Thus, in its recommendation R-90-4 of February 21, 1990, the Committee of Ministers from the Council of Europe had recognized that "the sexism characterizing current linguistic usage in most member states - whereby the masculine prevails over the feminine - is hindering the establishment of equality between women and men, since it obscures the existence of women as half of humanity, while denying the equality of women and men".
Let us recall that the old French was more egalitarian in the Middle Age:
• Feudal society did not limit women's access to public life, so many professions were feminized [e.g. "poétesse" (a poet who is a woman), "mairesse" (a city mayor who is a woman)]
• The grammatical rule based on proximity allowed the gender of the adjective to be determined based on the closest noun. For example, the adjective "bleu" was considered feminine in the sentence "les camions et voitures bleues sont à vendre"
In the seventeenth century, the prohibition for women to hold certain positions had repercussions on the language and some feminized professions were removed from the dictionary or relegated to the background: "ambassadrice" no longer defined the position of ambassador held by a woman but the wife of the ambassador. The Académie française, created in 1634, went even further by suppressing the grammatical rule based on proximity in favor of the one according to which the masculine prevails over the feminine.
However, major changes have taken place since the 1970s, driven by a society that wants to be more egalitarian. The names of professions have been feminized and the use of epicens and doublets is strongly recommended in written communications. The median point is gradually crowding out the parenthesis in abbreviated doublets and is reminding us that one gender should not be bracketed at the expense of the other. Thus, "magicien·ne" is gradually overtaking "magicien(ne)".
Although recently suggested by the French organization Haut Conseil à l'égalité entre les hommes et les femmes (2022 practical guide), the grammatical rule based on proximity remains marginal. In Canada, the Office québécois de la langue française recognizes that it "is not grammatically incorrect" but it does not encourage it because of the risk of "confusion" (in our example above, "bleue" can be seen as only related to cars and not trucks).
There’s no doubt that French language is in a state of flux, as evidenced by the entry of the non-binary personal pronoun "iel" in the online Petit Robert dictionary. The debate is ongoing and it is likely that French grammar will continue to shift from what was taught only a few decades ago.
Yes, translation tools have their limits when it comes to high quality translations, especially in terms of:
• Accuracy of the translation (e.g. context is often not taken into consideration);
• Consistency of terminology, tone and style throughout the text ; and
• Adaptation (specificities of the targeting public are not taken into account).
That's why, only relying on translation software and apps to convey your messages to your audience can really put your reputation and projects at risk.
However, it should be noted that they play an important role in preserving languages and cultural diversity. The United Nations estimates that 43% of the 6,000 languages spoken worldwide are endangered due to globalization processes. When a language disappears, an entire cultural and intellectual heritage goes with it.
Translation software and apps are very helpful when it comes to learn, practice, and get a better understanding of a foreign language. Recently, Inuktitut had been added to translation software. Spoken by about 400,000 people in Canada (especially in Nunavut), this Inuit language, can now be translated from and to 70 languages.
A great step forward that makes this International Mother Language Day (February 21st) even more special!
For centuries, the “Académie de la Langue Française” in Paris, founded in 1634, was the only official authority on the usages, grammar, and vocabulary of the French language. Since then, French language has been spread here and there around the world, and other institutions have been founded such as the Translation Bureau at the Government of Canada, in 1934, and the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) in 1961.
The gender chosen for “COVID-19” is a good example of the professionalism and notoriety that these two institutions gained over the years.
In May 2020, even though the masculine (“le Covid”) is paramount until then in France (in medias and conversations), l’Académie de la Langue Française, got along with the Translation Bureau and the OQLF, specifying - like both Canadian institutions did - that COVID is the acronym for "Corona Virus Disease". Disease being a feminine word in French (“la maladie”), then COVID-19 can no longer be masculine.