French 'language police' accept major shakeup: feminine job titles

Members of the French Academy listen to French politician Simone Veil, 2010
Members of the French Academy listen to French politician Simone Veil, 2010 Copyright REUTERS
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By Alexander MorganSandrine Amiel
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French 'language police' back major shakeup - accepting feminine forms of job titles for the first time


They've been called the 'immortals', the 'guardians' and the 'police' of the French language.

But after decades of resistance, the 'Academie Francaise' has accepted that job titles can take feminine forms.

The organisation, founded in the 17th century, oversees which words are formally accepted into the language and into French dictionaries.

For non-French speakers, unaccustomed to the concept of 'masculine' and 'feminine' words, this change might seem insignificant.

However, French terminology in the workplace has traditionally been masculine by default.

President, teacher, author, doctor, mayor, firefighter, police officer, engineer...these are just some of the jobs which previously had no formally recognised feminine form.

Conversely, gender-stereotypical roles have been feminine, such as 'childminder' and 'nurse'.

A controversial decision

The development has been welcomed by campaigners for gender equality, after the 'Academie' voted overwhelmingly to accept a report backing the change.

Linguist Eliane Viennot, a longtime advocate of feminine job titles, said the Academie Francaise's decision was long overdue. Until know, she told France Culture public radio, the Academy was all about strengthening masculine domination in the French language. The idea was that there were jobs that were designed only for men, and male powers that women could not access. 

But the move is not popular among the politically and linguistically conservative.  

"For the first time in its history, language was reshaped under the pressure of politicians and lobbies, and the Academie Francaise eventually surrendered," right-wing MP Julien Aubert wrote on Twitter. 

 "If it was the Academy of science everyone would worry, but in this case, it is considered 'progressive'," the lawmaker lamented. 

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