Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

A bunch of barbarians!

Canadian Foundation for Cross-Cultural Dialogue

2014-12-22

Did you know that a French parliamentarian recently had his salary docked for calling the speaker “Madame LE président” on several occasions? It would appear that referring to her as “Madame LA présidente” would have been far too simple for MP Julien Aubert, who is now €1,378 (close to Can$2,000) poorer.

Not all Francophones support the French practice of feminizing titles. While in Canada it may be common to refer to an “auteure” or to an “ingénieure,” the debate tends to lean the other way in France. According to a survey conducted by the French newspaper Le Figaro, close to three out of four respondents oppose the feminization of positions and trades.

Even the Académie française believes that adding an “e” at the end of certain masculine terms is a barbarism.

BARBARISM: (noun) the use in a language of forms or constructions felt by some to be undesirably alien to the established standards of the language. (Dictionary.com)

Thus, the great linguists, the very same ones whose job it is to standardize and perfect the French language, believe that feminizing titles is highly undesirable. Yet, here, feminization has become common practice, and has been formalized for more than 30 years.

In Le Guide du rédacteur, the Translation Bureau of Canada makes the point that for the last several decades, women have had access to occupations that were previously reserved for men. Until very recently, this social fact was not reflected in the French language; that is to say, the titles of these new occupations did not reflect the female presence other than to designate the wife of the man in the position, as in the case of mairesse for the mayor’s wife. Different organizations, such as Employment and Immigration Canada in 1978, the Office de la langue française du Québec in 1979, the Treasury Board of Canada in 1982 and the Translation Bureau in 1983, took a stance in favour of feminization, and made recommendations in this regard.

Would you say that the French Académie is being retrograde or conservative?