Dictionary book

French dictionary adds non-binary pronoun but educators still have questions

The new term combines both the feminine and the masculine pronoun

A popular standard French dictionary added the non-sexist pronoun “Iel” to its definitions online, but educators don’t know how to use it.

Chantal White, professor of languages ​​and linguistics at Université Sainte-Anne, said she welcomed the changes to the Petit Robert, but wanted the dictionary to provide more context on how to use non-binary pronouns. .

“The dictionary is completely silent on all matters relating to grammar and conjugation,” she said in an interview in French. “And that’s a question that really arises for those who are trying to integrate the use of the pronoun right now but don’t know how.”

The pronoun is a combination of the feminine pronoun elle and the masculine il. Le Petit Robert is the first official recognition of the neutral pronoun iel, by a large French dictionary even if the pronoun has been in circulation for at least a decade.

“I find it quite remarkable because normally, dictionaries are late in this kind of movement, that is to say they wait a very, very long time before integrating new words. But here’s one example where the dictionary is somewhat at the forefront of the movement, ”White said.

Le Petit Robert is a basic tool in French used by students and educators. The editors of the dictionary have decided to include iel in its definitions to reflect its increasing use in the French language.

“Robert’s mission is to observe and report on the evolution of a changing and diverse French language,” Charles Bimbenet, general manager of Le Petit Robert, said in a statement in October. Press release.

According to White, incorporating gender neutral pronouns into the French language is a complicated task due to rigid masculine-feminine grammatical rules. Changing gender also forces changes in the rest of the sentence, but there is no way to adapt to a neutral gender.

“I think there are certain constraints in the French language that make it easier to incorporate neutral pronouns in English into English, because there will be less repercussions. We can really intervene in a more surgical way on the pronouns in English, whereas it is more difficult to do it in French, ”she declared.

Karim Amedjkouh, the diversity and human rights coordinator for the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, was waiting for non-binary pronouns to be officially recognized in order to make changes in classrooms.

The French school board has guidelines regarding the possibility for children aged 12 and over to change their first name in an unofficial context, but none regarding preferred pronouns. Due to the lack of guidelines, the school board was unable to use non-binary pronouns in the documentation.

Amedjkouh hopes that the recognition of the pronoun iel in a large French dictionary will be enough to bring about significant changes in school procedures.

“I would love to see it used in report card comments for non-binary students.” If it’s in Le Petit Robert then why not be in our newsletters? he said in an interview in French.

White is also looking to make changes at St. Anne’s, as the university has taken longer to adapt inclusive language.

Some educational institutions are looking to include non-binary language, but questions remain as to how it will be used.

“I think putting it in a dictionary is a first step. But I was a little disappointed that we weren’t getting more information about its use because all we do is recognize that the pronoun is in circulation, ”White said.

Gabrielle Brown

Gabrielle is a reporter for The Signal at the University of King’s College. She received her BA in Political Studies from Queen’s University.

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