A French reference dictionary has defended 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.
The education minister denounced the move by the Petit Robert dictionary, supporting a lawmaker’s demand that French-language guardians at the Académie Française weigh in.
“Inclusive writing is not the future of the French language,” Jean-Michel Blanquer tweeted. “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 by younger generations in particular.
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 François Jolivet, the lawmaker in Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party seeking the ban by the Académie.
But the Robert’s director denied any activist motive, saying its specialists had noted a rise in the use of “iel” for several months.
“The Robert has not had a sudden serious case of ‘wokeism’ – a word that we promise to define soon,” Charles Bimbenet said. “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. Defining the words at use in the world helps us to better understand it.”