Macron rejects gender-neutral writing to protect French language

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Paris: Emmanuel Macron has urged France not to “give in to the spirit of the times” and reject gender-inclusive writing in order to safeguard the French language.

“In French, the masculine is neutral. We don’t need to add points in the middle of words or hyphens to make it readable,” said the French President at the opening of a new language centre in the town of Villers-Cotterêts, about 80 kilometres north-east of Paris, on Monday.

The French Senate is considering banning gender-inclusive writing, in order to “protect” the French language. This move reopens a long-standing debate that has divided the country between right-leaning language purists versus the left and feminists.

French President Emmanuel Macron and students at the Cite Internationale de la Langue Francaise, a cultural centre dedicated to the French language and French-speaking cultures at the castle of Villers-Cotterets on Monday.Credit: AFP

Under the proposal tabled by a Republican senator, gender-inclusive writing would be banned in administrative documents including job contracts, job adverts, internal company regulations and all legal documents.

The bill would also ban inclusive writing in the national education code, doubling down on an existing 2021 directive. Documents written in gender-neutral language would be considered null and void.

In French, all nouns are either masculine and feminine and the written endings of nouns, adjectives and verbs must reflect the gender of the object or person in question. But when a noun involves both men and women, the default spelling is in the masculine in accordance with the long-taught rule: ‘masculine always wins’.

The timing of the inauguration of Macron’s €211 million ($350 million) Cité Internationale de la Langue Française, or International French Language Centre, and the Senate agenda may be coincidental but he was unequivocal about his stance during his speech.

“We must allow the language to live, to be inspired by others, to steal words from the other end of the world… and to continue to be reinvented, but all while keeping the fundamentals, the basics of grammar, the strength of its syntax and to not give in to the spirit of the times,” Macron said.

He was met with applause from a crowd, which included historians, philosophers, linguists and French writers.

The bill has a strong chance of being adopted in the Senate given that the Republicans hold a majority in the upper house. It will then be examined in the National Assembly.

Feminist groups have been fighting to make the French language more gender-neutral for decades. Left-wing critics have called the bill retrograde and yet another attempt by the conservatives to marginalise women, while supporters believe that inclusive writing poses an additional constraint on people who are illiterate or dyslexic.

In 2021, the addition of the gender-neutral pronoun “iel”, a mash-up of the French pronouns “he” (il) and “she” (elle) to the French dictionary Le Robert, provoked the ire of right-wing politicians who accused the dictionary of pandering to “wokeism”.

The new centre, opened on Monday (Paris time) is housed in a restored Renaissance chateau in Villers-Cotterets, some 80 kilometres north-east of the Elysee Palace in central Paris, an area Franc€24 said was the heartland of the far-right. It hopes to attract 200,000 visitors a year to its large library, interactive exhibits, games and cultural events.

It is located in the castle where, in 1539, King François I signed an edict adopting French as his nation’s official tongue. Villers-Cotterets is also famed as the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers.

As well as defending French heritage by restoring the castle, the Elysee insisted the centre would promote “universal” French against the language of “navel-gazing” national identity.

The centre, which the Elysee insisted was anything but a “museum”, contains books, photographs and 150 artefacts, chief among them a copy of the edict signed by King François. It has nods to the French of diplomacy, gallantry and gastronomy.

While it lauds the fact that French is a living language open to foreign influence, exhibits also warn against the abuse of “globish” (global English) via the use of words such as “bankable” and “open bar”.

The Telegraph, London

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