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Vive la revolution? French ‘language police’ lift ban on feminine job titles

Vive la revolution? French ‘language police’ lift ban on feminine job titles
The French language is poised to undergo a feminine facelift after the austere council charged with safeguarding France’s linguistic heritage abandoned its hard-nosed opposition to the feminization of job titles.

In a surprising departure from its centuries-old ban on feminine-fiddling with trade names, the Academie Francaise, or “French Academy,” has declared in a new report that the 36-member body saw “no obstacle in principle” to feminine versions of French words for professional titles. Almost all of them have been masculine by default.

The uber-conservative council, often referred to as the “guardians” or “police” of the French language, said that they were open to “all developments in the language aimed at recognizing the place women have in society today.”

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The academy’s report may be a begrudging acknowledgment that the language “police” need to catch up with the times: feminine versions of job titles, although technically unofficial, are already used widely in France, and several French-speaking countries such as Canada have already embraced feminizing nouns when appropriate.

Some hailed the move as an important step forward for French women.

“To feminists outside of France, fighting to be allowed gender-neutral or even male work titles; this may seem like a step in the wrong direction. But to French feminists, women being linguistically recognized as actually present in this world is very important,” wrote Faustine Wohlfart, a freelance journalist based in France.

The move, however, was not welcome news for French conservatives.

“For the first time in its history, language was reshaped under the pressure of politicians and lobbies, and the Academie Francaise eventually surrendered,” right-wing MP Julien Aubert wrote on Twitter.

In some respects, the change could be implemented seamlessly. The report noted that many titles would be easy to feminize by simply adding a silent “e.” However, some words, such as medecin (doctor), now risk confusion with medecine (the science of medicine).

The French Academy, which was established in 1635 under Louis XIII, last weighed in on the feminization of profession names in 2014, when it ruled that the mayor of Paris was guilty of crimes against grammar by championing a gender-neutral version of her job title.

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