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 50 miles northeast of Paris, on Monday.
The French Senate will discuss banning gender-inclusive writing on Monday evening, 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.
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.
‘Masculine always wins’
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 Mr Macron’s €211 million (£184 million) Cité internationale de la langue française 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,” Mr Macron said.
This 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 mashup of the French pronouns “he” and “she” to the French dictionary Le Robert, provoked the ire of Right-wing politicians who accused the dictionary of pandering to “wokeism”.