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Thu Nov 16, 2017, 02:01 PM

Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy

'I still remember my sense of indignation when my high school French teacher told us about the rule: French nouns have a gender, even seemingly sexless ones like “table.” And if you had a mixed group of masculine and female nouns — say, a bunch of male students (étudiants) and female students (étudiantes) — you had to describe them, as a group, in the masculine.

“What if there are 99 female students and one male student?” I demanded.

It didn’t matter, the teacher said. What’s more, if you wrote a sentence about attractive (beaux) étudiants and attractive (belles) étudiantes, the adjective used to describe them had to be masculine, too: “Les étudiants et les étudiantes sont beaux.”

That was just the way French was, she said.

The sexism of that stung. And that was even before I discovered that one of the rationales for this rule in which one man trumped an infinite number of women was that “the masculine gender is deemed more noble than the feminine gender because of the superiority of man over woman.”'>>>

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/opinion/french-sexism-grammar-everybody.html?

10 replies, 2155 views

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Arrow 10 replies Author Time Post
Reply Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy (Original post)
elleng Nov 2017 OP
CrispyQ Nov 2017 #1
unblock Nov 2017 #2
beveeheart Nov 2017 #4
unblock Nov 2017 #5
unc70 Nov 2017 #3
ucrdem Nov 2017 #6
elleng Nov 2017 #7
guillaumeb Dec 2017 #8
elleng Dec 2017 #9
lapucelle Mar 2018 #10

Response to elleng (Original post)

Thu Nov 16, 2017, 02:07 PM

1. When I was a kid, I was taught that God has no gender.

When I asked in Confirmation, why we referred to God as he instead of having a special pronoun for God, I was laughed at by the entire class & the minister who taught it. That minister will never know how much his reaction turned me off to religion. Man created God to control woman. That's what I believe.

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Thu Nov 16, 2017, 02:22 PM

2. "table" is an interesting one because it's masculine, i think uniquely in french.

it's feminine in spanish ("mesa", italian ("tavola" and also in latin ("mensa".

sometimes the gender of a word fits some sort of stereotype, other times, not so much.

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Response to unblock (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 18, 2017, 03:25 AM

4. I believe it is "la table"

in French.

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Response to beveeheart (Reply #4)

Sat Nov 18, 2017, 10:18 AM

5. yes it is a bit more complicated -- a physical table is la table, but a math table is le tableau

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Thu Nov 16, 2017, 02:59 PM

3. I am not so sure about the accuracy of their arguments

I have always had an amateur interest in philology, honed by being married 20 years to a PhD in Romance philology including while she was in graduate school. My ex is unfortunately dead; otherwise I would consult her. But my first impression is that the time frame and justification for the modern treatment of gender in the French language doesn’t seem right. When I get some time, I will certainly dig into this, look at how French evolved and at related languages like Picard.

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Mon Nov 20, 2017, 05:50 PM

6. They're right about masculine adjectives

but not necessarily about the nobility of the gender etc etc. Grammatical gender is a bit of a mystery. Usually the natural gender if there is one will correspond in French (la reine, le roi), and I don't know of any cases where it doesn't, but not so in Latin, where "nauta," "poeta," "agricola" etc are masculine first-declension nouns, i.e. they have feminine forms but masculine natural gender.

Fortunately languages evolve, and many if not most professions, which were previously masculine, whatever the gender of the actual person (le docteur, le professeur), have developed feminine forms, in Quebec it seems moreso than in France, but there too. So the NYT article might be exaggerating for dramatic effect, or maybe the writer had a chauvinistic teacher, which is not hard to imagine.

In any case students are always interested in this so merci beaucoup!

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Response to ucrdem (Reply #6)

Mon Nov 20, 2017, 07:17 PM

7. Pas de quoi!

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Sat Dec 23, 2017, 09:48 PM

8. J'ai une question. (notez bien le gendre)

Les hommes ne sont pas supérieurs aux femmes?

Vraiment?

Totallement inouie!!!!


Joyeux Noël. Pas joyeuse, mais joyeux.

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Response to guillaumeb (Reply #8)

Sat Dec 23, 2017, 09:56 PM

9. Joyeux Noel, guillaume!

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Sat Mar 3, 2018, 04:18 PM

10. ,,,

boy = garçon
son = fils

girl = fille
daughter = fille

Sons were valuable enough to merit a separate signifier.

I use the impersonal, gender-neutral, third person singular pronoun "on" whenever contextually correct.

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