November 16, 2017

"[T]he masculine gender is deemed more noble than the feminine gender because of the superiority of man over woman."

Said a 1767 grammar book, cited in "a declaration signed by 314 teachers in France that they would no longer teach the rule that 'the masculine prevails over the feminine' when it came to plural nouns" (NYT op-ed).
The teachers’ objection was not just philosophical; it was philological. The rule, they said... was a parvenu (it was enunciated in the 17th century and became widely taught only in the 19th century) and politically motivated (it buttressed French laws that denied women equal rights). Besides that, they said, the rule encourages children “to accept the domination of one sex over the other” to the detriment of women.

In its place, the teachers suggested using “the rule of proximity,” in which the adjective matches the gender of the noun closest to it, which was common practice for centuries. Or they said, people could use “majority agreement,” with the adjective matching the gender of the noun with the biggest number of members. Or even, they said, writer’s choice....

33 comments:

rhhardin said...

Prescriptive grammar is subject to whims.

Descriptive grammar on the other hand is a study of what sounds wrong and trying to find the rules.

mccullough said...

What do the Muslims think about it?

Unknown said...

Just go to Der, Die and Das. For all those sticky situations. And hey, the French always did welcome German overlords...

--Vance

Ignorance is Bliss said...

..with the adjective matching the gender of the noun with the biggest number of members.

How about simply matching the noun with the biggest member?

tim in vermont said...

Noted.

traditionalguy said...

But Divine Right of Kings comes into play here. The silly Englaise let Queens succeed to the throne while Le Francais never let a woman rule La France.

rehajm said...

French culture under attack by the French. Well, that’s new.

Michael K said...

The Muslims will fix that when they take over,

Amexpat said...

How about doing away with gender in grammar? There's no real need for it - English does just fine without conjugating gender for nouns and adjectives - and it make learning a foreign language much easier.

Ralph L said...

Tradguy, that is the Salic Law. Catherine d'Medici and Louis XV's mistresses managed to circumvent it.

Richard Dolan said...

Interesting and a bit odd. The Academie Francaise has a long history of trying to preserve and protect the purity of French, usually from the dreaded incursion of Anglo-Saxon influences. Hasn't worked out all that well, and efforts of that sort always run afoul of the pleasure so many in France get from dissing authoritarians of every sort. As to a preference for the masculine gender in certain usages, it's very doubtful that native speakers of French are much invested in the idea of the greater 'nobility' of the masculine gender when using plural nouns. They're just trying to make themselves understood. In all events, common usage will prevail over the grammatical rules that partisans of one sort or another try to impose, whether or not teachers of grammar push one rule rather than another.

Ralph L said...

I'm so sick of people using "gender" instead of "sex." Even the French are doing it.

DougWeber said...

Actually in this case "gender" is the correct term. Remember all French nouns have a gender and the adjective agrees with the noun it governs. If an adjective governs two nouns, what gender should it use?

Hagar said...

"The whole world is getting Californicated!"

Bay Area Guy said...

Well, until the the emergence of Western Civilization, you know, all that Christian/capitalist/Shakespeare stuff, most of the world was based on the simple principle that "might makes right." So, sorry gals, but you weren't too mighty, back then.

You should be thanking us englightened Christian, white males for elevating your collective station in society.

Etienne said...

The nice thing about English (being a mongrel language) is that there is no gender.

The fact that there is no gender, makes it a language of savages, but then Rome fell to savages, so there is that.

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CJinPA said...

The ultimate solution is clear: local tribunals to rule on the application of gender to speech. You can't let people decide these things without any direction. Social constructs don't just destroy themselves.

Etienne said...

I'm so sick of people using "gender" instead of "sex." Even the French are doing it.

There is no "sex" in La and Le, but there is gender. Masculine and feminine are genders not sexes.

There is no penis and no vagina. Grammar can't breed.

Mike Sylwester said...
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Mike Sylwester said...

Recently I watched a lot of YouTube videos in which young women gave instructions about cooking, sewing, making crafts, etc. Obviously the audiences for such videos are likewise young women.

In practically every such video that I watched, the female instructor began her video by addressing her female audience with the greeting: Hey, guys!.

In general a young woman commonly will address a group of other young women as you guys.

exiledonmainstreet said...

rehajm said...
French culture under attack by the French. Well, that’s new."

Yes, and it's very odd. Of all the peoples of Europe, the French always struck me as the least likely to succumb to cultural self-abasement.

exiledonmainstreet said...

In general a young woman commonly will address a group of other young women as you guys.

11/16/17, 11:00 AM

Northerners do that (and in NJ, it's "youse guys.") In the South, "y'all" is used for addressing groups of both sexes. Y'all's gender neutrality makes it very useful.

Ralph L said...

My two sarcasms and a double entendre apparently were too subtle--or just not very good.

Rome fell to savages
And like the French, they rotted first and invited the savages in.

Gahrie said...

The romance languages are all much more patriarchal than English...yet English is always the only language attacked as patriarchal.

Scott McGlasson said...

So THAT'S where all this got started...

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

"You should be thanking us enlightened Christian, white males for elevating your collective station in society"

All kidding aside, exactly this. And when the bottom falls out, as history insists it will, women will absolutely pray pray for a, um, white knight.

n.n said...

Strange, but in traditional societies, the feminine gender was noble in complementary measure to the masculine. Something changed in the wake of social progress guided by liberal ideology and the Pro-Choice Church. Everything changed since women were denied agency by female chauvinists pursuing wealth, pleasure, leisure, and Democratic leverage.

n.n said...

Well, some traditional societies. Principles matter.

Rabel said...

The grammarian used five semi-colons in her article; all correctly. That's just showing off; bitch.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Many rules of English grammar are also relatively recent (two centuries or so) and unnecessary impositions. We are mostly familiar with only the Indo-European languages, with their masculine/feminine/neuter genders. There's a lot more variety in the world than that.

English originally had gender, like the good Germanic language that it is, but lost it in the transition from OE to ME. The reasons are mostly important to linguists.

Etienne said...
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urbane legend said...

exiledonmainstreet said...
In the South, "y'all" is used for addressing groups of both sexes. Y'all's gender neutrality makes it very useful.

Thank you for spelling y'all's correctly. There are Southerners who can't spell y'all, much less make it possessive.