When I say it's impossible to talk about someone in French without gendering them, this is not strictly true. There is an entire system of "inclusive writing", complete with neopronouns (there are no gender-neutral pronouns in what I'm going to call "classical French") to remedy the language's huge flaws.
But the use of gender-neutral language in France isn't simply a question of using the words to make them more commonplace. It's a political battle.
In English, when people talk about "prescriptivist versus descriptivist", they're usually talking about a theoretical debate between linguists. "Prescriptivists" in English are just people who will call you a pleb for using "literally" as an intensifier.
In France, the State uses its monopoly on violence to force the language it wants people to speak onto them. Prescriptivism is a form of systemic violence, wilfully carried out by the State.
The organisation which is charged with deciding on the language that the State will enforce is the French Academy.
In English, the reason your parents believe that "they/them" can't be used to refer to a single person, is because grammarians in the 18th century actively changed the language to make it more misogynistic, gendered, and boring.
The same thing happened in France, where the rule of "the masculine always wins out over the feminine" was forcefully introduced into the language in the 18th century. There are dozens of texts from grammarians explicitly stating that their aim was to inscribe misogyny into the language in both France and England.
The difference is that in France, these men are still in power. That's what the French Academy is.
Since the second half of the 20th century, feminists and, later on, LGBT+ activists have developed a way of speaking French which is not only less misogynistic, but more inclusive. This, helpfully, has come to be known as "inclusive writing."
Inclusive writing properly entered the national consciousness in 2017. Right-wing newspapers wrote about a "feminist-style school textbook", which included a couple of pages that covered inclusive writing.
Soon enough, the French Academy rose to the occasion, and published its opinion on this version of French which doesn't exclude women and nonbinary people by design.
They described it as a "mortal peril".
I'm not joking, this is a real quote from its official declaration. Including women and nonbinary people in your spelling puts the French language in "mortal peril".
Following this decision, the State came down hard to enforce this misogynistic ruling. On the 22nd of November 2017, the French Prime minister published a memo "Relative To The Rules Of The Feminisation Of Texts".
In it, he states categorically that "the masculine is the neutral form."
The PRIME MINISTER OF FRANCE stated, in an official memo, that women are a divergence from the norm.
Nonbinary people are not even mentioned, but the language that includes them is also declared illegal.
Language isn't the most important aspect of our fight. Changes to our material conditions will always be the priority. But language is a huge part of the performance by which we express and create gender. It is essential to our process of becoming. France, more so than other States, realises this.
Something as small as just speaking a certain way can be an act of resistance.
@garfiald And guess one of the reasons I prefer english over my native tongue. -_-
Indeed, French language is weird concerning feminine forms. But this absurde situation can be explained by the historic context of France.
During the Renaissance, there was a huge misogynistic movement you can see through the use of the "Loi salique", an ancient law that forbid power to women, never really used during Middle ages. In the 15th and 16th century, grammarians basically declare "the plural form is masculine because men are better than women".
But during the Middle ages, there is a proximity rule who says the plural can be feminine if the last noun of the group was feminine.
Same for the noun : autrice (female autor), chevaleress (female knight), etc. are existing nouns.
French language is the reflect of French society. The creation of French Academy matches with the development of a society where women are excluded and considered as inferior.
@garfiald this is so completely messed up my dude
@shinylesbian normal country with normal people
@garfiald progressive my ass, get with the times, France
@garfiald i will absolutely fight that prime minister
@garfiald this is INSANE. Also where can I read about gender-neutral French?
@regnskog I'm ashamed to say I don't know where to direct you, I don't know much about French neopronouns, and what I do know I learnt from reading and listening to people using them. Here's the official page for the main organisation promoting inclusive writing, which is unfortunately all in French but if you speak it it's probably a natural place to start: https://www.ecriture-inclusive.fr
@garfiald Thank you! Err I think "speak" is a bit of an over-statement but I'm learning
@regnskog well I'm always happy to help if you have more questions! In terms of linguistically including nonbinary people, mainstream France is much further behind than Anglophone countries, which is saying a lot! But the French nonbinary community is growing stronger by the day and they are making all kinds of exciting progress in the linguistic department. They'd be able to inform you better than I ever could, I follow some of them on this platform but haven't interacted much
@garfiald thank you! I'll remember that for later!
@garfiald just when i thought it wasn't possible to cancel france even harder
@neufv lmao it's a trash country for trash people
@garfiald I spend a lot of time in French-speaking countries - time I get hold of this “anarchist’s grammarbook”!
Hoo not, the Academy is so fucked up. Big fan, however, of how much of a punchline they are in the linguistic community.
I wrote a thing on Chinese gendered pronouns and the whole western bullshit around that, that might interest you (if you don't already know the story). But I can't recall whether it was on or here. Will try to track it down for you at some point, if you're interested
@drbuttocks yeah that sounds dope!! dont worry about it if its too much of a bother though lol
Will see what I can find. Doing NYE cooking prep at the moment, but should have a chance later
@garfiald Found it. I didn't go into as much detail as I initially thought, but this is the basic rundown: https://aus.social/users/drbuttocks/statuses/100817823320210087
@garfiald Fucking hell...
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@garfiald Just by looking at the history of the French academy, that's bullshit.
It was founded by the cardinal of richelieu, in 1635, to make a kind of meeting of the best authors.
Except that at the time, many women wrote, and were recognized for their talent and success.
But at the first "promotion" of the French academy, there were only men because it was disturbing that women were emancipating themselves and surpassing men.
Since the creation of the French Academy, there has been no
than nine women in all the French Academy. Yet with 40 seats at each "promotion".
Moreover, there has never been any racialized, trans, gay or lesbian, and no non-binary either.
The mission of the Académie Française is to “defend the French language” (Défense de la langue française). academie-francaise.fr. So it would surprising, even shocking, if they adopted a progressive attitude.
@garfiald Nobody ever replies when I mention that, when I was a kid, school books did use a form of inclusive writing, using parenthesis. I wouldn't say it's a new thing, I mean it's used a lot in job offers too
But yeah they just don't want to include non men in casual conversations
@garfiald we have this same kind of thing in Spanish, the Real Academia Española, but because Spanish is such a pluricentric language, the power of the State to enforce language standardization is dramatically weakened. There’s not been a big push for inclusive writing in Spanish that I know of (short of a few LGBTQIA+ authors using “u” to replace “a/o” or “@“). Most people seem fine using the masculine as the neuter, except in the US, where the unpronounceable term “latinx” is on the rise.
@garfiald you'd better not be shit-talking the immortals
My understanding is French (langue d'oïl) was deliberately gendered under a committee instigated by Cardinal Richlieu. Prior to which nouns were about 60% gendered, 40% neuter.
While that may be too early to be considered 'classical French', it does show it to be an artificial set of rules imposed on the natural language.
@tricoteur yes absolutely! This is what I was talking about when I referred to the amount of texts we have in which grammarians explicitly state that they are changing the rules to make the language less inclusive
Although I was under the impression (I am a French language learner, beginner) that 'on', as a pronoun, was rather neutral when refering to first or third person.
@tricoteur yeah it is but it hasn't ever historically been used to refer to a single individual, and I haven't yet seen people use it as a pronoun over neopronouns like "iel"
@DialMforMara @knittingsquirrel Yes that's what its main focus is! So, if you have a group of ten doctors, nine of whom are women and one of whom is a man, according to classical French and to the French Academy, you would write "ce sont des docteurs." But if you're using inclusive writing instead, you write "ce sont des docteur-e-s". At least that's how I think it works lol
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