The French Ministry of Education officially bans teaching “inclusive writing” because the median period makes the language more complicated. It recommends to use both male and female nouns to refer to a group of people.
The French Minister of Education released a decree officially banning the use of the median period in school textbooks, and affirms the need to respect the current grammar and structure of the French language taught to children.
French is often considered as a beautiful but difficult language. One of the hurdles for English speakers, which exists in other latin tongues like Spanish or Italian too, is to deal with masculine and feminine words. In French, objects are not assigned to a neutral gender and are either feminine or masculine. A girafe is “une giraffe“, and would be require a feminine pronoun even if it’s a male. But a rectangle and a triangle are both masculine. Actually, neutral gender does exist but it takes the form of the masculine. Moreover, when a group of people is made up of one man and several women, grammar rules that the adjectives or verbs will take the masculine form. And several jobs or functions are masculine, such as “chef” for chief.
As a consequence, the movement of “inclusive writing” aims to bring more balance in a male-dominated world, by providing a more feminine version of society. Different solutions exist, such as adopting all jobs with a masculine and feminine version, like “docteur” and “docteure” for doctor, and “cheffe” and “chef” for chief. As a consequence, in order to avoid the masculine overuling, referring to a group of people with different genders would require to include both substantives instead of one, such as “les policiers et les policières” for the policemen and policewomen making it more cumbersome at length. One of the dominant solutions is also to include a median period, writing the word in the masculine and the feminine version at the same time. As such, one would write “chef•fe” for chief, and “les pompier•e•s sont fatigué•e•s” for a group male and female firefighters who are exhausted. By providing both versions, it would come closer to gender neutrality.
Inclusive writing harmful to the intelligibility of French
The use of a new neutral form like the “it” in English is far less discussed, as it would be a complete overhaul of the French language.
The French Academy, a council of intellectuals named for life who regulate the French language – in a conservative way – consider the inclusive writing as an “immediate and totalitarian reform violating the pace of the evolution of a language“.
A school textbook published in 2017 grew criticism among public officials, linguists and various scholars. Following the controversy, the Prime Minister adopted a regulation that would forbid inclusive writing in administrative documents. And in 2021, the Ministry of Education formalized the ban for textbooks and teachers. The note mentions that inclusive writing – mostly considered as the method with the median period – would be “harmful to the practice and intelligibility of the French language“. Moreover, if the median period could provide more gender inclusivity, the government points out it excludes children with disabilities, such as dyslexia, as it becomes more difficult to read and understand. The median period is actually only a written change as it is difficult to adapt orally.
The Minister recommends instead to use both a masculine and feminine version of the words when referring to a group of people with their jobs titles or functions.
Media sources and useful links:
- Règles de féminisation, Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la jeunesse et des sports, May 2021, Free access