Feminizing the French language
Parity is a challenge that the French language can meet. It is not based on the transformation of the lexicon – there is no shortage of female nouns – nor on grammar, but essentially on usage. Our language offers enough resources to give women, both written and oral, as much visibility and consideration as men.
The feminization of the French language is more a matter of practice than of transformation. Our language has the necessary feminine words and rules to easily forge those who are lacking. The guide Woman, I write your name… demonstrated this and recognized many uses in the report Feminization of the names of occupations and functions, adopted on 28 February 2019 by the French Academy, is a decisive turning point.
If the use of certain feminine names can sometimes ring strange in our ears because we are not used to hearing them or because we lack examples, a single personality is often enough for a term like Prime Minister or Chancellor is necessary.
The feminization is everyone’s business : it is based on an increased use of women’s names and on a number of editorial principles such as the use of epicenous words – identical to the masculine and feminine words, neutral wording – a collective name rather than a person’s name – or the doubling of words – all in order not to mark a preference.
Woman, I write your name…, the guide published in 1999 by the Institut national de la langue française, lists the most complete names of trades, titles, degrees and functions to date, and sets out a set of rules to help feminize these names. This reference work shows that, contrary to certain preconceived ideas, there is no difficulty in feminizing most names, often attested for several centuries.
In Belgium, the French language directorate of the Ministry of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation published the guide in 2020 Include without excluding. Good inclusive writing practices.
At Quebec, the Office québécois de la langue française published the notice of recommendation in 2015 Feminization of people’s names and epic writing.
In Switzerland, the Federal Chancellery published in 2020 the Guide to gender-neutral formulation of Confederation’s administrative and legislative texts.
The General Secretariat of the European Commission dedicates the “Inclusive Language” chapter of the 2021 edition of its European Commission Drafting Guide.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted two recommendations, one in 1990 on Eliminating sexism in language, the other in 2007 on Gender equality standards and mechanisms (see section A.6 “Elimination of sexism in language and promotion of language reflecting the principle of equality between women and men”.
TheUN Women presented in 2020 an editorial guide Inclusive writing. Promoting gender equality through language.
The Office of the Special Representative of theNATO for women, peace and security published in 2020 the NATO Handbook on Inclusive Language.
Circular of 21 November 2017 on the rules of feminization and writing of texts published in Official journal of the French Republic
The Government, while it cannot set the standard – freedom of expression presuming the right of everyone to speak and write as it sees fit – has chosen to lead the way by encouraging public services to give women a fair place. This circular recommends different solutions while excluding the use of forms abbreviated by a midpoint or by any other graphic separator, for reasons of intelligibility and clarity, the Administration having to address all our fellow citizens.
The guide For public communication without gender stereotypes (2022) from the High Council to Equality between Women and Men proposes a wide choice of lexical and editorial recommendations which can be used both orally and in writing, with the exception, for administrations, of abbreviated forms.
Feminization of business names, function, grade or title. Report of the General Commission on Terminology and Neology, October 1998;
Circular of 6 March 1998 on the feminization of business names, grades or titles
Circular of 11 March 1986 on the feminization of business, function, grade or title names