Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer is not in the same camp. He went to Twitter on Wednesday to say that “inclusive writing is not the future of the French language.” The 56-year-old former law professor warned that schoolchildren should not use “iel” as a valid term despite its inclusion in Le Robert, seen as a linguistic authority on French since 1967.
Francois Jolivet, a lawmaker from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, also made his distaste plain. Nonbinary pronouns are, he suggested, a worrying sign that France is embracing a “woke” ideology.
Jolivet wrote a letter to the bastion of French language, the 400-year-old Academie Francaise, claiming that Le Robert’s “solitary campaign is an obvious ideological intrusion that undermines our common language and its influence.”
The general director of Le Robert editions, Charles Bimbenet, jumped to the dictionary’s defense Wednesday in a statement. Far from dictating which terms should be used, he said, Le Petit Robert was elucidating the word’s meaning, now it is growing in currency nationwide.
Since “the meaning of the word iel cannot be understood by reading it alone,” Bimbenet said, “it seemed useful to us to specify its meaning for those who encounter it, whether they wish to use it or … reject it.”
“Robert’s mission is to observe and report on the evolution of a changing and diverse French language,” he said.
In 2017, the Academie Francaise warned that moves to make French more gender neutral would create “a disunited language, with disparate expression, that can create confusion verging on illegibility.”
Gendered languages like French are seen as a particular hurdle for advocates of nonbinary terms as all nouns are categorized as either masculine or feminine, unlike in English.
Not all European countries are moving at the same speed as France. In Greece, where all nouns have not two, but three possible genders, there is no official nonbinary pronoun, but groups who support them suggest using “it.”
In Spain, after former deputy prime minister and affirmed feminist Carmen Calvo asked the Royal Spanish Academy to advise on the use of inclusive language in the Constitution, its reply the next year was crystal clear: “Inclusive language” means “the use of the masculine to refer to men and women."
___ Associated Press writers Arno Pedram in Paris, Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece and Alberto Arce in Valbuena, Spain contributed