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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why writing French is becoming (even) more complicated – in the name of equality

Gender-inclusive words are becoming increasingly common in France, and while this might be a pain for language learners, it could be a sign that the French are starting to put the 'égalité' back into 'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité'.

Why writing French is becoming (even) more complicated - in the name of equality
Photo: Depositphotos

The row over sexism in the French language has been raging for decades but as the feminised versions of the professions (surgeon – chirurgienne, solicitor – avocate) are increasingly accepted, it seems attitudes towards so-called 'inclusive writing' could be changing too.

French grammar rules officially state that masculine forms are used when describing a group that has at least one man, which means a group of 99 women and one man would be referred to as “heureux” – happy (in the masculine form).

However activists argue that this represents the inherent sexism in the French language and are pushing for more 'inclusive writing', which would see the group in the example above referred to as “heureux.euse.s”. 

Increasingly this version of French is being used by French media, and even on official documents. 

READ ALSO:

French language finally about to embrace its feminine side Photo: AFP

Those in favour of 'inclusive writing' argue that it can be used to highlight sexist and non-inclusive attitudes. 

“I'm not sure if 'inclusive writing' will change attitudes in France,” said Sophie Bailly, Professor of Language Sciences at Université de Lorraine, told The Local.

“But it contributes to the conversation around inclusion.

“In France there are people who do not understand the debate and don't think it is worth having – but there are others who understand what's at stake when it comes to feminism. 

“It's certainly a debate that divides the French – some people are sympathetic to it and others aren't,” she added.   

The argument put forward by campaigners that in these situations the French word for readers, “lecteurs”, should be written as “lecteur.rice.s” has been met with a horrified reaction from language purists, among them the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe
   
They argue that 'inclusive writing' is complicated and confusing and the Academie Francaise, the guardians of the French language has branded attempts at “inclusive writing” in government documents as an “aberration” that would put French “in mortal danger”. 

Nevertheless, back in March, the male-dominated institution, considered the guardian of the French language, waved the white flag allowing more feminine words for professions.

The result of this is that French women doctors can be referred to as docteures, and teachers as professeures although there is still a way to go before this is common practice.

Up until this change, the official language of French working life had been resolutely male, with most jobs titles automatically masculine, apart from a few notable exceptions such as nurse and child-minder.

French language police give up battle against feminine job titlesPhoto: AFP

“There is a lack of visibility of women in the professions,” said Bailly, adding that despite this things do seem to be moving in the right direction.

“During the Women's World Cup France's Le Monde [France's newspaper of record] used the term la defenseuse (defender) in articles about the matches.

It is also possible to argue that with the normalisation of the feminine words for jobs, as well as cases of French media organisations using 'inclusive writing', the French language is already in the process of changing. 

“The force of normalising this use of 'inclusive writing' should be taken into account,” said Bailly. “Perhaps the normalisation of it in the media will mean that a sense of urgency is felt in other professions.”

Of course, French is spoken in other countries, many of which have come up with their own ways of addressing the gender imbalance in the language.

French speakers in neighbouring Belgium and Switzerland found ways around the problems long ago.
   
The official language body in French-speaking Canada ruled on the issue in 1979, urging feminisation wherever possible. A female doctor there can be called “une medecin” or a “docteure”.

(Inclusive) French words to know

Citizen(s) – citoyen.ne.s
Consumer(s) – consommateur.rice.s
Farmer(s) – agriculteur.rice.s
Actor(s) – acteur.rice.s
Engineer(s) – ingénieur.e.s
Director(s) – directeur.rice.s

Sophie Bailly, Professor of Language Sciences at the University of Lorraine, speaks more about the themes and topics discussed here in The Conversation: How Language Defines Us as Women on the BBC World Service. You can listen to the programme here.

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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