by John Lichfield
Friday, 19
November 2021
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16:30

Brigitte Macron says ‘non merci’ to gender neutral pronouns

Linguists fear 'le wokism' is set to destroy the language of love
by John Lichfield
Non, non, non.

Elle hath no fury like a former teacher of French confronted with distortions of the language of Molière.

The teacher in question is France’s première dame, Brigitte Macron.

Madame Macron, a former teacher of French language and literature, makes few public forays into politics or public controversies. She made an exception yesterday to criticise the de-gendering of the French language — or the arrival of “le wokisme” in one of France’s leading dictionaries.

In its online edition, the Robert dictionary has included for the first time the invented pronoun “iel” — a merger of “il”(he) and “elle” (she) for people who do not wish to define, or be defined by, their gender.

“There are two pronouns, il and elle,” Mme Macron said during an official visit to a college (middle school) in Paris. “Our language is beautiful. And two pronouns is enough.”

She was accompanying the French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, a fierce opponent of all forms of “le wokisme” including the invention of gender-inclusive or gender-effacing variants of French words and phrases.

“No cause justifies the crushing of the French language,” Mr Blanquer said during the same visit. “Feminism is a great cause but not one that justifies the mangling of French.”

Gender inclusive language has become a subject of great controversy in France in the last couple of years — and one which straddles the old boundaries of Left and Right. It is an especially complex issue in a language where all words have genders and adjectives must agree with the gender of their associated nouns.

There is a strong but still minority movement to “inclusify” French — supported by some teachers but not all – through the generation of new words or the annotation of old ones. Thus, in “inclusive French”, you should no longer write “étudiants” to mean both male and female students. You should write étudiant(e)s.

French is complex enough, others suggest (including many foreigners still struggling to write or speak correctly after several decades). Introducing brackets into words is monstrous. And how do you pronounce a bracket anyway?

The Robert dictionary stumbled into this minefield this month when it altered its on-line dictionary to include the he/she neologism “iel”. In English, gender-neutrality can be expressed by using the plural “they” as a singular pronoun. No such option is available in French where “they” can be either “ils” or “elles”.

Hence the invention of “iel” — or “iels” for more than one gender-neutral person. There is also “toustes” for tous/toutes (all) or “elleux” instead of elles/eux (them).

The director of the Robert dictionary, Charles Bimbenet, denied that the recognition of “iel” was a form of inclusive activism. He said that the role of his dictionary was to reflect changes in French as it was actually spoken and written.

“The Robert has not had a sudden serious case of ‘wokeism’ — a word that we promise to define soon,” Monsieur Bimbenet said. “It seemed useful to specify the meaning of iel for people who come across it, whether they want to use it or, on the contrary, reject it.”

Several members of the National Assembly have asked the immortals of the Académie Française — the literary figures elected for life to defend the French language — to rule on the iel question. No rapid judgement should be expected.

Members of the academy have been revising their own master dictionary of French for 35 years. They have reached the letter “s”.

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James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

” It is an especially complex issue in a language where all words have genders and adjectives must agree with the gender of their associated nouns.”
“In English, gender-neutrality can be expressed by using the plural “they” as a singular pronoun.”
This is incorrect. See my example:
Kelli (can be a boy’s or girl’s name) is 5 years old. They came out as transgender.
This is absolutely incorrect, as subject and pronoun do not agree. Gender neutrality cannot be expressed by using the pronoun “they.” This is sloppy thinking and wrong.
Let’s protect out common language and stop doing this, regardless of how many “theys” demand that we bow down to them. 1984 language.

Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I hate the whole they/them pronoun thing. Personally it’s like announcing to the world that you not only don’t know what you are but you’re also not sure as to how many you are! It’s more like confusion as opposed to affirmation!

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay Snoman

Well said! Don’t know how many you are….Brilliant!
And true. Made me smile!

David Yetter
David Yetter
10 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay Snoman

Indeed. The funniest joke in Dave Chappel’s last Netflix comedy special played on that: “A brother came up to me and whispered, all conspiratorial like, ‘They’s after you!’. I looked at him and said ‘One they, or a whole lot o’ theys?'”

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
10 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay Snoman

Henceforth I’ll be addressing myself (ourselves?) as ‘we’.

Roger Sandilands
Roger Sandilands
10 months ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

delusions of grandeur?

David Bell
David Bell
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I fully agree. It’s an absurdity that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago

Well I say good for her.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago

For many years the French have been defending their language against attack from Hollywood and, by and large, they have been successful. English has in that time become a dialect of American. So we don’t care any more. Whatever!!!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

One of my all time most favorite writers is Antoine Saint-Exupéry. Having always had a passion for distant places ‘The Little Prince’ struck me deeply as a child, and his autobiographical books amongst the very best philosophical travel writing. I still remember his describing the commuter bus for the airport office bureaucrats he rode to the airport on, on the way to his first solo piloting of the Mail Planes to North Africa where (paraphrased) he describes that last trip of a normal life, en-rout to adventure and the greater world:

‘ The bus smelled of dust, of the dust of government offices, into which a man’s soul can sink as surely as blood sinks into the sands of the Sahara…’

I thought of him last night wile walking, which at 2-4 a.m. was the eclipse of the full moon and I stayed up for it, and all the stars were brilliant, the ones I used to be able navigate by, and barely can identify other than the Orion, Cassiopeia, and such – and used them to find North instinctively – and how stirringly Exuprey talked of the stars and the great voids of space, and of existence.. (“Wind Sun and Stars’, his best book perhaps). The dogs and I walked through the woods watching it all above, and it evoked the feelings of my past, and adventures in wild places….

It is sad to see these great generation being replaced by the new, who bring nothing, but tear down……

Derek Bryce
Derek Bryce
10 months ago

I believe the gender neutral ‘iel’ emerged not in France itself but Quebec. Hardly surprising, given Canada is the land of clown Prince of le wokeism, Justin Trudeau.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
10 months ago

‘iel’ is impossible to pronounce so will never become current. What’s wrong with ‘on’ as in ‘on n’aime pas ça’? It’s gender neutral and used all the time!

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago

It starts off fine:
Sur le Pont d’Avignon,
L’on y danse, l’on y danse
Sur le Pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tous en rond.
But then it gets ‘problematic’ and has to be amended:
Les beaux (belles) (bow bells?) messieurs/dames font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.
Les belles (beaux) dames (messieurs) font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.
Les filles (garcons) font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.
Les musiciens (musiciennes) font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.
And that’s before you add any ‘eels’ swimming below.
No wonder the bridge was never finished.

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew D
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

love the eels! 🙂

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
10 months ago

The simple solution to this is that we should all speak Finnish. It has one gender-neutral personal pronoun for all humans: “hän”. There are a mere fifteen cases in the grammar, rather more than the four in German, admittedly.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Excellent point!
Kiitos!

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

ole hyvä

David Bell
David Bell
10 months ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Or Japanese. The honorific for everyone is “San”. No Mr., Mrs, Ms etc. The exception is for members of the Imperial family who are addressed as Sama. Princess Mako lost that privilege last week when she tied the knot with a commoner. She has now been demoted to a mere San.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
10 months ago

I’m going to follow Douglas Murray’s wry example: If someone asks for my preferred pronouns, I’ll say I prefer using my chromosomes.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
10 months ago

I thought French already had ‘on’ as a kind of neutral pronoun?

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
10 months ago

What is the English equivalent of “on”? One? Were the royals always ahead of the game on this one? The Royals? (If I ought to use a capital? But then again, I can’t say a capital).
Does the attempt to embed in French discourse and writing words to do with le wokisme simply pile on another row of barriers between French society and France’s Muslim population?
No wonder identity politics can gain major, major traction when strong demands are asked of the reasonable society. The problem with identity politics is that tensions will likely be inflamed when the demands directly oppose each other. You’ll have one side saying “a decadent place”; another saying “a great place”.

If France ends up mirroring an increasingly progressive America, will they still say of France that it has a certain …. Je ne sais quoi? Do the Muslims say that of France currently? Do the new vocal French woke even? When the day arrives that France has ALL of its citizens boasting that France, their country, has a certain Je ne sais quoi, then we’re living Roman Holiday every day and every evening! (As things stand, that is how that might feel).

If a clan comprised of different tastes and outlooks wants to find happiness AND stay together (because they’re one big happy family), it will move to the reasonable society.
Where on earth in the world does the reasonable society rest? It must be in the West. But it’s getting harder to make it out.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago

Any language that requires e.g. a table to have a gender is already absurd, so this might run and run …

Lizzie J
Lizzie J
10 months ago

Pity the Spanish, where ‘children’ is the same word as ‘boys’, ‘siblings’ is the same as ‘brothers’ and ‘parents’ is the same as ‘fathers’.