Cultural and educational impacts of the additions of gender-neutral pronouns within French

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The addition of non-binary pronouns creates controversy within French’s masculine/feminine sentence structure.

Vishnu Challa, Site Manager

Le Robert, a well-renowned French dictionary, has recently added the gender neutral pronoun “iel,” which has incited a large amount of controversy within the gender-based language.

For context, genders play a large role in identification of certain subjects, articles for nouns and agreement with verbs in the French language due to its masculine/feminine structure. A change like this can seem minor for a language like English, but French struggles to accommodate even newer, Western nouns due to their pronunciation and what masculine/feminine articles to attach to it.

The controversy surrounding this issue arose not just from the subtle addition of the word to the dictionary but also the stances officials such as the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, have taken. His belief that the future of the language is to be unsupportive of non-binary additions has created an uproar in the those who support this change.

Académie Française, the official department for regulating the French language, has not properly added this change to the language, but social media has started to adopt and spread its popularity. Melissa Lechtenburg, an AP French teacher at PV, shared her perspective on how she thinks people will incorporate it into their speech. “It’s going to have to go through the proper channels of the French government to be officially recognized before it can be used in schools. Now that isn’t to say you won’t have a teacher who would be open to using it because the French culture and population know of it,” she said.

Senior Vinay Joshi furthered this sentiment as a Spanish student, sharing his thoughts on this topic’s impact within other cultures. “The gender associated with words is so fundamentally ingrained in languages like Hindi and Spanish that such a switch could not happen quickly,” he said. 

Nations are constantly facing opposition when dealing with gender identity. Large strides with pronoun acceptance will help individuals spread awareness to figures of power of their troublesome confrontations, but it can take years or even decades for these changes to make it through.

For students, though, Joshi finds the discussion of gender-neutral pronouns important in an educational setting. “…like many other topics, if discussion of gender-neutral pronouns is not brought up in school, some students could form false ideologies around it,” he saids. Even outside of its implementation in French, students are being exposed to this change all across the world. Teaching its purpose and use in society provides them with appropriate information from a trusted, educational source.