French dictionary draws fire with new gender-inclusive pronoun

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer wrote on Twitter that, "Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language."
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer wrote on Twitter that, "Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language."PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - A major French reference dictionary defended on Wednesday (Nov 17) its official recognition of a gender-inclusive pronoun, after traditionalists pounced on what they called the latest incursion of US-inspired "wokeism".

While the everyday use of "iel" - a neologism combining the French words for he and she ("il" and "elle") - remains largely anecdotal for now, critics deem it a linguistic affront that needs to be banned.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer denounced the move by the Petit Robert dictionary, supporting a lawmaker's demand that French language guardians at the Academie Francaise weigh in.

"Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language," Blanquer wrote on Twitter.

"Our students, who are consolidating their basic knowledge, cannot have that as a reference," he added.

The controversy is the latest example of pushback in some French quarters against cultural theories on race and gender that have been embraced in particular by younger generations.

Critics deem them American imports that aim to pit people with different identities against each other, chipping away at the French ideals of unity and equality.

"This type of initiative sullies our language, and ends up dividing its users instead of bringing them together," wrote Francois Jolivet, the lawmaker in President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party seeking the ban by the Academie.

But the Robert's director Charles Bimbenet denied any activist motive, saying its specialists had noted a rise in the use of "iel" for several months now.

"The Robert has not had a sudden serious case of 'wokeism' - a word that we promise to define soon," Bimbenet wrote in a statement.

"It seemed useful to specify its meaning for people who come across it, whether they want to use it or, on the contrary, reject it," he said.

"Defining the words at use in the world helps us to better understand it."