The French really love their language. Signs in tourist hotspots there are in French only while signs in Italy, Spain, and Austria have an English (and sometimes Chinese) subscript. Of course, it is not necessary to speak French, English, or Chinese to know that the “running man” symbol means “Exit”. Of course the “running man” would mean something entirely different for weak-bladdered folk like me.
The Academie Francaise was founded in 1634 to protect the purity of the language. This month, its Secretary-in-Perpetuity (How’s that for a title?) became incensed when “Le Petit Robert”, a well-known French dictionary added “iel”. “iel” is a gender-neutral merger of the masculine “il” (he) and the feminine “elle”. The new pronoun is much like the modern American use of “they” and “them”.
The Secretary-in-Perpetuity commented, “This is “woke” ideology aimed at spreading racial and gender discord in France. It is illegal in this country to break down statistics by race or gender anyway. Pronouns have not changed since the 4th century.” Can this be the “Highway to “iel”?
“iel” proponents countered by noting a pronounced male bias to the French language. The male pronoun takes precedence when a group included both men and women. The Secretary-in-Perpetuity is a woman as are many Academie members, but its pronoun is masculine. “It’s been a long time since 1634. It’s been a really long time since the 4th century. Maybe it’s time for a change.”
No matter how this kerfuffle about “iel” works out, it shows how serious the French are about their language. There is no Secretary-in-Perpetuity keeping Merriam-Webster in line here in America. Good for you, France.