French fire brigade
Women firefighters are already often called sapeuses-pompières
Decades after other French-speaking countries adopted feminine names for professions, the official guardians of the language in France have also backed the change.The Académie française, whose members are known as “immortals”, has said it has no obstacle in principle to such a “natural evolution” of French.Feminine forms for jobs like prosecutor or firefighter are already often used.But until recently the academy objected to such changes as “barbaric”.In its report it said “the academy considers that all developments aiming at recognising in language the place of women in today’s society can be foreseen, as long as they do not contravene the elementary and fundamental rules of language”.It will now accept, for example, professeure for a woman teacher instead of the masculine professeur.But the male-dominated body, which dates back to the 17th Century, said it would not draw up an “exhaustive list” of names, accepting that it would be an insurmountable task.It pointed out that several feminine versions of auteur (author) had already come into usage, including auteure, autoresse and autrice.What other names may change?Some French jobs already have feminine forms such as infirmière (nurse) but the vast majority of job titles are masculine. The feminine definitive article is commonly used to distinguish between sexes, for example la juge (judge) or la ministre (minister).Any changes may simply be a matter of making formal a job title that already exists.Some will just have an extra “e” as a suffix and maybe an accent, such as préfète (prefect), députée (MP) avocate (lawyer) and procureure (prosecutor).
The Académie française was first established in the 17th Century
Then there is sapeuse-pompière (firefighter) rather than sapeur-pompier.Other francophone countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg as well as the Canadian province of Quebec already have feminine forms for jobs. The terms cheffe (female chef), écrivaine (writer) and ingénieure (engineer) have been used in Canada for 40 years. A doctor is called une médecin or une docteure.Not all feminised job titles have gone down well. Author Laura-Maï Gaveriaux said she did not want to be described as an “autrice” as it just sounded bad. On the other hand she said she liked the feminine terms for director and teacher.Some bizarre anomalies have cropped up in France because of the old rules.A female ambassador in French was known by the male form ambassadeur”, while the feminine ambassadrice denoted the ambassador’s wife.Writer Bernard Cerquiglini complained that the academy had held France back for 30 years, arguing that French as a language was broadly feminised until the 17th Century.