Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sparks fly as a neutral pronoun in the French dictionary

PARIS (AP) – This is a neutral pronoun that proves anything but: a non-binary pronoun added to a respected French vocabulary has sparked a fierce linguistic squabble in the country.

Le Petit Robert introduced the word “iel” – a combination of “il” (he) and “elle” (she) in its online edition last month. The term is still far from being widely used or even understood by many French speakers.

While the change went largely unnoticed at first, a heated debate has erupted this week in a country that prides itself on its human rights tradition but fiercely defends its cultural heritage against foreign interference. In one camp, there are traditionalists, including political leaders, who criticize the move as a sign that France is leaning towards the American “awakening” ideology. On the other hand, there is a new generation of citizens who accept non-binaryism as the norm.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanker is not among the latter. On Wednesday, he took to Twitter to say that “inclusive writing is not the future of the French language.” The 56-year-old former law professor warned that students should not use “iel” as a valid term, despite being included in Le Robert, which has been considered a linguistic authority on the French language since 1967.

François Jolivet, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, also made clear his disgust. He suggested that non-binary pronouns are a worrying sign that France is adhering to an “awakened” ideology.

Jolivet wrote a letter to the stronghold of the French language, the 400-year-old Accademia Francaise, arguing that “Le Robert’s solo campaign is a clear ideological invasion that undermines our common language and its influence.”

On Wednesday, Le Robert editions CEO Charles Bimbenet defended the dictionary. According to him, Le Petit Robert not only did not dictate which terms should be used, but also clarified the meaning of the word, but now its currency is growing throughout the country.

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Since “the meaning of the word iel cannot be understood by reading it alone,” Bimbenet said, “we found it useful to clarify its meaning for those who come across it, whether they want to use it or … reject it.”

“Robert’s mission is to observe and report on the evolution of the changing and diverse French language,” he said.

This decision was welcomed by the non-binary French.

“It is very important that dictionaries include the pronoun ‘iel’ in their references, as this reflects how well the term is now used,” said Dora Simon Claude, a 32-year-old doctoral student who identifies as’ iel. “

“This,” they added, “is also a way to confront the French Academy, which remains in its conservative corner and continues to ignore and despise users of the French language.”

In 2017, the agency warned that attempts to make French more gender-neutral would create “a fragmented language with fragmented expressions that could create confusion bordering on illegibility.”

Gender languages ​​such as French are seen as a particular hurdle for nonbinary language advocates, as all nouns are either masculine or feminine, as opposed to English.

Not all European countries are moving at the same speed as France. In Greece, where all nouns have not two, but three possible genders, there is no official non-binary pronoun, but the groups that support them suggest using the word “this”.

In Spain, after former Deputy Prime Minister and staunch feminist Carmen Calvo asked the Royal Spanish Academy for advice on the use of inclusive language in the Constitution, its response the following year was crystal clear: “Inclusive language” means “use of the masculine gender.” to designate men and women. ”

___ Associated Press contributors Arnaud Pedram in Paris, Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece and Alberto Arce in Valbuena, Spain contributed

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