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Not sure if it's right but I came across a sentence whilst I was revising: "Laurent est vraiment sportif et costaud. Il joue au football et au rugby pour deux équipes et il s'entraîne plusieurs fois par semaine. C'EST un grand blond aux yeux bleus."

Why would you say "it is"? Would it not be right if it said "Il est grand et blond aux yeux bleus"?

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    Do you think English-speaking folks treat themselves as objects when they say “It's me”? You could say that ce is similar to it in such phrasings. It's a generic pronoun that can be used to describe anything. – Stéphane Gimenez Jul 30 '17 at 12:03
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    The presence of the indefinite article in the quoted sentence is significant. You left it out in your rephrased sentence: "Il est grand et blond" uses both words as predicative adjectives, while "c'est un grand blond" has a predicative noun phrase "un grand blond", where "blond" is acting as a noun. – sumelic Jul 30 '17 at 12:15
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    The points you folks make are good, but what puzzles us English speakers is the break with our usage: a particular person ceases to be "it" long before the third sentence of their introduction, but always "he" or "she". The title of this question might more helpfully be "Doesn't ce make it sound like the person is an object?" which could then be discussed (not to mention linked to the existing duplicates). – Luke Sawczak Jul 30 '17 at 13:36
  • Il est grand et blond is correct but il est grand et blond aux yeux bleus is dubious. A better way would be il est grand, blond et a les yeux bleus. – jlliagre Jul 30 '17 at 15:51
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Indeed, it is a richness of our marvelous language :). C' (for Ce) is neutral and you can use it to represent almost everything cited in a preceding sentence (or everyone, Laurent in your case):

C'est un beau pays.
C'est une belle voiture.
C'est une maison bleue accrochée à la colline.
C'est une grande fille très intelligente.
C'est un petit garçon très gentil. 

No french speaker will consider these sentences as pejorative.
It's true it can be used to assimilate people to an object in order to depreciate them as in :

Ce type, c'est une racaille !

but that's a special case, not the general rule.

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    There's nothing pejorative about the pronoun choice of your last example ("Ce type, il est de la racaille !" is impossible). C'est is simply the only copula possible with nominal predicates. – Eau qui dort Jul 30 '17 at 16:03
  • @Eauquidort And that's the start of the path to the full answer to this question, of course :) – Luke Sawczak Jul 30 '17 at 23:25
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    Entirely agreeing with @Eauquidort. If you had chosen a different example, e.g. ce type, c'est un amour would you have said it was "in order to depreciate them " ? – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Jul 31 '17 at 13:09
  • Ben... La phrase n'est qu'une illustration. Pas une règle. Ni une démonstration. :( The sentence is only an illustration. Not a rule. Nor a demonstration. :( – jcm69 Jul 31 '17 at 18:33
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In this sentence, it is not correct to translate “c'est” by “it is”. The pronoun ce is neutral when it is part of the triptych celui/celle/ce (plural ceux/celles — there is no neutral plural). In this case, it is followed by a relative clause.

Regarde les joueurs de football.   (Look at the football players.)
Laurent est celui qui est grand et blond.   (Laurent is the (male) one who is tall and blond.)
Laurence est celle qui est grande et blonde.   (Laurence is the (female) one who is tall and blonde.)
Ces deux personnes sont celles que je veux te présenter.   (These are the two people that I want to introduce you to.)
Ce que je veux que tu fasses, c'est aller leur dire bonjour.   (What I want you to do is to go and say hello to them.)

There is a different usage of ce, as a subject personal pronoun, which is always followed by a form of the verb être. It is used to describe something that has already been mentioned. In this form, ce is used with every gender and number. With verbs other than être, the usual subject personal pronoun (il/elle/ils/elles) is used.

C'est un grand blond.   (He is a tall blond [person].)
Il est grand et blond.   (He is tall and blond.)
C'est celui qui est grand et blond.   (He's the one who is tall and blond.)
C'est le gardien de but.   (He's the goalkeeper. — He's the one who is playing goalkeeper right now.)
Il est gardien de but.   (He's a goalkeeper. — His normal position is goalkeeper.)
Et Pierre ? Ce doit être l'ailier gauche.   (What about Pierre? He must be the left winger. — Here the verb is être; doit is perceived as an auxiliary, even though this concept is not very precise in French.)
Il semble être en forme.   (He seems to be in great shape. — Here ce is impossible because the verb is sembler, not être.) C'est celui dont je t'ai parlé.   (He/she's the one I told you about.)
Regarde ces joueurs/joueuses. Ce sont ceux/celles dont je t'ai parlé.   (Look at these players. They're the ones I told you about.)

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I believe it's more complicated than that, and this actually goes to a similar place as the ser/estar distinction of Spanish.

It's not that French "refers to humans the same as it does objects", but rather that in French, it's borderline invalid syntax to say il est un + noun (when you see it, it's usually in a literary context or feel odd and dated), you have to say Il est + noun, but that construction cannot be used with noun phrases that express inherent qualities. It's prototypically used for occupations (Il est étudiant, by extension il est papa(1), but not, interestingly enough, *il est oncle), implying a degree of temporariness.

Otherwise you have to use either adjectives (il est blond, il est canadien...) or shift to the demonstrative construction (c'est is somewhat parallel to il y a IMO). That construction allows you more flexibility since il est blond, grand et a les yeux bleus is good grammar, but is awkward (you don't get that problem in English, where you can say blue-eyed as an adjective). C'est lumps it all in a convenient noun phrase.

(1) Yes I do find this headline to be improperly worded.

  • Il est tonton is okay. Il est père is dubious (unless followed by something like il est père de deux enfants or il est père à quatorze ans). – jlliagre Aug 1 '17 at 0:46
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PIE had personal pronouns in the first and second grammatical person, but not the third person, where demonstrative pronouns were used instead. so judge about politeness of a sentence which use demonstrative instead of third person pronoun in an Indo-European language depends on two things:

  1. When were third person pronouns added to that language?
  2. how the native speakers interpret that sentence.

French third person pronouns are relatively newer than third person pronouns in English so we expect that using demonstrative instead of third person pronoun is more common in French than in English (and many others IE languages) and native speakers of French say that using demonstratives instead of third person pronouns in sentences like that one you mentioned is not impolite.

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