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LANGUAGES WITH GENDER distinctions are getting caught up with inclusion and equality. For example, a French “leader” is the grammatically correct “le” dirigeant, with the assumption that such a position is generally occupied by a man. So is it a “lady pen” when they say la plume?
By contrast, English is generally gender-free: It sidesteps the kerfuffle by a change of wording: The use of “firefighters” in lieu of “firemen” respects women in that profession. “Chairperson” or simply “chair,” ungainly though some find the latter, admits women as well as men to prominence in committees.
The Voice of America, May 8, 2021, says, “The fight to make the French language kinder to women took steps forward, and back, this week.” Here are tidbits on both sides of this.
Women and Men in Leadership. The VOA describes, “Take the generic French word for leaders —dirigeants— for example. For some, that masculine spelling suggests that they are generally men and makes women leaders invisible, because it lacks a feminine ‘e’ toward the end. For proponents of inclusive writing, a more gender-equal spelling is dirigeant•es, inserting the extra ‘e,’ preceded by a middle dot, to make clear that leaders can be of both sexes.”
By the way, on my iMac ‘•’ is Option + 8.
Politics Enters the Picture. The French word élu describes an elected official. However, VOA says, for its plural “France’s conservative Republicans party uses élus; the left-wing France Unbowed tends toward élu•es. ‘It’s a fight to make women visible in the language,’ said Laurence Rossignol, a Socialist senator who uses the feminizing extra ‘•e.’ ”
The French Government Weighs In. “But for the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron,” VOA reports, “the use of •e threatens the very fabric of France. Speaking in a Senate debate on the issue on Thursday, a deputy education minister said inclusive writing ‘is a danger for our country’ and will ‘sound the death knell for the use of French in the world.’ ”
Quelle Horreur! By the way, horreur is a feminine noun.
Other Romance Languages. VOA adds: “Italy has seen sporadic debate over neutralizing gendered titles for public officials, or making them feminine when they normally would remain masculine, such as ministra instead of ministro for women Cabinet members. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi prefers to be called sindaca rather than sindaco.”
Google Translate, being quite au currant on the matter, gives either as “mayor.”
“Inclusive language,” VOA notes, “has also been a long battle for feminists and, more recently, of LGTBQ+ groups in Spain, although there is no consensus on how to make progress. Politics also play into the issue there.”
Members of Spain’s far-right Vox party have insisted on the traditional presidente when referring to each of Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, all of them women, rather than opting for the more progressive presidenta. On the other hand, the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has accepted usage of that feminine noun, as has Google Translate.
Even Deutsche Gets into the Kerfuffle. VOA reports, “A fault-line among German speakers has been how to make nouns reflect both genders. The German word for athletes, for example, could be written as Sportlerinnen to show that it includes both men and women, as opposed to the more usual, generic masculine Sportler.”
“For critics,” VOA continues, “the addition of the feminine innen at the end—sometimes with the help of an asterisk, capital letter or underscore—is plain ugly.”
Language Beauty. This reminds me of a discussion among international linguists after viewing a butterfly: Says the English linguist, “What a beautiful creature. And what a beautiful word: ‘butterfly.’ ”
“But what,” counters the French linguist, “can compare with papillon?”
“Or mariposa?,” responds the Spaniard.
“No,” says the Italian, farfalla is most beautiful.”
“Ach,” says the German, “so what’s wrong with Schmetterlng?”
Coming full circle, I note that “kerfuffle” evolved from Scottish English, as early as the 16th century, as a verb meaning “to dishevel.” It is gender-free. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021