to both genders. So instead of a mixed group of actors and actresses being referred to as acteurs, it would instead be written as acteur.rice.s.

There are a couple of obvious issues with this. Firstly, how would you read it aloud? Would you just ignore it, or would you say “acteurs et actrices”? Neither option would match the new spelling. It also looks rather messy, and quite frankly, just odd (though as with most things, it would eventually feel normal).

 

The main disagreements are between feminist groups who see the current language as sexist and male-dominated, and the Académie française who see this potential change as a threat to the French language. They have even said that the French language is currently in “mortal danger” due to the emergence of this inclusive writing.

The French Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, has come out on the side of the purists, and has actually issued a ban on this new inclusive language in official texts. However, French President Emmanuel Macron and his ministers usually use more inclusive language, for example saying ceux et celles (“those [people]” – but both the masculine and feminine versions) when grammatically only ceux is required.

 

What do you think? Can a language be sexist? Or is it just a harmless grammar rule? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter at @LinguaUK!