Academic journal article Women and Language

The Common-Gender in French: A Promising Way to Eliminate Sexism

Academic journal article Women and Language

The Common-Gender in French: A Promising Way to Eliminate Sexism

Article excerpt

The Common-Gender in French: a Promising Way to Eliminate Sexism. Celine Labrosse, McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women

Speakers of the French language are still taught in school the grammatical rule that the masculine gender takes precedence over the feminine gender. However, for the last 20 years, this rule has been challenged in French Canada. Feminine representations in words (bouchere, ecrivaine, auteure, etc.) have then been created and, corollarily, more texts are being written respecting both genders. Nonsexist guides for the drafting of texts have emerged from the government (Ministry of Education, Office de la langue francaise), union groups and private organizations.

The solutions adopted do not address the following paradox: Languages with gender-marking (in nouns, adjectives, etc.), even when written with the corresponding feminine and masculine forms, force people to differentiate between women and men: feminine and masculine words and suffixes necessarily imply two kinds of "classes" in society. In contrast, English and Danish in permitting common gender words allow the prominence of a function occupied by a human being rather than one of a person of either sex.

The theoretical model presented here subscribes to the latter point of view. It suggests that the common-gender forms in French (35% of nouns, 43% of adjectives) should be extended in order to make the gender-marks disappear gradually, which can be achieved only with spelling reform. …

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