Grammar

New French Pronoun Causing Backlash

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When an online dictionary decided to add a relatively new French pronoun, controversy immediately followed. I bet you can probably guess why.

You probably haven’t heard the new French pronoun iel. You will find it being used online and primarily among younger generations. But its recent inclusion in an online dictionary rubbed people the wrong way.

Iel is a combination of the masculine pronoun il, for he, and the feminine pronoun elle, for she. Its gender-neutrality will be viewed by some as a step toward equality for transgendered people. But for conservatives, it seems to be the latest “attack” on their delicate perception of the world around them.

Recently, Le Petit Robert dictionary, which is considered a linguistic authority, added iel to its online edition. 

I should note that you pronounce iel like yell. I took Spanish in high school, so I tend to run the risk of butchering the pronunciation of plenty of French words. But I would never have thought you’d say “yell” for iel.

In any case, Le Robert’s director, Charles Bimbenet, explained they added the word after researchers noted “an increasing usage” of the third-person pronoun in “a large body of texts,” The Washington Post reported.

France’s Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer criticized the dictionary’s decision to add the word, calling it a case of “wokeism.” He said inclusive language is not the future of the French language.

There’s the problem with language and ‘wokeism’

You may disagree that discussions about gender identity are necessary. If you do, you probably identify with the gender into which you were born and have never thought otherwise.

A lot of people — more than most of us ever realized just a couple of years ago — can’t say that.

I don’t know whether French has a true equivalent of the English phenomenon known as the “singular they.” I’m sure French has a pronoun for they. I just don’t know whether they embrace the use of the they pronoun when used to refer to a single specific person.

I can understand the dislike of a fabricated word. Some proposed made up pronouns to cover a nondescript gender option some time ago. In fact, they made up multiple sets that could be used. They didn’t go over here. I doubt they ever will.

But using an existing pronoun, specifically they, works fairly well in English. It’s not perfect. There are specific times when it can cause more confusion than it eliminates.

Still, it solves a legitimate problem that actually does exist, no matter how much some may doubt that fact.

Inventing a word out of thin air might not be ideal.

But ignoring what we know now about gender identity and insisting instead that everything remain just as it always had been out of “comfort” isn’t ideal either.

Yes, language evolves. But awareness and understanding has to evolve first.

It sounds like there are people resisting the acknowledgement of gender identity who need to check their attitude.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.