Ensuring gender neutrality in writing is a tricky business, and nowhere more so than in Switzerland, which uses four languages and may soon put the issue to a popular vote.
Furious at an inclusive writing that is making its way in the administration, the media and schools, the Swiss branch of the association Defender the French language hopes to collect enough signatures to trigger a vote, as is possible in the system of direct democracy of the country.
The struggle with the language is part of the national identity in Switzerland, where German, French and Italian are used – plus a fourth official language: Romansh.
French and Italian names have a masculine or feminine gender, while German names have a masculine, feminine, or neutral gender.
In French, Italian and German grammar, the masculine takes precedence over the feminine in situations that describe both men and women – a rule that gender equality activists say inculcates the idea that men are superior to women.
As a result, there has been a rapid tendency to fill words with dots and stars to include their male, female, and sometimes non-binary forms all at once.
But critics say it goes too far, slaughtering written language and creating an unreadable mess.
Since the 1990s, the Swiss government has tried to avoid the problem by favoring neutral terminology, where possible, in the three main languages.
For example, communications in French that refer to voters circumvent the problem by referring to the electorate, “the electorate”, rather than “the voters” – the male and female forms of the word “voters”.
But formats like “the elector.rice.s” are now emerging.
France’s education ministry recently banned the use of such wordings, and in neighboring Switzerland a slew of mostly right-wing politicians are also campaigning to have them wiped off the page.
Benjamin Roduit of the Center party presented in March a motion in parliament – which has not yet been debated – asking the Swiss federal administration to respect the established rules of the French language.
– How would you like your “buerger”? –
In June, the Swiss Federal Chancellery banned the use in German of asterisks and other signs that include masculine, feminine and non-binary word forms, believing they do not serve their purpose – and instead this “causes a whole series of linguistic problems”.
She gave as an example this sentence: “The director appoints a member of the staff able to represent him in his absence”, which means “the director appoints a member of the staff able to replace him in his absence. “
For the plural word “citizens” – “Buerger” for men and “Buergerinnen” for women, which changes to “Buerger” if both men and women are involved – the federal administration will now simply use the two in succession.
In French, however, some have used the wording “citizen · ne · x · s” for citizens, with the “ne” denoting women and the “x” for those not comfortable with the masculine spelling. or feminine.
In recent months, the French-language Swiss public television RTS has also fueled the flames by replacing “Bonsoir à tous” (“bonoir à tous”, using the masculine plural “tous”) with “Bonsoir et Bienvenue” – a “good evening”. and welcome “.
The Swiss branch of Defend the French Language wrote an open letter asking RTS to reverse the change.
The president of the branch, Aurèle Challet, is also trying to collect enough signatures to trigger a public vote on the issue.
The initiative “aims to ban so-called inclusive writing throughout Switzerland”.
– “More equality” –
“The French language cannot tolerate being dismantled by utopians creating gibberish,” said Challet, a former sports journalist.
He said that putting periods between the letters is “inconsistent, it is ineffective, it is ugly and it will do nothing to the legitimate fight – which I support – for the place of women in society”.
Typographer by training, he deplores the introduction of this writing in the administration and soon in schools.
Taking advantage of the upcoming renewal of school textbooks in French-speaking Switzerland, the Swiss authorities intend to introduce certain elements of non-sexist language from 2023.
Pascal Gygax, psycholinguist at the University of Friborg and author of the book “The brain thinks male? “, Defends the” re-feminization “of writing, including in the classroom.
“We see that there are now more egalitarian currents – we saw it with the hashtag ‘MeToo’,” he told AFP.
“The question of language is part of a movement that aims for more equality.
For Janna Kraus, of the Transgender Network Switzerland association, being “against fair language should not give anyone the right to prohibit its use by others”.
© 2021 AFP