While France prohibits it, Spain makes neutral language official

The decision of the French government to ban the use of inclusive writing in national education has reopened the debate in European societies regarding the sexism of language, the sexualization of language or the deconstruction of the cultural codes in force until now.

The order of the French Minister of Education, Jean-Michel Blanqueur, is based on the idea that “inventing words” , as in the French case with the use of the midpoint to include the two gender endings, is an aberration. Not only in teaching, but also in official bodies, the use of spellings such as “les députéʹe·s” was expanded, which would correspond to the combination of the feminine députées with the masculine députés [deputados].

The French Ministry of Education considers that this type of writing has nothing to do with the fight against sexism, and only serves to get in the way of understanding and learning to write in a language that – it must always be said – is especially difficult to learn. for its complex orthographic and grammatical rules.

In Spain, the Ministry of Equality promotes a new creation grammatical genre, with the ending “-e”, valid for people of any sex. Its official poster with this year’s Gay Pride motif carried the caption: “ORGULLO de ALL – ALL – ALL”.

The evolution of language

Barbara De Cock, linguist and professor at the Catholic University of Leuven, talks about the subject for Aceprensa: “Language is constantly evolving. To give an example related to gender themes, Spanish has lost the neuter (except for some very specific cases, such as the demonstrative pronoun), which existed in Latin and Greek. That is, there have already been changes in terms of linguistic gender at other times, and it is not unimaginable that there will be more”. [Em português, dá-se o mesmo. “Este” e “esta” são pronomes demonstrativos do gênero masculino e feminino, respectivamente. Como vestígio do gênero neutro presente no português, há os pronomes demonstrativos “isto”, “aquilo”. (N. t.)]

“Discussions about language evolution are totally normal,” she adds. That said, “a debate like that of inclusive language reflects, moreover, discussions about the way society is organized”.

According to a survey in Germany, “most believe they are going too far when more and more attention is paid to gender neutrality”

For De Cock, inclusive language has to do with several aspects. According to her, one thing is the case of people who do not feel identified with the binary division of the sexes (male or female). But the term “inclusive language” is also used in reference to other distinct phenomena. It can consist of using words without a gender connotation (“the people”), in splitting (“deputies and deputies”) or in new forms (such as “todes”, or the midpoint in French). “Discussions are often polarized around a concrete aspect, oversimplifying the issue, which is more complex.”

Political battles

This complexity, in which moral issues, political battles and the normal evolution of language itself as a reflection of society are mixed, is what raises controversy. Sometimes citizens do not understand the reason for a measure, or it seems to them that it is imposed without logic or explanation, outside the political preferences of a certain sector of the population.

A study signed by Renate Köcher, director of the Allensbach Institute of Demographics, collects the state of opinion currently prevailing in Germany regarding freedom of expression. The title of the study is eloquent in itself: “The limits of freedom”. Includes an aside on inclusive language.

The Allensbach study says: “One in two citizens is convinced that care needs to be taken today with how behave and what to say in public: 57% complain that political correctness is exaggerated and 35% consider that it is only possible to freely express one’s opinion in a private circle.”

[faixa de pedestres] According to Renate Köcher, “the rigor with which certain ways of speaking are required” contributed especially to this. For example, as José M. García Pelegrín from Berlin points out, on German television the norm of greeting the audience began to expand by saying, instead of “Zuschauerinnen und Zuschauer” (spectators and spectators), which is very broad, “Zuschauer: innen”, where the colon means a brief pause that doesn’t sound natural. In fact, another poll, carried out last May by Infratest-Dimap, registers 65% against the use of inclusive language in the media.

Köcher, for his part, points out that “most believe that they are going too far when they pay more and more attention to gender neutrality, whether demanding the simultaneous use of masculine and feminine in speeches, or job offers aimed at the three genders. This comes up against the misunderstanding of all generations and educational levels. In general, the majority continues to find it difficult to accept the official introduction of the third genre.” And he sums it up with this statement: “For 57% of the population, ‘it’s heavy’ that they increasingly dictate what they can say and how they should behave.”

Inclusive militancy

In Belgium and other European countries, the same debate has opened up, and the polarization is increasing. Anne Dister, linguist and teacher at the University of São Luís in Brussels, in statements collected by the Belgian radio-TV RTBF, assures: “Inclusive writing is based on a false assumption: that the masculine erases the feminine. Who thinks that when we say ‘passage piétons’ [faixa de pedestres] it means women can’t pass? It is purely and simply the economy of language.” [Dizendo “pedestre”, o francês tem formas diferentes para o masculino (le piéton, o pedestre) e o feminino (la piétonne, a pedestre). Usa-se a forma masculina na expressão “faixa de pedestres”. (N. t.)]

“THE The way a professional or profession is named influences us to associate more with men, or with both men and women” (Barbara De Cock, linguist)

The Belgian coalition government did not go so far as to impose inclusive language, but strongly recommended it in all official bodies and schools. Étienne de Montety, writer and editor-in-chief of culture at the French newspaper Le Figaro, in statements to

La Libre Belgique, comments: “What bothers me most about this type of language is its militancy, its moralistic orders to impose an unnatural and impractical writing. I put it in the place of students for whom learning French is already complicated.”


Part of the discussion around inclusive language concerns the issue of discrimination. According to a study, points out Barbara De Cock, there is a tendency, especially among men, to interpret a masculine pronoun in general use as referring more to men, although in theory it refers equally to women. Another article mentioned by the teacher suggests that presenting names of professions in both masculine and feminine forms makes it easier for children to think about the possibility of choosing them. “It’s difficult to equate this directly with a strong impact on discrimination,” De Cock points out; but studies indicate that “the way a person or a profession is named influences us to associate more with men, or with both men and women.”

He adds that, in any case, there are “certain uses and customs” that need to be buried: “In my university it was imposed that we address students as madam (madam) instead of mademoiselle (madam), even if they are single. A commonly used rule in French, but which only refers to the marital status of women, a distinction that does not exist in men.”

Language is determined by the way we interpret the what is happening to us in society, and this is sometimes positive or negative. Today, the term “cleaner/woman” has already been replaced, at least in many northern European countries, by “hygiene technicians”. A person who years ago was qualified as “mentally retarded”, nowadays it is normal to call a person with a “disability”.

Once again, In this theme, many factors are mixed up that are difficult to approach from a pragmatic and cold point of view. Evolution in language is constant, and therefore should not surprise us. But to the inclusive language is added a social component, with political and moral nuances, which make us ask ourselves, like Renate Köcher, where are the limits of freedom…

With information from José M. García Pelegrín in Berlin

©57 Acpress. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

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