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While the Académie française disapproves of gender-neutral "inclusive" writing (l'écriture inclusive), some proponents use feminine adjectives to modify multiple nouns that include words that are both masculine and feminine.

According to Danielle Bousquet and Françoise Vouillot in an article in Le Monde ("N'ayons pas peur d'une mesure de progrès"), using a feminine adjective for a phrase that included both masculine and feminine nouns was considered acceptable until the 18th century, under the influence of the Académie française. The example they give is a line from Jean Racine: "Consacrer ces trois jours et ces trois nuits entières."

I would like to know:

  1. Is this line from Jean Racine necessarily "inclusive"? Could entières possibly be modifying only the word nuits alone and not jours? Since Racine was confined in his choice of words by rhyme and meter, this doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

  2. Was this type of sentence construction ever widespread? Apart from the line from Racine, are there a lot of other examples, or is this just a lone cherry-picked example in all of French literature? And were masculine adjectives ever equally common as feminine adjectives in this type of sentence?

  • Yes, you certainly can and must interpret Racine's adjective as only agreeing with nuits. Now, we might wonder, why would he do that when three entire nights implies three entire days as well? Answer: He's rhyming the line with prières. No doubt there are many sentences by excellent authors that feature the écriture inclusive discussed in Le Monde, but the Racine example is quite a stretch and the authors' choice to read it that way seems to me anachronistic. "Here under protest." – Luke Sawczak Dec 8 '17 at 16:13
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The wider definition of the écriture inclusive includes several writing changes.

I believe the main one the Académie is warning against is the reintroduction of a ancient sign (the interpunct) to coin words representing both genders or singular/plural, e.g.:

Les grand·e·s élect·eur·ice·s sont élu·e·s à la majorité des suffrages exprimés.

The issue is such sentences are extremely difficult to read aloud.

The proximity agreement which your question focus on is also part of the loose écriture inclusive définition. It is arguably less controversial (but still advised against by the Académie française) as it doesn't suffer the issue described above. It is in particular challenging the masculin l'emporte sur le féminin rule.

I have no statistics but given the fact it was already present in Latin, where all agreements were used (including using the neutral when an adjective was qualifying both masculine and feminine words, a convenience French cannot use), I guess this rule was widespread in older times.

Here is a web page presenting several examples of such proximity agreements like:

Ce peuple a le cœur et la bouche ouverte à vos louanges
« Il faudrait dit ouverts », explique Vaugelas en 1647. « Mais l'oreille a de la peine à s'y accommoder »

Ronsard, 1563 : afin que ta cause et la mienne soit connue de tous

However, it seems the proximity agreement found in Latin and ancient Greek was only applying to words representing things but not people. See L’accord de proximité en latin (et en grec) by Philippe Cibois.

A third older evolution is the introduction of new feminine forms or sometimes the reinstatement of old ones for occupation and similar names.

Some changes are now essentially accepted like une ministre, other are not (in France) like une écrivaine or une docteure. The Académie française already declared their opposition of some of these changes in 2002 including doubling masculine and feminine forms recommending les électeurs against les électeurs et les électrices and absolutely rule out a sentence like Le fauteuil et la table sont blanc(he)s which is similar but less disruptive than the middle point.

  • difficult to read aloud and difficult to read for young children, too. – user45784 Dec 6 '17 at 15:48
  • I was asking mostly about the proximity agreement, not the Académie's opinion on it. Could you give more information on the use of this rule in LatinÉ – b a Dec 6 '17 at 16:43
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    @ba: According to the latin rule, it is exactly as in Racine: "les jours et les nuits entières" (but "les nuits et les jours entiers"). But it is not what we call "écriture inclusive". – Distic Dec 6 '17 at 18:08

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