An orthographic sign has become in France the emblem of inclusive, non-sexist or egalitarian language and the symbol of a battle that goes beyond language. The sign of discord is the so-called midpoint. It is written like this: •.
For some years now, it has been used, even in official texts of local administrations and in the private sector, to add a feminine suffix to a masculine noun. A single word thus designates both genders. Instead of writing, for example, “parisiens et parisiennes” (Parisians and Parisians), the Paris City Council writes “parisen • ne • s (something like parisino • a • s (Spanish has a more widespread and comfortable formula : “Parisians”).
A circular from the Ministry of National Education of May 5 has rekindled the discussion. The incumbent, Jean-Michel Blanquer, puts black on white something he has been insisting on for years. “I am going to ensure that there is only one grammar,” he promised in November 2017, “in the same way that there is only one language and one Republic.”
The circular establishes that “the use of so-called ‘inclusive’ writing should be outlawed. It refers, first, to the midpoint. And second, to the proximity agreement: instead of writing “three whole days and three nights”, as prescribed by the norm, it allows writing “three whole days and three nights”, since the name is feminine in the closest enumeration of the adjective . The document is not a total amendment to inclusive writing, as it recommends other modalities, such as “the use of the feminization of trades and functions”.
An argument of the minister against the midpoint is that “it constitutes an obstacle to access to the language of minors who face certain disabilities or learning disorders”. The midpoint would be, according to Blanquer, an example not so much of inclusive writing but exclusive.
Laetitia Branciard is the Vice President of the Féderation Française de Dys, which cares for people with language and learning disorders such as dyslexia. “A boy or girl”, defends Branciard, “has not automated the reading of a word, and if the references are upset, they will read it in two times, it will be two words for them. This is the midpoint effect ”.
Branciard declares herself a feminist, and she is not against all inclusive writing. “When I write to people, I double the words,” he explains. “Say good morning everyone”. Yes it is against the forms that, like the midpoint, complicate learning.
The debate has dragged on since 2017, when a school manual with egalitarian language was published and 314 teachers announced in a manifesto that they would stop teaching the rule of agreement with the masculine. The French Academy warned: “Faced with this inclusive aberration, the French language is, from now on, in mortal danger.” The then Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, published a circular similar to the one recently issued by the Minister of Education.
The paradox is that the discussion focuses on the midpoint, which is rarely used in classrooms, according to Branciard. “In school, the midpoint is not taught at all,” agrees linguist Julie Neveux, who believes that Blanquer’s circular “is a political gesture without any real relevance.”
The midpoint runs up against the usual resistance when trying to accelerate a linguistic change that reflects a social combat. “Smooth evolutions happen without realizing it,” explains Neveux, author of I speak as I am. What our words say about us (I speak as I am. What our words say about us). “On the other hand, in the case of the midpoint, we speak in a grammatical and graphic way with great visibility. It is a proposal that attacks, and this aggression is experienced as a moral judgment: the majority of announcers feel accused of a crime that they have not committed. That’s why the debates are so passionate. “
To the passion it contributes that everything that has to do with the language itself concerns people in an intimate and visceral way, “nostalgic”, according to Neveux. “And, suddenly,” he adds, “they tell you that you have to change it. It is as if they told us that we have to unlearn to walk ”.
In France, this link is intense. Grammar, rhetoric, the classics of literature are a sign of national identity. The current debate mixes the desire to preserve the language with the fear of its decline, which is the fear of the decline of a France subjected to the supposed Anglo-Saxon influence.
Writer Alain Borer sums it up in a newly published pamphlet, Speak white! Why give up the joy of speaking French? (“Speak white! Why give up the happiness of speaking French?”): “The so-called inclusive writing, ignorant of the French language, ugly, deaf, simplistic, moralistic and on the other hand illegible, appropriate for face-to-face relationships. dog, constitutes a manifest sign of American self-colonization, separatist and communitarian ”.
France is far from other countries, such as Spain, where people have been talking about “human rights” for a long time – here it is still common to say “human rights” – and where fights are over language for people of fluid gender, not binary. or neutral. When the French fight for the middle ground, they are actually talking about other things: about the ideological battles to define what it is to be a feminist, what it is to be on the right or on the left, what it is to be French today.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.