Coup de Coeur: Jean-Marc talks about the wines of Mascaronne... and, for Bove, the best is yet to come
(Bilingual Post) Brasser & Houblon: From making rosé to making beer... winemaker gets a lesson in brewing

Façon de Parler: L'Ecriture Inclusive & The movement to feminize French

La civette brignoles
"Languages ​​are not neutral tools: they influence how we talk, think, and represent ourselves...."

façon de parler

    : manner of speaking, way of speaking
    : so to speak

Audio: listen to Jean-Marc read the opening sentence, in French: 

Facon de parler manner of speaking

Façon de parler. Les langues ne sont pas des outils neutres : elles influent sur notre façon de parler, de penser, de se représenter. Davy Borde via Wikipedia


by Kristi Espinasse

When I read this morning's news headline "Gender neutral version of French sparks backlash" my first thought was yipee! No more trying to guess whether an onion is masculine or feminine.

But, like with onions, when I began to scratch beneath the surface of the news article, my eyes began to sweat. The debate currently bringing French language police to tears goes beyond whether an object is, façon de parler, "a boy or a girl" (not that an onion ever was. Update: holy moly! it may be both...), it transcends our sexual identity, even to the troubling question of Qui Suis-Je? And if you really peel back those onion layers, wiping your crying eyes on your sleeve as you go, this feminization of language will rattle your very faith

But faith is meant to be rattled!  Language, according to L'Académie Française is not...

Now, dear reader, with all this talk of identity, faith, and crying eyes, you are sensing that this chroniqueuse might (wink wink) just need a wee break from blogging--but I assure you all is going swimmingly. What I need is a fresh new interest after my mind-numbing news habit. Therefore I'm dragging you into the quicksand with me. So get your floaties on and let's begin (and end quickly, because I'm itching to get outside and plant some onions, a much safer enterprise. Having learned my lesson after writing about another controversial language topic (la glossolalie), I wouldn't touch today's debate with a ten-foot pole. But I will pass you one (a pole) to climb out of this sandy mire whenever you're ready.)

Screenshot from Le Monde article on ecriture inclusive in french language
Screen shot of Le Monde's video on "L'écriture inclusive"

I leave you with a paragraph, in English and in French, of what this language dilemme is all about (or why "Les droits de l'homme may now be written  as les droits humains or even les droits de la personne). There are many fascinating articles about this movement to "equalize" the French language, if you want to explore the topic. Google "l'écriture  inclusive"....

Gendered languages ​​whose neutral is identical to the masculine or whose masculine prevails in a group pose three problems according to some analysts: they would make women invisible; they would oblige a dichotomous vision of the human race; they would force anyone to position themselves as a woman or as a man....Davy Borde via Wikipedia

Les langues ne sont pas des outils neutres : elles influent sur notre façon de parler, de penser, de se représenter. Les langages genrés dont le neutre est identique au masculin ou dont le masculin l'emporte dans un groupe posent trois problèmes selon certains analystes : ils invisibiliseraient les femmes ; ils obligeraient à avoir une vision dichotomique du genre humain ; ils imposeraient à quiconque de se positionner en tant que femme ou en tant qu'homme.

Cebette onions sold by the bunch or la botte at farmers market st cyr-sur-mer
For those who are not up to a language debate, here's a peaceful scene to start your day. I'm off to dream of an onion harvest  :-)

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Hey Kristi,

Where were your beautiful photos taken?

Leslie NYC

“Occupe-toi de tes ognions!”
As long as we can keep that phrase, I’m good.
I don’t have an answer for the bigger question, though it is worth thinking about.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

It seems like there are bigger problems to worry about like finding a way to help the huge refugee population integrate into the French culture rather than the other way around.

Teresa Person

I was wondering when this was going to happen... I hope they don't mess up this beautiful language... Teresa


This is not a new language debate in English. We shifted from chairman to chairperson, etc. to accommodate similar sentiments here. There still is some stickiness about using they / them / their as a gender neutral set applied to a singular person, but it has become more accepted in non-academic, more daily language.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi, Christine, Thanks. The opening photo was taken in Brignoles. The last photo was. Taken in St-Cyr-sur-Mer. 

Bettye Dew

As our world shrinks, it would be good for any non-native speaker if languages simplified themselves. Of course, those of us in the West would be happy if all languages adopted the Roman alphabet (those Asian characters are too complicated!). And since my sense of masculine/feminine in French leaves much to be desired, I'm for neutralizing those nouns! Yet, language traditions change slowly and usually reluctantly. I'll be long dead before the French language becomes neutralized, if that ever happens. (But let's face it. Gender for inanimate nouns is not rational, just traditional.) The computer age has brought some language obstacles and changes, and more will come in the future.

Ray Stoddard

This is not a simple topic. It should, I think, make one's eyes water and brain reel! The culture of any country, region, group, etc. lives in its language.

One of the common pitfalls of moving to a new country is unconsciously to assume that the new country has the same culture as one's original country...but with a different language. It is, of course, not at all true, as anyone who's lived abroad for any period of time will tell you.

More importantly, there could be no French culture without the French language. One couldn't have la France if everyone here spoke l'Anglais. The same is true of the United States: No American English, no American culture. The UK is fundamentally a different culture from the US though the two countries more-or-less share a similar language (same for Canada).

Mucking with a language at a fundamental level, e.g., removing the gender of objects, would produce a tidal change.

Kathleen from Connecticut

It is not just the French, but all of the Romance languages which are gender specific. I wonder if the Spanish and Italians would also be amendable to change. It would definitely make it easier on those learning the language, but it would take some of the romance (LOL) out of the language.


R. LeRoy

Sooner be able to hold off a tidal wave with a paper parasol than to see the day when the Academy overhauls gender assignment for nouns. Bonne chance!


Let's not confuse grammatical gender ("feminine" and "masculine" classification of words, which is not necessarily tied to a particular sex) with non-grammatical sex (female and male as physical entities, which is not necessarily tied to a particular grammatical classification). The two things are different, but they are now being confused.

Julie Farrar

I think making all neutral things like onions have a neutral article is fine. And making business positions like mail carrier, or server, or chairperson all neutral is good. But as a linguist and writer I do want to make sure we don't torture language in order to de-genderfy everything. As my beloved Episcopal prayer book and hymnal try to de-emphasize the patriarchy, they've really destroyed the poetry of language that can lift the soul and flow lightly on the ear. However, on a positive note, English language experts are now beginning to accept "they" as a gender-neutral form that can take a singular verb.

Have a good week.

Rachel Vincent

Hi Kristin, It is a marvelous debate! I hope the ending will be pleasant for all of us. I however, would be happy if no changes were made. As a spanish speaker, I actually understand this designation of gender to inanimate objects. After all we have all heard and chuckled when we heard a line in a comedy movie that went something like this, "my car, she would not start this morning!". I hope the Academie leaves it alone, otherwise can Spanish and Italian be far behind??

Diane Young

There are so many things which are more important in today's world, why on earth can't the language lovers agree to disagree and let's move on to peace, feeding the millions who are starving, pray for the disposed? I speak and read some French, German, Spanish, Latin and English.
and outside of being able to translate the hymn titles and say a few words to various cultures, what I want is Pax. Merci. Dunkerschen, gracias, grace.Au revoir.

Jules Greer

Thank you Ray...xo Jules

joie in Carmel

Even in English some things are referred to by gender . Have you ever heard of a boat being referred to as a "he"?

joie in Carmel

First, there certainly are more important things to be concerned about today. Second, I think it would be a travesty. French is a beautiful language. And third, do we really think we have to be so "politically/socially correct" to neutralize a language. Do you really think a man cares that "a shirt" is feminine. Or what about "la maison" ...a woman's place? or "le magasin"...a man's domain? Or that beer is feminine and wine is masculine. I really doubt it. So now, I will go plant my l'ongions.

Cynthia Gillespie-Smith

Your post today is thoughtful and charming, Kristi. And it's a relief to see that France can change -- not just to make it easier for foreign speakers, but to know that France has flexibility in doctrine, laws, and even in its (her!) beautiful language. Bravo! Or is that Brava?


I think that you have hit the essence of the grammatical question on the head. I have to 99% agree with your distinction. I hate to succumb to the world as we know it today, with everyone challenging and questioning our every being. But an onion is just an onion, and not masculine or feminine. I know that we do refer to boats and ships as she's, but it is a common usage, not a question of grammar. I agree with you and thank you. Franciscus.


Our dear Kristi,
Once again you have shared your gift with us to delve into our intelligence and at least try to solve some thought provoking questions that are(might be always?) open for opinions on all sides!
Joie in Carmel, please make room for me.I'm joining you in going to plant my l'ongions!!!!
Natalia XO


Now that girls are going to be in the Boy Scouts, everything is pretty much upside down.
When will boys and girls have the opportunity to have that particular bonding, relaxation, and silliness that comes when you are with your own sex?
Lately I feel like I kind of understand now how when people get old they sometimes give up. It's probably because they see the world going to hell, and they just don't want to be around for it.
I'm officially old now.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Mom 💛😘☀️


Hélas, the English language is devolving to the use of plurals, for example, everyone has their bêtes noires, instead of rewriting sentences or even inventing new pronouns (one artist I know of uses "judy" for a pronoun of the self, and Marge Piercy invented the pronoun "per"—short for person—in an essay about the subject).

Nancy Stilwagen

I must say, when I was taking a course in conversational Spanish, I was shocked to find that if there were 75 women in a room, and 1 man, the masculine would always be used! I agree with the wikipedia quote you shared, "Gendered languages ​​whose neutral is identical to the masculine or whose masculine prevails in a group pose three problems according to some analysts: they would make women invisible; they would oblige a dichotomous vision of the human race; they would force anyone to position themselves as a woman or as a man...."

Nancy Stilwagen

Of course, it also drives me crazy when someone in the US refers to a group of people as "you guys" no matter the composition of the group!

John Patte

Kristi, I’m impressed by the high level of commentary here – it speaks to the quality of the audience that you attract.

I also am uncertain whether, as a male, I’m fully attuned to the nuances of gender in language – even in English, I’m too accustomed to the use of male pronouns, etc. in context where a neutral term is actually meant. We seem prepared to destroy the music of the English language for some view of political correctness. Hopefully the French will not follow the English example. We use “they” and “their” where we once used “he” and “his” or could have (awkwardly) used “he or she” and “his or her”. En français,on a le mot “on” –pas en anglais. We have neutralized words like “chairman” by substituting “chairperson” or merely “chair”. And of course this pursuit of political correctness doesn’t stop at gender – the Toronto District School Board recently agreed not to use the word “chief” (e.g., as in chief executive officer, etc.) because indigenous peoples of Canada find it offensive (which seems to ignore completely the etymology of the word “chief” from the Latin word “caput”). (More likely, indigenous people are probably laughing at TDSB.) There does seem to be a paternalistic priority in the French language that is not present, or at least is not as prevalent, in English though. Is that offensive to women? What about those among us who don’t identify as either gender? There is a movement on now to remove entirely the reference to gender from Canadian passports. So, should the sex of an onion matter?

All living languages evolve over time. Slang and technology have brought many changes and many crossovers between languages. The French speaking peoples seem to have much more control of the French language than English speakers. Is that good, bad or neutral? Is it even possible to dictate the evolution of a language, or will every day usage prevail? Does gender identification in language possibly cause a delay in certain desirable social and cultural changes. Has the cause of feminism, gender equality and the sharing of power in French, and other, cultures been delayed or even stopped because of the gender issue in language? Like the etymology of "chief", will anyone remember or care in 100 years if the French language were neutralized?

I’m better at questions than at answers. But I've enjoyed the opportunity to consider ...

Marsha D in Tennessee

Yes, and all whales are female. "Thar she blows!"

Eileen Armstrong

I think it is a positive thing to think about how gender bias in language affects social norms and the treatment of women. French is the most beautiful language in the world and that could never change. Thanks for your blog Kristi!


It's interesting, but I kind of hope that French DOES NOT evolve in this direction, although I LOVE the idea of language being more inclusive...yet a lot is also at risk of being lost. Surely we can put our intelligence together and come up with a better way.
Funny though--a student of mine just asked me about this--how to be more gender neutral in French for fearing of assuming gender and offending. I live in a part of USA where transgender is embraced, and most forms and questionnaires are being reformulated to have alternate genders, which to me is a bit much. The women's restroom in my corner of my college is now an all-gender bathroom and to my surprise boys now freely and comfortably do their business in mixed company. Not my style, call me old fashioned. I now have to go to the other side of campus to the women's only bathroom! IMHO not a good evolution.

Scott Brotherton

How about if it’s not broke don’t fix it ? As someone else mentioned - we very much do have plenty of broken things that DO in fact need fixing. Ciao !

Kate C

Above all, I welcome the consciousness raising this movement provides. Language is by its very nature, symbolic. That a group of women is rendered invisible by a single man is an astute observation. It illuminates the need to be conscious of the ways these symbols so deeply embedded in our lives create implicit, unconscious connections that become part of the culture shared by all who use the same symbols/language. With few exceptions, history does not reflect a world that has been equitable for women or people of color. Exploring change that better reflects values of inclusion and the removal of patriarchal privilege is a welcome undertaking IMHO.

Judi in Lake Balboa

It's interesting to know that "la langue" is feminin :). Very interesting discussions today!

Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)

From the very beginning of my French language learning at age 12, I accepted unquestioningly the conventions related to gender and agreement (3 girls, 1 boy, use the masc. etc). At the same time, I was being encouraged as a young girl to see, and find my place, in an equitable world. I didn't see the conflict then, and don't believe that there needs to be one now. That said, I struggle to identify myself as le professeur, so use la...without associating superiority, or asserting any form of gender right to the decision. It just feels natural.

joie in Carmel

it is that whole new "text" language. It started with "lol".....which I truly though was "little old lady". After finding out what it stood for I protested and if someone gets it used from me, it means "lots of love".

joie in Carmel

I could not agree more. The independence or equality of a woman is not based on a language that has gender specific objects. When the language was created I doubt that thought was specifically given as to which ones should be male or female.


"OIGNONS" dear Joie (I Love Carmel where good Friends of mine live and where we've been, my husband and me, so often. I mean Carmel-by-the-sea).
Elisabeth (from France)
Who appreciates a lot every Kristi's writing !

Sarah La Belle

I think Franciscus understands the topic of the debate well. In the US, mailman yields to mail carrier, chairman is chair or chairperson. France refers to droits de l’homme, and now wants to include the rights of women by saying les droits humain. There is not a thought of changing la table, un oeuf, la porte, le lain to all use the same definite or indefinite article. Good for France, to address the big issue.

Sarah La Belle

Le pain I meant n that list. Phone locks up and will not let me fix my typos!

Kristin Espinasse

Aw. Thank you, Elisabeth! 


There are some who have very little to do in a day to occupy their time.....
not this hu-man! So are we taking man out of every word in which it factors? Wo-man--we will no longer be wo-men. We will be wo-its.
Hu-man, we shall no longer be, but hu-its and MAN will simply become an IT.
As in "Hey, check out that it over there---dishy!"
Could we just get back to doing something creative with our days and loving one another and looking for the cures to diseases and planting sweet onions?
LORDY, it's just too boring for words, this language thing.

Stacy - Sweet Life Farm

I'm sticking with the simplicity of onions, your readers' comments which are reassuringly sensible and your thoughtful, beautifully written stories!


Those green onions are gorgeous!

Russian in similar to French in its gender-based words, but I have never thought of French nor Russian as deliberately used to define or oppress a gender. I do understand the argument, but to me it feels exhausting. So, like you Kristi, I'm choosing to tend to my garden, with its (at least in Russian) masculine onions, rhubarb, and tomatoes, and its feminine strawberries and raspberries. All I care about is that they look and taste beautiful.

Chris Allin

I am officially old as well. Thanks for the chuckle!

Marianne Rankin

I guess I am becoming a dinosaur - I find this trend ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with being inclusive if it doesn't torture the language, but there are limits. I grew up saying such things as "each student should bring his book to class," knowing that some of the students were female, and not being especially bothered by it. Rather than make an issue of somehow feminizing everything, one can write "All students should bring their books to class." Plurals, wherever they can be used, can fit many situations. In church, God the "Father" (who most people, including me, believe also likely has "feminine" attributes) becomes God the "parent," and "son" or "daughter" becomes "child." This affects not just Scripture and prayers, but words to songs, which are not improved. I agree with one of the writers above about "you guys"; I have heard women call other women "you guys." Why not just "you," which sufficed for centuries? The French distinguish between "tu" and "vous" in some cases in the singular, but they also use "vous" for the plural; we should be able to use "you" for both.

Years ago, when "Ms." appeared, I wrote a somewhat satirical poem about it. I confess that since then, I've found "Ms." to be convenient when one doesn't know if a woman is married or not. I am widowed, and could use "Ms.", but it seems inappropriate somehow for me. If other women want to be called "Ms.", I can live with that.

Not having a gender on a passport, which is a form of identification, strikes me as odd.

In some languages, there is more than one gender of nouns, but they aren't called "masculine" and "feminine." Danish has "neuter" gender and "common" gender. One must memorize which one to use with a particular noun, but no male-female overtones are implied. We should not make an issue of "le" and "la." When I taught French, some first-year students said that having two articles was "stupid." Why? Mainly because English has only one. My great struggle with language students was endeavoring to help them realize that not only were they not the center of the world, others can be different from them and still not "stupid," "weird," etc. Learning a language can broaden one's horizons. The students learned that French is (or was then) spoken in 26 countries, and that it was an official UN language, and that there are more speakers of English than of French, etc.

I think tinkering with the language is for the most part counterproductive, and if anything, will make French harder to learn.

Patricia Sands

Kristi, what food for thought you have provided today ... and not just about les oignons! These suggested changes to the French language fill me with dread. After continuing to spend time each week attempting to commit to memory all those old rules, might I have to begin again? Le sigh ...
I'm with you ~ let's go out to the garden and get planting!

Karla Ober

Wow, I sense your discomfort with possible changes to more gender neutral language in French, Kristin! Your headlining title is what caught MY attention. I think there is a HUGE difference between trying to "feminize" the language and simply trying to make it gender-neutral.
The term "feminize" sounds an alarm that everything will be made feminine and that any previously masculine "advantage" in the language will be replaced with the feminine.
In fact the rest of your article makes it clear that you're really only speaking about the movement to become gender inclusive - NOT to eradicate the masculine! Excluding the masculine would be as bad as the previous/current practice of excluding reference to the feminine when refering to a mixed gender group. That would be a step backwards, in my opinion!
I'm not saying it will be easy! As an English professor, I cringe when people use a plural pronoun to refer to a single person so as to avoid having to be gender specific. An example: the linguistically correct "Every child should bring HIS lunch to the picnic," vs. "Every child should bring THEIR lunch to the picnic." The word child is singular and many people dislike the clunkier "his or her" option. A work around would simply be to make the sentence plural: All children should bring their lunches to the picnic. I don't know if that would work in French, and even if it did, it would not solve all of the gender-specific challenges/problems. I feel the discomfort, too. Gender inclusive and Gender neutral are more precise terms for what you labeled as trying to "feminize" the language.

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