Category Archives: Opinion

Et si on jouait à la docteure et à l’infirmier ?

Je profite de cette journée internationale des femmes pour faire quelques remarques sur un sujet qui me tient à cœur : le lien entre le langage et la cause des femmes, en particulier entre la langue française et le féminisme en France.

Hou, tout un programme ! Et j’en ai peut-être découragé certain.e.s, non, c’est trop moche, j’ai peut-être déjà découragé mes lecteurs et lectrices, hummmm, long et peu élégant, je vous ai peut-être déjà  découragés, non, zut, je retombe sur un découragé.e.s difficile à lire.

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Photo : I, Herve s

L’écriture inclusive est aussi laide à l’écrit qu’à l’oral, c’est clair. Il va falloir sérieusement nous remuer les méninges pour faire mieux. D’ailleurs, pour vraiment bien faire, il serait nécessaire de revoir toute notre grammaire pour s’attaquer au fameux « le masculin l’emporte au pluriel ». Je crois pourtant qu’il existe des systèmes linguistiques qui prennent en compte bien davantage de possibilités. Déclinaison du masculin, féminin – et neutre, pourquoi pas ? – au singulier, et au pluriel, avec toutes les combinaisons, uniquement du féminin, du masculin, du neutre ou bien un mélange. Au passage, je me demande comment l’espéranto, ce beau rêve conçu par des optimistes, se débrouille avec cet aspect de la langue.

Je vous vois venir et je rejette tout de suite les objections du genre « Il y a des combats plus importants ». Sans doute, mais l’influence de la langue sur le comportement et les mentalités est, à mon sens, très largement sous-estimée.

Si les enfants jouent « à la maîtresse”, ce n’est pas par hasard. Ils vont en effet rencontrer le plus souvent une institutrice à l’école primaire. S’ils jouent “au docteur et à l’infirmière”, ils sont sans doute en retard sur la réalité : la profession médicale dans son ensemble s’est en effet massivement féminisée; la formule “le docteur et l’infirmière” reste cependant tenacement dans les esprits, c’est un exemple de nos habitudes de langage qui font parfois perdurer des vérités anciennes.

Ne nous voilons pas la face : la langue reflète et façonne les schémas de pensée.

En français, il nous faut être présidente ou président, traducteur ou traductrice, infirmière ou infirmier. Alors que l’anglais, par exemple, nous permet d’être president, translator ou nurse. Cette langue-là nous donne au moins la possibilité d’imaginer une femme ou un homme occuper ces fonctions.

Tout un sujet, la féminisation des noms de métiers ! Il faut dire que « maîtresse de conférences », ça le fait pas, et il n’y a rien de moins euphonique que « doctoresse ». Et puis quand il n’existe pas de terme féminin, par exemple pour « professeur », on nous refuse même un petit « e » à la fin du mot, pourtant ça ne s’entend même pas qu’on est « auteure » ! Et puis quand c’est exactement le même titre, par exemple, « ministre », ça ne va pas non plus, on s’écharpe sur si c’est « Madame le ministre » ou « Madame la ministre ». Bref, nous sommes compliquées.

En fait, ce n’est pas nous qui sommes compliquées, c’est le sujet. Cela me fait sourire de voir que même l’anglais se heurte à la question, lui (au fait pourquoi est-ce-que c’est « lui », alors qu’il s’agit de LA langue anglaise ? passons ! ) qui contient beaucoup moins de mots sexués, dans le sens où tout ce qui est non-humain grosso modo*, y compris l’intitulé d’un poste, n’est ni masculin, ni féminin, Depuis quelques années, les actrices anglophones insistent pour qu’on les décrive non plus comme des actresses mais des actors. Un petit peu comme si on aimerait que ce soit le métier qui importe, pas le genre de la personne qui l’exerce …

Voici un autre exemple de la langue qui agit certainement comme le miroir d’une époque mais qui fait peut-être aussi que les mœurs évoluent lentement dans certains domaines. C’est sans doute une tarte à la crème que je vous balance, mais le Panthéon proclame sur son fronton qu’il abrite en son sein la dépouille de ses enfants les plus illustres : « Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante ». Il joue ce rôle depuis 1791 et il aura quand même fallu attendre plus de deux cents ans pour le voir rendre hommage à une femme aussi illustre que son mari …

J’ai mentionné la possibilité du neutre ci-dessus et j’y reviens brièvement. J’aimerais qu’on arrête de dire doctement que le masculin est un neutre, ou encore plus doctement, pour ne pas dire hypocritement, que le masculin est un genre qui peut être «marqué», ou «non marqué» –  c’est quand même « le » ou« un» qui est marqué/écrit partout pas« la » ou« une»…) J’aimerais aussi que quand on dit « l’homme », ou avec encore plus d’emphase, « l’Homme », on veut dire en fait « l’humanité ». Désolée, mais ça, ça ne va pas du tout ! Je dirais même que c’est carrément malhonnête de déguiser le masculin en neutre/genre non marqué ainsi. Et d’ailleurs, dans ce cas précis, c’est très simple, il suffit de dire …. « humanité ». Pourtant on trouve des « l’homme » soi-disant neutres encore un peu partout dans des textes rédigés récemment.

Car bien loin de moi l’idée de ré-écrire quoi que ce soit. Aucune action rétro-active n’a bien entendu lieu d’être. Pour moi, il serait hors de question de ré-écrire quoi que ce soit, y compris pour les enfants. Les textes sont sont écrits dans la langue d’usage.  Ceux de demain le seront aussi. L’usage évolue, c’est un phénomène linguistique avéré et naturel.

Sur le plan grammatico-pratique, les solutions nouvelles qui pourront accompagner l’évolution de la langue dans le sens d’une langue moins sexiste – disons le carrément, le français est  une langue sexiste – sont peu nombreuses et celles qui existent sont loin de faire l’unanimité.  Et je n’oublie pas que le féminisme a beaucoup de causes nobles à défendre. Je plaide simplement pour que nous arrêtions de nier le rôle qu’y joue la langue. C’est avec une langue qu’on forme des mots, avec des mots (parlés, lus, à l’écran) qu’on communique avec les enfants, avec des personnes éduquées qu’on change les mentalités.

 

 

*En anglais, les animaux n’ont pas de genre, sauf s’il s’agit d’un animal domestique, a fortiori si l’animal en question porte un nom. Et quelques noms sont parfois poétiquement affublés d’un genre féminin et quand la reine Elizabeth II baptise un navire, elle le fait avec la formule consacrée: “I name this ship x. May God bless her and all who sail in her.”

Interviewing the Queen

There is a lot of information out there and the information we mostly focus on isn’t around for very long. The news on your favourite radio station, your daughter’s Twitter feed, the thing everyone is talking about in the office leave few traces; only a small part of it gets printed before usually being chucked away after a few days. The old information doesn’t actually disappear, it just drifts down to the seabed of Ocean News. There may be some poking at “old” news every now and then, usually with the purpose of muddying the waters somehow or other but it is very rare indeed for there to be any continuity in the topics that are dealt with or in the people who narrate and comment them.

There is, however, one person I can think of, who has had access to information relating to one particular topic, in a fairly unchanged format, for many years: Queen Elizabeth II.

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BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives from Canada – Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip at the opening of parliament / La Reine Élizabeth II et le prince Philip à l’ouverture du parlement. Creator(s) / Créateur(s) : Gerald Thomas Richardson

 

The Queen has read every Speech from the Throne (which presents the government’s broad agenda for the year) at the State Opening of Parliament since 1952, except in 1959 and 1963 when Princes Andrew and Edward respectively were on their way. In addition, she holds weekly audiences with the Prime Minister in office. I think it would be an excellent idea if she were to be interviewed in a formal manner by a professional like a historian.

It’s probably useful for me to state at this point that I don’t support constitutional monarchy as a form of government, I prefer republics. I find that a system based on a monarch plus a parliament minus a written constitution is, on balance, more muddling than a republic. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that it would be very interesting to get the Queen’s memories, thoughts and possible comments on this unparalleled data pool concerning a fairly important topic: the government of the United Kingdom.

The official Royal Family website helpfully notes that: “Although The Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation.” She does indeed. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine that she has merely read all these speeches, paying attention only to her delivery of them, or that she has met all these Prime Ministers and not come to some judgment about their performance.

 

If the interviews I propose were to actually yield any of the Queen’s opinions on governmental policies or the heads of government, I believe that any such information would need to be kept secret for a good long while. The publication of Prince Charles’s so-called “black spider memos” generated some disquiet. They did reveal some of his opinions on and indeed involvement in various matters of public interest, but he is not the Head of State. What I am proposing here is directed at gaining information from the Head of State and then to come to a decision on what is shared publicly and what is not. I’m not sure who should decide that but that would come under the “details to be sorted out later” category… Who knows, maybe if this idea were to be implemented, the interviews would one day become historical documents widely shared with future subjects (assuming UK citizens retain a monarchy), rather like the Georgian Papers Programme today.

But even in the absence of any comment on the content of the speeches the Queen has read and the audiences she has held, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a record of her thoughts on the process in which she has been a key player? Wouldn’t it be interesting to get insight into how successive governments have gone about formulating their road map year after year? How the format of weekly audiences and pre-budget briefings might have evolved after time?

Of course, the Queen is not exactly a typical interviewee and the person selected to undertake the task I propose would need to demonstrate a range of talents. They would need to combine the rigorous search for evidence of a historian with the astuteness of a ghost writer collating material for a celebrated person’s memoirs. They would probably also need to have the sort of personality that would “fit” into the Royal household, given that their job, if it were to be done correctly, would require a number of fairly long meetings with her.

 

In a way, I feel that recording the Queen’s recollection of one of the duties she has diligently discharged over the years, and one that is most closely connected with the administration of the realm, is something that is owed to her. Rather than all the media coverage of her person and reign, including fanciful film and television productions, is she not entitled to be asked about her role in accompanying the business of government?

A view from 2179

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Extracts from Dawn of the Third Millennium, an analysis of the 1989-2053 period by Elena Ferris, published by Shandelgos University Press in 2179

Many of the people who lived in the 2010s and 2020s thought they were experiencing turbulent times and indeed the period is marked by a series of events that still divides historians today.

 

Some see the over-reaction to small-scale but exceedingly well publicised acts of terror in affluent countries as a blip in an otherwise remarkably long period of nations evolving and organising themselves peacefully – other analysts focus instead on the emergence of an entirely new dialectic in conflict management which occurred then, now often roughly summarised as “the Y2K culture clash”.

Noteworthy among these featured an upsurge of activity from a number of a wide range of extremist groups, claiming a legitimacy based on ideology and going by different (often tellingly aggressive) names. They generally operated in groups, guerrilla style, and also set the conditions for a number of similarly motivated individuals to act alone. Low budget low technology suicide bomb and knife attacks and vehicle ramming were all popular forms of terrorist activity.  Migrants were seen interchangeably as the perpetrators of terror or their victims. Indeed, “migration” was blamed for many things, even if those invoking it were generally in fact making reference to “cultural clashes.”

The intricate interplay of peoples, lands and cultures has always generated both tremendous creativity and wealth on the one hand and conflict on the other, often concurrently. The  violent events mentioned above brought to the fore deep, old and often painful racial and gender issues. At the start of the third millennium, humanity was still coping with these spectacularly incompetently. Progress in that field a few decades later did stabilise the situation somewhat, as evidenced for instance by new channels being created for the dissemination of science, trade and the arts; those were the fresh incarnations of the romantically named “silk route”, “caravans” and “silicon valley” of previous eras.

 

 

IMG_2437Other historians single out the decision of one nation to remove itself from an international alliance it had joined 40 years previously as the most symbolic event of the period.

The Britons of 2016, who voted in a democratic referendum to arrive at that decision, certainly believed that this was the most critical issue of their time. Half the population (52%) hailed the fantastic new opportunity that this new found freedom would bring their country, enabling them to build on a glorious past and create an even brighter future; the other half (48%) insisted that this separation from a strong union of like-minded nations, which had a track record of improving the well-being and wealth of its members, was a grave mistake that Britain would repent at leisure. The prophets of doom were proved wrong: less than forty years later, in 2053, Britannia (officially known until 2029 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland after Scotland elected to leave the Union and Northern Ireland joined the Republic of Ireland, the latter choice eventually putting paid to centuries of tension in that region) re-entered the European Union, as a full member, whereas it had during its first period of membership refused to take part in several key measures such as a shared currency and shared border control mechanisms. In the meantime, the Union had consolidated its harmonisation programmes considerably and introduced some fairly revolutionary social policies.

 

Yet another kind of historian prefers to track the shadowy progress of a group of people who could be described as a type of illuminati: the environmentalists. Their story began practically as an underground movement way back in the 20th century and they gained steady momentum throughout the next century, spreading the gospel of environmental awareness and activism over the decades. Although they conspicuously failed to organise themselves as a political party, they did successfully introduce their agenda to mainstream political parties of varying creeds. This led to the achievement of a number of significant results in the safeguarding of planet Earth, to some extent minimising the impact of some of the worst depredations in previous centuries.

 

(…)

 

Today, as I transfer these words to you directly from my brain to yours via the communication interfaces located somewhere in the region of your left temple and mine, the events described in previous chapters can justifiably be described as ranging from the ludicrous to the criminal.

It seems barely possible that human beings, equipped with sophisticated sensory equipment and cognitive skills, should have been the ones to instigate these events. It seems incredible that the many worthies who had attained a remarkable level of scientific understanding and technological craftsmanship, took so long to turn the tide. It seems amazing that poets and thinkers had to struggle so much to acknowledge that  humans share planet Earth with one another and also with other species and organisms.

To get our brains round this, we need to remind ourselves of the following facts: at the start of the period we are considering, the human race found itself able to generate, store, process, retrieve and transfer hitherto unimaginable quantities of data of all kinds. This all happened in a very short space of time indeed.

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Engineers, technicians and computer scientists had barely started building machines and writing code and they were already startling their contemporaries with talk of internet, quantum computers, online social media, augmented reality, data science and artificial intelligence. They were forging ahead, ignoring the fact that most of the human activities they were serving and sometimes replacing were organised fundamentally differently. Industry, education, retail, healthcare, education and many other vital human activities had until then tended to rely on a combination of complete separation between specialisms, skills, disciplines, sectors, and so on, endless varieties of hierarchical structures and a strictly linear approach to change.

 

Underpinning all this was a critical difference in the communication method used by the different players: those who clung to human languages only, some even quaintly insisting on the maintenance of arcane spelling, grammar and pronunciation rules, and those who were also capable of communicating in code, binary or otherwise. Incredibly, communicologists only finally took over from linguists in the 2070s.

 

 

With this in mind, it is perhaps a little easier to understand how humans required the best part of a century to assimilate these new functionalities, as it were, and use them to address the old problems that seemed to be felt particularly acutely by our predecessors in the 2010s and 2020s. Here they were, facing the same historical cycles of problems and progress that generations before them had faced (a favourite pastime of erudite people was to quote texts from ancient Roman authors proving this), here they were with the tantalising possibilities offered by amazing achievements: a peaceful international collaboration existed in space! a computer had beaten a go master! electric driverless vehicles had revolutionised transport! The disappointment and frustration of not being able to solve old problems, despite all these wonderful new feats, grabbed attention for a number of years.

 

 

In the next chapter, we will explore how a comprehensive and systematic review of these and other issues, starting from the 2030s, paved the way for the Bionic Revolution that was to follow. Brief histories of space travel and ball games in that period will serve to illustrate this analysis.

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Photos: Richard Wilkinson