France revives culture war over bid to make language more gender-neutral


In the latest step in a long-running battle over whether to make the French language more inclusive, President Emmanuel Macron has urged its speakers "not to give in to the zeitgeist" by using gender-neutral nouns. His comments this week come as the Senate voted in favour of a proposal to ban so-called inclusive writing from official texts.

The middle dot. For some, it's a tiny trace of France’s long march towards equality. For others, it's a mortal peril.

This humble piece of punctuation found itself at the centre of France’s latest debate over language this week – though whenever politicians object to the words people use or the way they write them, of course, it’s always about so much more.

In a language where every noun is assigned a feminine or masculine gender, and where masculine is considered the default form, feminists have long sought ways to deprogramme the gender biases out of French.

Notably, they have challenged the grammatical rule that says the masculine takes precedence over the feminine – so that 50 Frenchwomen together are “les Françaises”, but if one man joins them, they become “les Français”.

Instead, in recent years it has become common – though by no means ubiquitous – to indicate both versions alongside each other in written French, using dots to denote that they each have equal importance. Businesses might email their “cher·e·s client·e·s” (dear clients), for example, or a job ad might seek “un·e collaborateur·trice” (member of staff).

She is not the first to seek to outlaw inclusive language.

Read more on RFI English

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