Changing Language - French words for "they"

(14 Posts)
BadLad Tue 19-Mar-13 02:59:11

Those of you who have studied French will know that there are two French words for they - Ils (for males) and Elles (for females), and that Ils is used for mixed groups.

So a hundred women can be in a bar, and the customers are referred to as Elles. But should one man pop in, then the correct term is Ils.

Is there any move to change this? Or are the French not bothered? I have seen some discussion related to the use of Ms that in Germany fewer and fewer people use Fraulein (can't type umlauts on here) but I've never seen this issue discussed.

scaevola Tue 19-Mar-13 12:54:01

You're muddling grammatical gender with societal gender.

The French Academie is the ruling body on grammar, and indeed all things pertaining to the French language in France. Groups of things which are grammatically masculine are referred to as masculine, grammatically feminine things take the feminine, and frantically mixed groups take the masculine. This applies to all objects/people/concepts and isn't really a conscious male/female sex issue.

After all, French for vagina is "le vagin"

scaevola Tue 19-Mar-13 12:55:40

Oh, and testicles (les couilles) are feminine

BadLad Tue 19-Mar-13 14:55:42

I'm not muddling those issues. It has long been of interest to me why, say, table is feminine in French, but masculine in German and Russian.

The fact remains that elles means they female, and ils means they male. That has nothing to do with some surprising nouns taking le or la.

BadLad Tue 19-Mar-13 14:57:54

I mean, you are right that mixed groups take the masculine, but I do wonder why this hasn't been targeted.

scaevola Tue 19-Mar-13 15:14:57

Because it's an ingrained speech habit (which I suppose is what I was clumsily groping towards in earlier posts). It's a grammar rule, not a societal issue.

mungotracy Tue 19-Mar-13 15:19:03

SIGH..... they have genders for objects as well.....its nothing to do with actual biological gender. Really..... are there not actual important issues regarding women to speak about or are you simply looking to invent discrimination where it doesnt exist?

campocaro Tue 19-Mar-13 15:55:17

In Spain people use a @ to denote mixed gender groups -i.e. amig@s. Language does change and is definitely a feminist issue (see Dale Spender's book 'Man made language' for more

TeiTetua Tue 19-Mar-13 20:53:27

Something I read years ago said that there's an exception to the "ils" rule for groups. It's when there's a formal contract being written, and the people covered by it are referred to as "personnes" (feminine). Then having been called that once, they stay that way, and so the various "personnes" are "elles" whenever they're mentioned in the document. It's an odd little deviation.

In Italian, the title of the opera "Cosi Fan Tutte" shows some hideous sexism. If it had been "Cosi Fan Tutti" (masculine ending) it would plausibly refer to anyone, so it might mean "This is what everyone does" or "We all act this way". But with the feminine ending, it makes it "What women do". That composer deserves a good stomping.

BadLad Wed 20-Mar-13 02:03:31

"SIGH..... they have genders for objects as well.....its nothing to do with actual biological gender. Really..... are there not actual important issues regarding women to speak about or are you simply looking to invent discrimination where it doesnt exist?"

The genders for objects has nothing to do with this.

Ils is used for men.
Elles is used for women.

That IS biological gender. The fact that objects are assigned a grammatical gender is unconnected.

I wouldn't say that I looking to invent discrimination - rather than I am interested in foreign languages, and was reminded of this when reading other parts of the forum.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 20-Mar-13 12:35:09

Gendering of language is interesting - for example, we have actor and actress in English but never had gendered words for doctors whereas I think German does. And now I think actor is preferred for both sexes.

meditrina Wed 20-Mar-13 12:44:20

Sex and grammatical gender can coincide. But speakers of a language with grammatical masculine/feminine/neuter would not see an automatic read over between the object and the grammatical convention.

In mediaeval French, there was indeed only one pronoun for "they". It was "ils" (so it would have been correct to say eg "les femmes, ils sont si gentilles").

So given that a language is more likely to change within itself (IYSWIM - a created word isn't likely to catch on) and that there is precedent for a unified "they" which is found in older texts, then I suppose a reversion might be encouraged: and it does make sense from the grammatical point of view. Especially as it fits with eg the general discontinuation of female specific nouns (eg docteur/doctrice).

sashh Tue 11-Jun-13 04:24:09

More interesting, I think, is that in BSL and Japanese there are signs/words only used by women.

[interested] What are the BSL signs, sashh?

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