France’s best-known book of words, Le Petit Robert dictionary, has caused a stir by including the non-binary personal pronoun as an alternative to the existing masculine and feminine terms.
While the annual update of the Petit Robert dictionary is often a topic of considerable debate in French media, the latest edition has caused quite the backlash, with some, including a cabinet member, accusing it of pandering to wokeism.
The word “iel,” a neologism combining the French words for he and she (“il” and “elle“), is described as the personal pronoun for a person of any gender. “Personal pronoun subject to the third person singular and plural, used to evoke a person of any gender. The use of the pronominal in inclusive communication,” the dictionary’s entry reads.
Striking out at the latest inclusion, François Jolivet, an MP in President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party took his protest to the Académie Française, the official guardians of the French language.
Describing the move as “wokeism,” Jolivet said in a letter to the Académie that the word “iel” had no place in the French language and claimed it would be a precursor to the rise of ‘woke’ ideology, which undermines the values of the Gallic nation.
Outspoken Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also chimed in. “Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language,” he tweeted, sharing Jolivet’s letter. “Just as our schoolchildren are consolidating their basic skills, they don’t need to have this as a reference,” he added.
The head of Gaullist party Debout La France, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, further criticized Petit Robert’s “woke” addition. “Let’s defend our language against these ridiculous fanatics of deconstruction and let’s boycott the collaborators who give into them,” he tweeted.
Le Petit Robert has responded to the “lively debate” by claiming that the pronoun has been used increasingly in society in recent months and they chose to reflect this by adding it to their latest update. The publication also said that some have welcomed the addition.
France’s offensive against wokeism, which has been described by some as an Anglo-Saxon import, recently saw Blanquer vow to increase the teaching of ancient Greek and Latin languages. The education minister claims that the classical vernaculars respond to a demand for logos (language as a tool for reason), in a world where “a lack of reason is spreading like wildfire.”
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