The so-called “immortals” at the Académie Française, the official body tasked with guarding the French language from unwanted influences (like English) don't speak out often, but when they do people tend to listen.
And on Thursday night the Académie issued a “solemn warning” intended to grab the attention of the government.
The immortals are furious about the rise of so-called “inclusive writing” which basically puts the masculine AND feminine forms of nouns in the text.
While its aim is to promote gender equality and reduce sexist stereotypes to “make women more visible” in texts, the Academie called it an “aberration”, which “now puts the French language in mortal danger for which our nation will be accountable to future generations.”
Previously texts have in French have only included the masculine form of nouns for example citoyen (citizen) consommateurs (consumers) or agriculteurs (farmers) but if inclusive writing was used then the words word have to be written as follows to include the feminine and plural forms: citoyen.ne.s, consommateur.rice.s, agriculteur.rice.s
Other examples include “acteur.rice.s (actor/actress), ingénieur.e.s (engineer) and directeur.rice.s (directors).
Inclusive writing also encourages avoiding the word man, where possible, or just simply adding “and women” where appropriate.
The current controversy around inclusive writing was kicked off by the publishers Hatier who chose to rewrite a school text book using the gender equal grammatical forms.
But for the Academie Francaise: “The multiplication of the orthographic and syntactic marks that it induces leads to a disunited language, disparate in its expression and creates confusion which borders on illegibility.”
While feminist groups back the roll out of inclusive writing, the immortals at the Académie say: “It is unclear what the goal is and how it could overcome practical obstacles of writing, reading – visual or aloud – and pronunciation.”
(The 'Immortals of the Académie Française. AFP)
There will no doubt be a few language learners who are struggling with French grammar who sympathize when the Académie warns that “inclusive writing” will just make French even more complicated to learn and other languages, notably the arch enemy English, will benefit.
“It is already difficult to acquire a language,” without adding all the new forms on the end of words, the guardians say, adding tht futire generations will be put off written French.
“As for the promises of the Francophone world, they will be destroyed if the French language restricts itself by this duplication of complexity,which wlll be to the benefit of other languages that will take advantage to prevail on the planet.”
The Académie's approach to protecting the French language has often led to accusations that it is overly resistant to change and stuck in the past. Indeed its battle against the invasion of English words into the French language has often been ridiculed by some in France.
But the Académie insist they are open to change, just not inclusive writing.
“More than any other institution, the Académie Française is sensitive to developments and innovations in the language… On this occasion, it is less as guardian of the norm than guarantor of the future that it launches this alarm call,” said the statement released by the organisation.
But it appears for the moment the Académie might have been a little too alarmist.
While polls suggest 75 percent of French people favour “inclusive writing” only 12 percent actually know what it is and how to use it.
On the top of which France's Minister of Education has ruled it “too complex” to be used in all textbooks.
France's language police also made headlines earlier this year in an outburst over the slogan for the Paris 2024 Olympics bid. The chosen slogan “Made for Sharing” was in English in a bid to woo judges, but it had the immortals spitting out their croissants.