The challenge of teaching the pronoun “iel”

Integration of the pronoun “iel” in the dictionary The Robert online has generated strong reactions in recent days. This grammatical twist nevertheless leads to a series of questions, among others from the point of view of the teaching of French.

The addition of neologisms constitutes one of the proofs of the evolution of the French language, in particular in the technical fields for which the creation of new words designates realities created from scratch. Also, the neologisms are intended to replace terms which, considering their course and their use over time, are considered obsolete. The negative perception of certain terms can also lead to their replacement. In this regard, let us think of the negatively connoted words which designate, for example, a disabled person; in the past, the term “infirm” was preferred. “Cripple” now belongs to the category of outdated uses.

The processes leading to the formation of neologisms are derivation (addition of prefix / suffix to a word), composition (forming a compound word), telescoping (forming a portmanteau word) and abbreviation (word truncated from ‘a complete word, and the creation of abbreviations and acronyms). According to all these methods, the neologisms retained are those that stand out. Indeed, the dictionary does not systematically integrate the invented terms, because to be retained, a word must first be accepted by the interlocutors and above all, be used by a significant number of interlocutors. Consequently, the neologisms accepted in the dictionary are selected, among others, using the two aforementioned criteria.

Thus, out of about 500 words possibly added to the dictionary each year, only about a hundred will appear there. In 2021, “iel” is one of those words. Obviously, the pronoun “iel” is not unanimous in LGBTQ + activist circles, as well as in the general population. Several workplaces, as well as universities have adopted their own so-called inclusive writing policy, an initiative necessary in the eyes of certain institutions, but complex in its real integration, given the lack of coherence even within these institutions.

Verb agreement

Concerning more precisely the pronoun “iel”, one of the fundamental difficulties lies in the fact that it is about a pronoun from which is formed the agreement of the verb, obligatory and central word in a sentence. In this sense, a so-called non-gendered or non-binary pronoun in terms of the physical person has consequences for all the chords and words linked to the chord, for example nouns and adjectives, which complicates the choice. of the male / female agreement. In the French language, these chord choices do not relate to the gender of a person on the physical level, but the gender on the grammatical level, a notion that dates from the Latin language. Over time, a connection has been established between a person’s gender and the gender accord of a pronoun or noun. However, fundamentally, the feminine / masculine corresponds to a type of agreement and not to a feeling.

These historical elements cause confusion in the educational community; not only will French teachers have to explain a person’s gender and gender neutrality when they are not specialists in gender identities or even sexologists, but they will also have to set limits as to the agreements accepted in a given context. sentence containing the pronoun “iel”. Moreover, let us remember that a few years ago, the teaching of sexuality was the subject of a debate concerning the transmission of knowledge of this subject; who is responsible for this commitment? By accepting that the pronoun “iel” be used in class, these teachers consequently take on another role which, in my opinion, is not theirs.

In another vein, the authorities outside a dictionary have not commented on the question of the pronoun “iel”, which limits the possibilities of teaching the pronoun. For students and for the general population, there will be inconsistency when each teacher decides on a course of action in their classroom, as students will have to change the language from the perspective of their current teacher, when ‘they do not yet master French. Let us remember that currently, the functional illiteracy rate stands at approximately 50% of the Quebec population. Is it realistic to integrate a new pronoun when the current pronouns and their chords are not understood by the majority of Quebecers?

No acceptability

In my opinion, the pronoun “iel” does not meet the two criteria for the inclusion of a neologism in the dictionary, even if The Robert clarified that this was a rare word. If “iel” were so well known, frequently used and popular, it would not have caused controversy since it would also have passed the stage of acceptability.

In terms of education, let us not forget that the grammatical reform, or new grammar, was the result of numerous works by linguists. Basically, the new grammar appeared in Switzerland, then it slowly took root in practice from 1998. In 2004, in Quebec, the reform of French teaching propelled the implementation of this new grammar. Regarding the new spelling, not having the obligation to be used, it is already twenty years old and does not achieve consensus in the teaching of the French language. In other words, reforming a word and a chord takes time, and considering the real and active use of the pronoun “iel”, it would be surprising if the pronoun is officially anchored in the common use of French.

Finally, in recent years, knowledge about gender identities has evolved and so has the discourse around this phenomenon. We recognize that the spectrum of gender identities remains wide and varied. Should we therefore grant a pronoun for each of the gender identities, especially in the current perspective of the absolute integration of all faces of society? What will be the future of grammar education in this case?

Watch video

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *