The French Academy is railing against moves towards a gender-neutral style, but language always blends and changes without any loss of expressive power
Forget Brexit. Europe is facing an even more fundamental crisis: one of its major languages is en péril mortel (“in mortal danger”). If you take the French Academy at its word, within a few years 70 million EU citizens will be communicating using only grunts – or grognements, as they will no longer be able to say.
The cause? Political correctness gone mad, as usual. The academy, which is charged with the Canute-like task of preventing the French language from changing very much, is furious at the use of “inclusive language”, which attempts to get around the assumption of male superiority baked into French grammar. Because French, like many other languages, requires nouns to have masculine or feminine endings, if you’re describing a mixed-gender group, you’re forced to pick one. By convention, it’s the masculine. So a group of, say, six MPs – one man and five women – would be called députés, not députées. One way to deal with this is to have an alternative form that covers everyone: député-e-s.