France: row over neutral personal pronoun

The French dictionary Le Robert included the neutral pronoun "iel", a hybrid of the masculine "il" and the feminine "elle", in its digital edition in June. The word is used to designate people who define themselves as neither male nor female. The head of the publishing house has justified its inclusion on the grounds that it is being more and more widely used. The decision is very much a bone of contention.

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Le Point (FR) /

A far cry from daily usage

Le Point can't get its head around the inclusion of the new personal pronoun:

“A dictionary, and not an insignificant one, is giving it both legitimacy and notoriety. ... Is the word really up and coming? One wonders where the eminent lexicographers could have detected this trend when the use of this pronoun in everyday language, whether spoken or written, is non-existent. As for the mention 'rare', it generally concerns words that have fallen out of use, not neologisms. The introduction of the neutral is not neutral. It bows to an ideology in keeping with the spirit of the times, borrowed from Anglo-Saxon trends. And it flies in the face of the French language and the beauty of the texts.”

Libération (FR) /

A practical solution

Linguist and author Julie Neveux advocates a pragmatic approach to the neologism in Libération:

“According to a survey published in 2020, 'iels' account for 22 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds who don't feel represented by either the masculine or the feminine gender. Why should we be alarmed that those who are most affected have found a symbolic solution with this pronoun? ... Even for same-sex couples and for mixed-sex groups, [the plural form] 'iels' is convenient. Like all systems of representation and classification, languages are permeated by social issues that slowly reshape them. At the moment, the trend is toward equality and neutrality. Every language offers options for this, which the majority may or may not choose to adopt.”