French Battle Wokisme

The language is going to iel in a handcart.

NYT (“In a Nonbinary Pronoun, France Sees a U.S. Attack on the Republic“):

Perhaps France was always going to have a hard time with nonbinary pronouns. Its language is intensely gender-specific and fiercely protected by august authorities. Still, the furor provoked by a prominent dictionary’s inclusion of the pronoun “iel” has been remarkably virulent.

Le Petit Robert, rivaled only by the Larousse in linguistic authority, chose to add “iel” — a gender-neutral merging of the masculine “il” (he) and the feminine “elle” (she) — to its latest online edition. Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, was not amused.

“You must not manipulate the French language, whatever the cause,” he said, expressing support for the view that “iel” was an expression of “wokisme.”

Mr. Blanquer is seemingly convinced of a sweeping American “woke” assault on France aimed at spreading racial and gender discord over French universalism. Last month he told the daily Le Monde that a backlash against what he called woke ideology was the main factor in the 2016 victory of Donald J. Trump.

In this instance, however, he was joined by Brigitte Macron, the first lady. “There are two pronouns: he and she,” she declared. “Our language is beautiful. And two pronouns are appropriate.”

[…]

Charles Bimbenet, its director-general, posted a statement rejecting the minister’s charge of militancy. “The mission of the Robert is to observe the evolution of a French language that is in motion and diverse, and take account of that,” he wrote. “To define the words that describe the world is to aid better comprehension of it.”

France, a country where it is illegal for the state to compile racial statistics, is particularly on edge over the rise of American gender and race politics. President Emmanuel Macron has warned that “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” may be a threat. Mr. Blanquer has identified “an intellectual matrix” in American universities bent on undermining a supposedly colorblind French society of equal men and women through the promotion of identity-based victimhood.

This is the backdrop to the “iel” explosion, which the left-wing newspaper Libération described under the headline “The Highway to iel.”

Neologisms like “antivax” and “passe sanitaire” (health pass) do enter the lexicon with some regularity, but the Académie française, founded in 1634 to protect the French language, remains a vigilant guardian of linguistic purity against what one member called “brainless Globish” a couple of years ago.

[…]

For some time, a movement for “inclusive writing” has battled the linguistic establishment in France. It is broadly an attempt to wean the French language of its male bias, including the rule that when it comes to the choice of pronouns for groups of women and men, the male form takes precedence over the female; and when it comes to adjectives describing mixed gatherings, they take the masculine form.

The Académie rebuffed such attempts earlier this year. Its secretary-in-perpetuity, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, said that inclusive writing, even if it seemed to bolster a movement against sexist discrimination, “is not only counterproductive for that cause but harmful to the practice and intelligibility of the French language.”

Societal hangups are amusing. The French are much more forward-thinking than the Americans on a variety of social issues but half a century behind us on others.

Their obsession with the purity of the French language is particularly strange from an American standpoint. English is and pretty much always has been a bastard language, importing words and concepts from other cultures willy-nilly. Unlike most other European languages, it’s damned near impossible to know how to pronounce a word from reading it—indeed, there are a whole lot of words in our dictionary with the same spelling but completely differently pronunciations and meanings—or how to spell a word from hearing it. France, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to guard against that.

Yet the natural byproduct of this instinct is to be mired in the past. Human understanding changes over time and the language has to evolve to accommodate that. Forcing the world to use the language of 1634 very much ties it to the mindset of 1634.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kurtz says:

    Interesting that the French are pinning wokism on America considering that French thinkers poured much of the foundation for this part of the Left.

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  2. drj says:

    I suspect you severely underestimate the impact of gender neutrality on the French language. Every noun, every adjective is gendered – either as masculine or feminine (there is no neuter gender in French). Gender-neutral French would be almost unrecognizable to French speakers.

    Trying to make French gender neutral wouldn’t be some gradual shift in language use, it would be a radical and, more importantly, fundamental overhaul of something that French people are taught to love and be proud of. It would also cut them off – at least to some extent – of centuries of literary tradition. How do you think people would feel if the language of the Declaration of Independence would suddenly become something more like Chaucer?

    Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour

    Naturally, this would be a far, far bigger deal than, for instance, switching to a more rational system of measurements. And I think we all remember how that went.

    10
  3. wr says:

    I find I like the pronoun “iel.” It’s a lot more elegant than using a singular “they.” (Which wouldn’t actually work here, since the French “they” is either masculine or feminine.) Maybe we could adopt it here…

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  4. Michael Cain says:

    James Nicoll’s remark about English acquiring words has stuck with me since I first saw it on Usenet: “…on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @drj:

    French opposition to neutering gender in language, is echoed by resistance by ethnic groups that historically spoke Spanish to the term Latinx.

    French outrage over tampering with the French language, is unintentionally humorous, as it comes across as blithering, pomposity.

    In part, the resistance to gender neutral pronouns, emanates from the recognition that they are being imposed. Interestingly, there is growing use in Latin America of the term Latine, in place of Latino/Latina, with adoption happening organically. When you think about it a new word, makes far more sense than re-purposing another word that has its own specific meaning, i.e. using they instead of him/her.

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  6. JohnSF says:

    (In English) it’s damned near impossible to know how to pronounce a word from reading it—or how to spell a word from hearing it. France, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to guard against that.

    This may be true of (official Castilian) Spanish, and (IIRC) German and Finnish. Likely some others.
    But not French: the spelling is basically that of Old French of 1200, and pronunciation has diverged over 800 years.

    For instance final letters are often dropped: e, p, g, n, m, s, t, d x, z.
    Double “ll” can be pronounced “y/j” as in “fille” or “l” as in “ville”
    Plus others.
    Nowhere near as wacky as English, but it’s not WYSIWYG.

  7. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: Would it really be necessary to go completely gender neutral? Inanimate objects could remain with whatever “gender” assigned to them. I think the goal is to include gender non-binary people in the mix, not to change the pronoun used with a chifferobe.

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  8. grumpy realist says:

    L’Académie has been moaning about the decline of the French language ever since they started.

    I do think that “iel” makes little sense, historically. If they want to add a neuter/mixed gender pronoun, they should swipe it from the neuter of Latin, considering where “il” and “elle” originally came from.

  9. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Would it really be necessary to go completely gender neutral?

    Perhaps not. An alternative solution could be to introduce of third gender for non-binary people.

    But that ‘s not very woke either. The use of “they”/”iel” is supposed to convey inclusiveness, not to set non-binary people apart as a distinct group.

    So what you are proposing is that inaminate objects (e.g., “spoon,” “car,” etc.) would have a gender but actual people won’t. That’s just weird IMO and (for me, at least) it’s hard to see how that would fly with actual French speakers.

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  10. Franklin says:

    I say let French preserve its basis, stuck in the Middle Ages. Their transgenders and other woke bedfellows will only migrate faster to more inclusive languages (and bolster English as the most international language).

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @drj:

    So what you are proposing is that inaminate objects (e.g., “spoon,” “car,” etc.) would have a gender but actual people won’t. That’s just weird

    I don’t see how that is any weirder than the idea that, say, spoon has a specific gender. But “gender”MIS a misleading concept here. In reality French has different words for male and female people, and happens to use those same words to describe inanimate objects rather than “it”. They go to a great deal of trouble in memorizing which set of words goes with which inanimate object, but in the end, when they are used for those objects they aren’t denoting gender.

  12. Lounsbury says:

    @drj: As a romance bilingual, this is really the problem of Anglos opining on heavily opened grammatically gendered langauges: basically you (collectively) do not understand grammatical gender in other languages and understand it generally incorrectly (via learner perspective at best), and jump to rather silly conclusions. As not only a romance bilingual growing up, all my other langauges are grammatically gendered and one doesn’t really think in the same pattern as in English.

    Really ironic bit of cultural imperialism from the Woke monolinguals.

    Although honestly living and working in francophone world between Europe and Africa I only have heard of this from Anglos… Nowhere organically in actual French language correspondence have I seen this unlike in English.

    Otherwise on the French language purity thing is really also massively overdone (good god, defending the froggies…) as an issue as it largely exists in a small world of elite Francophone eggheads, whereas in ordinary correspondence (e-mail particualrly of course) – between Francophones I note – one happily uses anglicisms without any great stress, unless it’s something particularly barbaric and unnecessary (unnecessary as in bumping into some established French word or expression not some arch academic neologism, normally only commented on where somone is trying to be too cool for school by showing off with anglicisms).

    @JohnSF: Not old French mon ami, more about the same age as modern English, that is more early 16th century or so with vaguely similar drift as to English (not in the specifics but in tems of effect on spelling divergences with pronunciations), but your overall point is correct, French is rather unlike the Iberians whose spelling is a decent match to modern pronunciation.

    @wr: It’s a gross barbarism really.

    @Sleeping Dog: The reason is basically the same, Latinx is an Anglo barbarism. If one wishes to make neutralish as to sex-gender there are Latine ways to do that, not by the anglo-barbarism of X.

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  13. EddieInCA says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    French opposition to neutering gender in language, is echoed by resistance by ethnic groups that historically spoke Spanish to the term Latinx.

    (raises hand)

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  14. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In reality French has different words for male and female people, and happens to use those same words to describe inanimate objects rather than “it”. They go to a great deal of trouble in memorizing which set of words goes with which inanimate object, but in the end, when they are used for those objects they aren’t denoting gender.

    I take it you don’t speak French?

    Because none of this is true.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    I agree, I kind of like ‘iel’ and, while unlike @Lounsbury I can’t consider myself bilingual now, I spent 2nd through 4th grade in French school (Ecole Zola, Rochefort. Go fighting. . . um, Journalists?) and had trouble convincing mes copains that I was American. Learning French organically the gendered noun thing is just rote, you don’t really think about it because it doesn’t really mean anything. Où est le bibliothèque? La bibliothèque? WGAF? Well, the French do.

    In any case I keep asking the same question about singular they: write me a two or three page action scene involving three or more people using the singular they. It’s not even a political question, I’m genuinely open to the idea if someone can show me how it’s done.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Lounsbury: I suspected that everyday spoken French was a lot more fluid and adaptive than the guardians of “how it ought to be” dictate. Of course, continuing this trend will just make everyday French move further and further away from what’s in dictionaries and grammar books.

    Instead of a value judgement that “languages ought to change and adapt” I make the empirical observation that “languages change and adapt over time, and there isn’t really anything that can stop it”

  17. Lounsbury says:

    @MarkedMan: There is nothing weird, it is grammar, this is the problem of Anglos commenting on non-native grammars and from an lingusitic-cultural imperialist self-centric view. (and there is no “great deal of trouble” – as a native speaker, one does not memorize at all, it’s really quite organic.

    It is learners from languages like English that are weirded out and inappropriately import attitudes etc.

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  18. Lounsbury says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Well the reality is that in diccos the most used English derived words get in with really not any more whinging on that neologisms have historically generated in English. e-mail, Lifting, (elle a fait un lifting… totally fine…)

    Anglos have an entirely exaggered idea of the real power of the Académie

    @drj: or school learner with book sense of the langauge.

    Really hard for monolingual Anglos to “get” grammatically gendered languages when they did not grow up with that (whereas when you grow up with it, it’s just psychologically different).

    1
  19. Kathy says:

    One easy way to piss off the French is to remind them their language is just corrupted Latin.

  20. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: As an Anglo-Celt, it gripes me that English is considered a Teutonic language. Sixty per cent of English words in everyday use are derived from Latin/French, and English syntax is very different from German.

    3
  21. just nutha says:

    @JohnSF: My French teacher taught us that “ville” was pronounced VEE yuh, but she had been trained to teach the language in Paris, so that might make a difference.

    Still, not all “ll”s are pronounced “yuh” in French, that’s true. I can’t think of an exception at the moment, but there are a lot. We had a joke about spelling rules for English while I was teaching there–The spelling rules for English are very straightforward; each word has it’s own spelling rule.

    1
  22. Kylopod says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    As an Anglo-Celt, it gripes me that English is considered a Teutonic language.

    Well, technically Germanic, not Teutonic. And this is simply the consensus of historical linguists, not something commonly known. You don’t know how many people I’ve encountered who think English is some kind of bastard Romance language (people rarely say this directly, but a lot of people seem to think English is somehow descended from Latin) and are actually surprised when you tell them it’s classified as Germanic.

    Sixty per cent of English words in everyday use are derived from Latin/French

    Do you have a source for that? I can pretty much guarantee you (without looking it up) that at least half of the words you and I are using right now are Anglo-Saxon–and this is written English.

    1
  23. just nutha says:

    “I can’t think of an exception…”

    And then, 30 seconds later, I saw “elle” in another post. DOH!

  24. Kathy says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    McWhorter calls it a bastard tongue. I’d go with hybrid tongue myself (it sounds more polite).

    From memory, you had the native Celts, Picts, and other tribes, then came (not in chronological order) the Romans, Saxons, Norse, and French.

    1
  25. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: I suppsoe Anglos think, although barring some particularly weird person, no Romance langauge speaker is not aware that their langauge is descended from Latin or vulgar latin dialects.

    So really one of those things the English and Americans might think, but rather divorced from the real world.

    @SC_Birdflyte: it is a Germanic language. Simple as that. A divergent one much in the same fashion French is divergent among the Romance languages, but perfectly and solidly Germanic.

    @Kathy:

    There is nothing particularly hybrid about English. It has precious little sign of either old Anglo latin nor Brittonic influence overall.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In any case I keep asking the same question about singular they: write me a two or three page action scene involving three or more people using the singular they

    This would be trivial in French as it wouldn’t be overloading the meaning of another word. Iel is just new, is it not? It would be like if all the non-binary people picked the same neopronoun and wanted xe/xir used — a brief period of discomfort, but then it is perfectly clear.

    My real hope for French is that the English singular-they ends up being crammed into the language as it would be the most beautifully hideous thing. Il, Elle and They.

    2
  27. Lounsbury says:

    @Kylopod: 90% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

    (of course there is an enormous amount of vocabulary imported from French, but upper strata really)

  28. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: How pray tell will you conjugate the verbs eh? Ah … perhaps the commentariat wasn’t thinking of anythiung more than superficial faddish political positioning rather than actual language grammar of a language they don’t actually master at all.

    2
  29. Lounsbury says:

    how to spell a word from hearing it. France, for perfectly understandable reasons, wants to guard against that.

    Yet the natural byproduct of this instinct is to be mired in the past. Human understanding changes over time and the language has to evolve to accommodate that. Forcing the world to use the language of 1634 very much ties it to the mindset of 1634.

    to the OP

    Besides the factual issues here (and they are many) a fundamental problem with the Anglo commentariat here is the presumption that The English Way of adopting to new social meanings for sexual-gender MUST be the path for other languages and cultures to adapt as well.

    It is really quite ironic by the Anglopphone culti-Lefty Woke approach to this and the degree of lingustic blindness and really extreme cultural imperialism – it’s not fundamentally different in foundation than the rigidity of the English Victorians, merely lensed through a current Left cultural lens.

    Gendered languages will adapt, but not via the same paths as English, simply the meaning attached to the human nouns will evolve. I would look to the Omani Arabic (Arabic like all Semetic languages being fully gendered, grammatically) and the centuries old ‘third gender’ usage and a fluidity of a persons position relative to Huwa or Hiya.

    2
  30. drj says:

    @Gustopher:

    My real hope for French is that the English singular-they ends up being crammed into the language as it would be the most beautifully hideous thing. Il, Elle and They.

    LOL

    @Lounsbury:

    How pray tell will you conjugate the verbs eh?

    “They fait un faux pas grammatical.”

    It CAN be done if you really want to.

  31. Gustopher says:

    @Lounsbury:

    perhaps the commentariat wasn’t thinking of anythiung more than superficial faddish political positioning rather than actual language grammar of a language they don’t actually master at all.

    And perhaps you are a useless git.

    Bugger off, you ill-conceived monotreme.

  32. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In any case I keep asking the same question about singular they: write me a two or three page action scene involving three or more people using the singular they. It’s not even a political question, I’m genuinely open to the idea if someone can show me how it’s done.

    I posted such a scene a few weeks ago. You failed to comment.

    And, as someone else pointed out (and I’ve mentioned, as well), in spoken Chinese “he, she, it” are all the same word. Thousands of years of spoken storytelling seem to have managed it just fine.

    6
  33. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “It’s a gross barbarism really”

    Daddy sends hugs.

  34. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, I think there’s something you don’t get about us Americans, which is how deeply and profoundly we despise someone trying to tell us what constitutes “proper speech”. I learned it, for sure. I use it. All the time. Sometimes I break the rules I was taught, to make my point better. If it doesn’t work – if my point does not come across – I’ll take responsibility, but if the response is a grammatical critique, then my reaction is more of the “…and the horse you rode in on” variety.

    And by the way, I watch so many Americans get diverted into critiques of this type, where they critique manners rather than substance, or diction rather than intention. This is fuel for Trumpism, even though I’ve seen right-wingers do much the same thing.

    So the “Academy” is quite the curiosity and object of hostility to us.

    I feel sure that French speakers will figure out how to linguistical signal their welcome to a less binary gender (among humans) system. It totally isn’t my job to do that, and I refrain from advocating for one or the other.

  35. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I agree, I kind of like ‘iel’ and, while unlike @Lounsbury I can’t consider myself bilingual now, I spent 2nd through 4th grade in French school (Ecole Zola, Rochefort. ”

    That doesn’t matter. Lounsbury has made it quite clear that he is the only human being posting here — perhaps the only one on earth — who truly understands how Romance languages work. There is no point for you, or for Emmanuel Macron, for that matter, to attempt to assert any expertise in the matter. Lounsbury, a man whose claimed portfolio matches only that of the late, lamented Guarneri, is the holder of all knowledge on this any every subject.

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  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Actually, the French have been sniggering at L’Academie and their doughty defence of the French language ever since, well, forever. I seem to remember Colette stuck in a few sly remarks in her first Claudine novel.

  37. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    WGAF? Well, the French do.

    Indeed. File this one under “They don’t really care, per se, and they’ll happily trundle along with anglicisms and bastardizations (slang, mostly) all day long – until somebody starts talking about actually changing the rules, at which point they’ll just as happily equip pitchforks and torches.

    For all of their (somewhat undeserved) reputation as being free-thinking, the French by and large love rules, and they decidedly do not love people who propose screwing around with those rules. This was probably a well-meaning thing that someone thought would be innocuous, but will turn into WW3, because, rules …

    2
  38. Andy says:

    Maybe the future is Russian which is a gendered language but also has a neutral gender.

    Anyway, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. What happens to French is the purview of French speakers. But lord knows the French, culturally, are pretty sensitive when it comes to protecting the “Frenchness” of their language and culture. I remember back in the 1980s there was a big French backlash against the despoiling influence of American culture and cuisine.

    I just think it’s important to remember that no one controls language, it evolves based on what the masses do. It doesn’t really matter what French elites or what French trans people want, especially considering that a majority of French speakers don’t live in France. Adding a word to a dictionary does nothing by itself.

    1
  39. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    write me a two or three page action scene involving three or more people using the singular they.

    Wouldn’t it be the same problem as a similar scene with three or more dudes, where “he” could be almost anyone? I expect the process is the same — you write the scene, you re-read looking for ambiguities, and you resolve them by adding the occasional name or detail (or, in the case of Batman ’66, something like “the caped crusaders,” or “the dastardly duo of devious evil-doers”).

    The result might be awkward for someone who isn’t familiar with singular-they used for a known person, but languages change and people get familiar with new words and usages. Slang comes in and out of fashion all the time, and someone might not be immediately familiar with “yeet” or “an onion on my belt”, and they stumble through it.

    It might also be something that dates the scene immediately, when it is decided in six months that the proper pronoun for non-binary folks is xi (pronounced as anything other than “she”), as part of an organized effort to annoy Xi Jinping.

    4
  40. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Andy:

    Somehow I doubt it. Apart from actual Latin speakers, you’d get enormous backlash from people used to conjugating verbs (Russian verbs are ridiculously regular – just two forms! – aside from a few leftovers from antiquity) who suddenly found themselves being expected to decline nouns instead.

  41. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: I’m not sure what you mean by “none of this is true.” The nut of what I’m saying is that the French don’t literally think that, say, a fork is female and a spoon is male, i. e. they don’t as a rule believe your cutlery can mate and produce offspring. In computer programming terms, the word “gender” has been overloaded here. For people it (roughly) means sex, but for inanimate objects it means something different.

    Or are you objecting to my comment that the gender of these inanimate objects must be memorized, as there are no useful principles to know, a priori, whether an object is referred to as male or female? If I’m wrong about that, then please enlighten me. My high school French classes would have gone a lot easier…

  42. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    It might also be something that dates the scene immediately, when it is decided in six months that the proper pronoun for non-binary folks is xi (pronounced as anything other than “she”), as part of an organized effort to annoy Xi Jinping.

    Two responses to this.

    1) Reminds me of how many westerners in China refer to him as “President Eleven”.

    2) One of the biggest issues I have with all these “non-binary pronouns” is HTF do you pronounce them?! It’s bad enough trying to figure out pronunciations in English without throwing more complexity into it. “Xie”. Okay… Zai-ee? Hee-eh? She-eh (which, BTW, is Chinese for “crab”)?

    Remember that we’re a nation of immigrants (to a lesser extent than before, but still…) You’re going to end up with every nationality/language group pronouncing it their own way.

    I remember a friend of mine in China wanted to buy a new bicycle–one of the hip new “fee-shee-eh” bikes that are popular with college-aged kids. It took me about half an hour to figure out she was referring to a “fixie” (fixed-gear bike)–because that’s how it’s pronounced to a Chinese speaker.

    1
  43. JohnSF says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    You offer me this noun?
    I decline it!

    3
  44. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    write me a two or three page action scene involving three or more people using the singular they

    My immediate reaction was that the same would apply to using singular and plural “you” but then realized that I’ve never read anything along the lines of “You stagger down the road and find his body under the bushes” where “you” was meant as plural.

    It reminds me of a constant low grade tension between my wife and I. If I’m talking to you and she was present, my instinct would be to refer to, say, my car. She feels I should say “our car”. But to me that sounds wrong. I’m talking to Mike, and we don’t jointly own the car. I don’t know whether that is a quirk of mine or a quirk of hers, but do know that it is very ingrained in both of us. Since it bothers her on a personal level and it only bothers me on a grammatical one, I’ve been trying to change for years, but with only limited success.

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  45. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: You lot are such precious thin skinned bit and so preciously sniffy in your Lefty fashion when anyone disagrees with the Correct Form of Thinking.

    Of course someone who went to grade school can opinions about a language. Much as a native French speaker can about English, with all the deep insights that grade school brings.

    @MarkedMan:
    Lesson Number one
    American high school learning as a 2nd language is a piss poor way to understand how native speakers of literally language acquire their language. And broadly how one learns a 2nd language after reaching about the teenage years is quite literally biomechanically different for the brain than how one learns it natively as a child.

    So you do not have any particularly valid take aways from your French in American high school – other than Anglo-world is generally quite pathetic in 2nd language acquisition, attributable no doubt to the general human condition of sheer mental laziness.

    Of course this will not stop the Woke Lefty Anglo monolinguals from being blind to their own cultural and linguistic myopic imperialism, in a quite sourly amusing bit of irony.

    @Andy: While yes majority of French speakers are not in France itself, the majority of native speakers and the driving force of French usage are European French native speakers. African users of French are of course rather signfiicant, but are largely second language – but being if anything rather more culturally conservative about the former colonial language (as a social prestige function) are not going to drive any arch intellectualised attempt at grammatical innovation.

    @HarvardLaw92: the evolution to be expected is via a different route around flexibility in noun meaning.

    As a gendered language example in a two gender grammatical to human framework, perfectly observable in Omani Arabic where for time immemorial there has been a “third gender” covering a tradition of trans – yes perfectly Islamically interepreted although Omanis Khariji approach maybe made that more possible.

    A linguistic path that of course is not ‘correct’ relative to the proper view as defined by monolingual anglo Left academic wokeness.

  46. MarkedMan says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Anglos have an entirely exaggered idea of the real power of the Académie

    No doubt. In the 90’s I worked for the US branch of a French company. At one point I read that a French law had been passed that all internal correspondence in a French company had to take place in French regardless of where in the world the branch was located. We Americans and the few other non-French thought this hysterical but as near as I could tell our French coworkers couldn’t understand why we even thought to mention it. Why would you care about a law that can’t be enforced?

    1
  47. MarkedMan says:

    @Lounsbury: Now you are just embarrassing yourself. Clueless and pompous doesn’t look good on anyone. It’s hard to maintain an air of “smartest guy in the room” when you don’t even understand the conversation.

    4
  48. Sleeping Dog says:

    Perhaps we should revert to Esperanto, por kio ĝi valoras.

    3
  49. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Revisiting your original comment:

    In reality French has different words for male and female people, and happens to use those same words to describe inanimate objects rather than “it”.

    You appear to miss the fact that the nouns themselves are gendered, not just the corresponding pronouns. And that, in turn, impacts how the thing denoted by the noun is understood.

    For instance, female gender is often assigned to objects that are traditioonally used by women. Similarly, the female gender is also often assigned to things that tend to be acted upon (corresponding to traditional notions of female passivity).

    In other words, grammatical gender is, or at least, can be loaded with implicit meaning. This may not always be obvious, in much the same way that a non-native (or less proficient) speaker of English may not be able to grasp the difference between, let’s say, “to mock” and “to deride,” which, of course, are close in meaning but denote different things (or, perhaps, stress different aspects of the same action).

    So gendered nouns don’t “just happen” and it is certainly not the case that one could just as well use the neuter (“it”) instead of the masculine or feminine gender.

    Making such claims betrays profound ignorance of how gendered languages work.

    They go to a great deal of trouble in memorizing which set of words goes with which inanimate object

    Simply false. As any native speaker of, e.g., Spanish can tell you.

    but in the end, when they are used for those objects they aren’t denoting gender.

    Not biological gender, obviously, but also not entirely free of gendered value judgments regarding value or proper use.

    The nut of what I’m saying is that the French don’t literally think that, say, a fork is female and a spoon is male, i. e. they don’t as a rule believe your cutlery can mate and produce offspring.

    Well, duh.

    2
  50. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “One of the biggest issues I have with all these “non-binary pronouns” is HTF do you pronounce them?!”

    That’s why I liked “iel” — and why LatinX bugs me. Because misplaced capital aside, it looks like it should be pronounced “lateenks.” Someone above — sorry someone for not remembering who you were! — mentioned that in Latin America they’ve started using the non-gendered “Latine,” which strikes me as an elegant solution and a pretty word.

    I wouldn’t mind a new, neutral pronounce, but make it something easy to say and whose pronunciation maps directly on its spelling. Otherwise it looks like what you really want is a fight.

  51. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    my instinct would be to refer to, say, my car. She feels I should say “our car”.

    We had the same exact issue. But once your will is properly crushed by years of marriage, you find it easier to just agree.

    5
  52. wr says:

    @Lounsbury: “You lot are such precious thin skinned bit and so preciously sniffy in your Lefty fashion when anyone disagrees with the Correct Form of Thinking.”

    Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “they’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you.”

    No one here is offended at your silly attempts to pretend to be educated by using every big word in the dictionary whether or not you understand what they mean. We either snicker at the pomposity or just scroll along to find someone who actually has something to say.

    4
  53. Michael Reynolds says:

    Coincidentally, just got a fan letter in French. Had to rely a bit on Google translate, but I found when I read it out loud I still had the accent. It surprises people when I go to France. I look like an adult, and I can rock the ‘r’ and the sharp ‘u’ so they assume I’m fluent. And then. . . word things. . .no come in right rank. Order. Sequence. I have a ten year-old’s vocabulary, degraded by five decades of alcohol and cannabis. So then I’m an imbecile.* Which I can pronounce perfectly in the original French.

    *Feel free, people, it’s a slow one right across home plate.

    2
  54. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Lounsbury:

    How pray tell will you conjugate the verbs eh?

    The same way you do now? French verbs aren’t gendered, only French nouns and pronouns…

    2
  55. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: This is why my solution to the whole problem is to insist everyone speak Japanese….

    1
  56. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Completely off-topic, but thank you for explaining to me what F#@K is going on with the Brexit/NI Protocol business.

    And happy Hanukkah.

    1
  57. Gustopher says:

    @drj:

    For instance, female gender is often assigned to objects that are traditioonally used by women. Similarly, the female gender is also often assigned to things that tend to be acted upon (corresponding to traditional notions of female passivity).

    In other words, grammatical gender is, or at least, can be loaded with implicit meaning.

    Latin is the same way, but if my memory serves, there are some neuter nouns. The masculine and feminine are more common though.

    So gendered nouns don’t “just happen” and it is certainly not the case that one could just as well use the neuter (“it”) instead of the masculine or feminine gender.

    It could happen, but it would definitely change the meaning. Like when we went from chairman to chairperson or simply chair. Or started generally referring to both actors and actresses as actors.

    In Spanish, a cat is masculine — el gato. But I think my female cat is la gata, despite the generic cat being male.

  58. Andy says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Russian has the advantage of having a neutral gender with its own conventions. It would therefore be much more straightforward to create a non-gendered replacement for man/woman, he/she, etc. The grammar already exists, unlike French or Spanish.

    @MarkedMan:

    It reminds me of a constant low grade tension between my wife and I. If I’m talking to you and she was present, my instinct would be to refer to, say, my car. She feels I should say “our car”. But to me that sounds wrong.

    We use “our car” in that situation. In terms of legal ownership, I don’t think any of the five vehicles we have are jointly owned, but we never think of them as belonging to a particular member of the family. Internal to the family, we say, “the Subaru” or “the Chevy.”

    @Lounsbury:

    While yes majority of French speakers are not in France itself, the majority of native speakers and the driving force of French usage are European French native speakers. African users of French are of course rather signfiicant, but are largely second language – but being if anything rather more culturally conservative about the former colonial language (as a social prestige function) are not going to drive any arch intellectualised attempt at grammatical innovation.

    Naturally, but the point is that some new linguistic innovation that gets created in France likely isn’t going to spread to the rest of the Francophone world if its usage remains confined to a small sliver of the French elite. And maybe not even then since the opportunity to use a new transgender pronoun would be limited.

  59. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “This is why my solution to the whole problem is to insist everyone speak Japanese….”

    I’m learning Dutch. Which does have two categories for nouns which take different articles — de and het — but are specifically not masculine and feminine. I don’t know what the hell else to call them, but there you go.

  60. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Wouldn’t it be the same problem as a similar scene with three or more dudes, where “he” could be almost anyone?

    I had an epiphany over the holiday: and easy solution to the “is this particular ‘they’ singular or plural” was to borrow a linguistic trick from The South: “they” and “they all”:

    “My wife said that they ran into one of the neighbors at the grocery store and they all caught up on the latest neighborhood gossip while they all shopped”

  61. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Andy:

    Russian has the advantage of having a neutral gender with its own conventions. It would therefore be much more straightforward to create a non-gendered replacement for man/woman, he/she, etc. The grammar already exists, unlike French or Spanish.

    Da, ya govoryu. I still think you’re going to get the mother of all pushbacks when they find out about declensions though (and how gender affects verbs / adjectives). Luckily determining gender in the nominative is pretty regular except for those ь words.

  62. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnMcC:

    They think Britain is trying to make up special rules for itself, and that isn’t their favorite thing.

    Chag urim sameach to you and yours (and Merry Christmas) as well 🙂

  63. @Kurtz:
    Interesting that the French are pinning wokism on America considering that French thinkers poured much of the foundation for this part of the Left.
    I suspect that this is largely a myth (probably fed by conservatives to hide the almost american-as-apple-pie nature of “wokeness”); the Frankfurt School theories make some sense (but even these were probably more popular in USA than in Germany), but the connections with structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, etc, etc. are probably much exagerated.

  64. @MarkedMan:

    They go to a great deal of trouble in memorizing which set of words goes with which inanimate object

    As a Portuguese, I never “memorized” that “livro” (book), “garfo” (fork) or “carro” (car) are “male” and “mesa” (table), “colher” (spoon), “televisão” (tv) or “motorizada” (motorcycle) are “female”; like, btw, I never “memorized” that the words for these objects are “livro”, “garfo”, “carro”, “mesa”, “colher”, “televisão” or “motorizada”. It is a thing that we learn intuitively even without noticing. In the end, learning that some object is called “livro” is not much different than learning that is “o livro” (the book) and not “a livro”, or “este livro é muito chato” (this book is very boring) and not “esta livro é muito chata” (after all, humans usually don’t learn isolated words, they learn by listening full phrases and conversations)

    1
  65. An exception is the “autoestrada”(highway, I think), where some people says “a autoestrada” (female) and other people say “o autoestrada” (male). Everybody agrees that “estrada” (road) is female, but for some reason there are not consensus about the “autoestrada”

  66. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Miguel Madeira:

    Interestingly, in a similar way the Russian words дедушка (grandfather), мужчина (man), дядя (uncle), and папа (dad), despite being clear cut examples of the masculine character, are all feminine gender.

    1
  67. Lounsbury says:

    @wr: I suppose this is supposed to be cutting or something like that. Really, do need to try some other less hackneyed commentary tropes with your Lefty left clique, it would be more convincing if you lot could restrain yourselves even from responding to obvious baiter-provocateur, JKB… and reaction to anyone violating the currenty Woke Right thinking. Precious, you lot are like an Edwardian tea-circle, sniffing about how one should pay attention to “that one, not the right sort.”

    Reynolds contrarianess is more interesting, even when I find I don’t agree with him. He is at least not ideological.

    @Andy: Ah yes, I misread you. Apologies.

    And yes.

    Now what escapes is how the American woke have decided to spend such political capital on such an arch and foolish demarche – given the long history of mandated language change (see Academie…), when the natural evolution of the semantic meaning of existing words is rather more likely to be successful (Example: evolution of the increasing flexibility of the meaning of Husband and Wife with the impact of gay marriage – where simply the meaning space has expanded and become more flexible with rather less pain and ridiculous Student Uni commons and Faculty lounge politics) and really achieve the same actual result. But then maybe it’s not ‘transformative enough.

    @drj: “For instance, female gender is often assigned to objects that are traditioonally used by women. Similarly, the female gender is also often assigned to things that tend to be acted upon” While one sees the claim about gendering of nouns and alignment in romance etc languages in such fashion, I have never seen a clear actual statistical analysis of the same versus anectdote and assertion from a certain agenda driven view. Perhaps it exists, but certainly in the world of tools it is rather not something that holds up – how the perceuse (f) (drill) or the clef à molette (f) (wrench) or la scie (saw), one can go on of course fit this rather escapes, but obviously as well is cherry picked anectdote in reply. It may be such a rigorous statistical study exists, and would be an interesting read – but while hardly being a bricoleur myself, a mental review of tools does not suggest grammatical gendering is terribly convincing to map in French or such as my horrid Spanish is, Spanish in this fashion.

    1
  68. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Love rules and categories. Truly do in an unconscious manner even. I do swear it is only in French business articles in business press where one finds the repeated phrase, written without any irony at all, “enfin une reglementation” (or law) [finally regulation] for X or Y or Z subject. Not something one sees in FT. Quite deeply rooted.

  69. Richard Gardner says:

    I’ve never studied French, but i can do a good attempt at pronouncing it in Quebec and Paris & Belgium (um, no to the southern areas of France). My languages are English, German, and Icelandic (declination of nouns hell. almost Latin – and has several sounds that don’t exist in Ensk (aspirate at the end = English, a click at the end). And I understand NW Mexican peasant Spanish (mostly cuss words – and word order). I remember my first trip to Belgium and realizing I could understand 70% of the news reporting in the Flemish dialect (vice I’m picking up a few words in Amsterdam with the guttural G).
    In language studies, English actually has one case of declining nouns in the possessive, but just a simple “‘s” at the end in most cases (unless broken, like It’s). In Icelandic, we studied a matrix of 28 possible declinations of the word “horse” (hest) with two genders. (Spell check hates declination)
    In the Nordic Languages, the definite article is appended to the noun (so dogthe (not separated, -in, -inn,-ið), rather than “the dog.” Makes skaldic poetry easy as most statements end with one of the gendered “the’s.” [Old blogging days, I had discussions with Beowulf translator Seablogger about this.]

    1
  70. @drj:

    For instance, female gender is often assigned to objects that are traditioonally used by women. Similarly, the female gender is also often assigned to things that tend to be acted upon (corresponding to traditional notions of female passivity).

    Much doubts if these is true; see Portuguese – almost all guns are “female”: “pistola” (pistol), “espingarda” (rifle), “metralhadora” (machine gun / assault rifle), “espada” (sword). Many classical mechanical tools are also female: “chave-de-fendas” (screwdriver), “chave inglesa” (adjustable wrench), “alavanca” (leverage). Contrast with the male “aspirador” (vacum cleaner), “fogão” (stove) or “prato” (dish). And what is the difference between the female “colher” (spoon) or “faca” (knife) and the male “garfo” (fork)? Or why “corvo” (raven), “gaio” (jay), “pardal” (sparrow) or “gavião” (hawk) are male and “gralha” (crow), “pega” (magpie), “andorinha” (swallow) or “águia” (eagle) are female? Or why “pega-azul” (azure-winged magpie) is female but “charneco” (azure-winged magpie – yes, the same bird) is male? Or “jaguar” (jaguar in European Portuguese) is male and “onça” (jaguar in Brazilian Portuguese) is female

    Perhaps smaller things tend to be considered “female” and bigger things male (“viola”/viola is female, “violencelo” is male, “lagosta”/spiny lobster is female, “lavagante”/clawed lobster is male, “jaguar” is male, “jaguatirica”/ocelot is female, “corvo”/raven versus “gralha”/crow, etc.; and “canhão”/cannon is male) but even that with many exceptions (see the “águia”/eagle versus “gavião”/hawk”; and the small “violino”/violin is also male)

  71. Wr says:

    @Lounsbury: Is it now “left” to think you’re a fraud?