The French controversy over “inclusive writing” has surfaced.*
Cole Stangler, “France Is Becoming More Like America. It’s Terrible,” NYTimes, 6-2-21.
Annabelle Timsit, “The Push to Make French Gender-Neutral,” http://www.theatlantic.com, 11-24-17.
Here are examples that have been cited:
les musicien·ne·s (the musicians)
les idiot·e·s (the idiots)
This accommodation is meant to overcome a tradition of gendered languages that requires a roomful of musicians or idiots to be lumped into a masculine noun (les musiciens, les idiots) if there’s a single male amongst them. It uses a character variously called the “median-period” or “midpoint” (obtained on my Apple keyboards with shift+option+9) to confer equitable simultaneity upon the gender markers. Purists will still perceive a precedence issue, since the masculine marker comes first in this system.
I’m not sure how inclusive writing is meant to be read aloud, if at all.
Inclusive writing would work thus in Spanish:
lo·a·s músico·a·s (the problem is compounded by the gendered definite article: los, las)
lo·a·s idiotas (“idiots” is conveniently inclusive in Spanish)
English is comparatively ungendered. “Aviatrix” crashed long ago, and “actress” has largely assimilated to “actor.” There’s still a problem: traditional usage prescribes masculine pronouns and qualifiers for generic reference even with mixed assemblages.
Example: Each member of the jury must leave his phone at the door.
Contemporary usage is moving to “Each member of the jury must leave their phone at the door.”
Arguably, coopting the plural qualifier for a singular entity achieves perceived neutrality; however, it introduces (in my view) a potential for ambiguity of reference in other contexts.
Example: One of my friends said they were going to photograph their house. Who is photographing whose house?
I have often used the workaround “his or her,” but it can prove unwieldy in complex sentences:
“Anyone who wishes to raise his or her seatback table to give himself or herself more room may do so provided he or she no longer wants refreshment service.”
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