LINGUIST List 2.488

Tue 10 Sep 1991

Disc: ProfesseurE Part 2

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  1. Geoffrey Russom, Re: 2.483 Professeure
  2. "MICHEL, Madame LE Professeur... LA Prof... Madame LA ProfesseurE
  3. Jean Veronis, Re: 2.483 Professeure
  4. "MICHEL, ProfesseurE: Gender and Sex

Message 1: Re: 2.483 Professeure

Date: Tue, 10 Sep 91 09:09:53 EDT
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: 2.483 Professeure
In response to the question about the related English word:
"professor" seems clearly gender-neutral. In general, the "-or"
nomen agentis suffix seems to be losing its masculine implication.
My neighbor, Diana Jackson, whose sculpture sells quite well, calls
herself a sculptor, not a sculptress. I doubt that a certain
American Airlines line captain calls herself an aviatrix.
If the prevailing suffix has only a weak gender bias, it seems best
simply to ignore it (this works best if concrete political action
changes reality in the meantime).
French job descriptions might simply declare that gender is not
a consideration rather than trying to communicate this through the title.
Another of my neighbors, a relaxed sort of French Canadian woman,
formerly in the armed services, doubts that "professeure" has staying
power, so perhaps it's time to do the job some other way.
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Message 2: Madame LE Professeur... LA Prof... Madame LA ProfesseurE

Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1991 09:58 EDT
Subject: Madame LE Professeur... LA Prof... Madame LA ProfesseurE
Unlike other "-eur" words "professeur" does not derive from a verb or another
noun -- it was borrowed directly from Latin ("professor"). As LINGUISTs
know this can make a difference in the way a word is treated.
Of course, "-eur" ===> "-eure" also exists as in "prieur" / "prieure" or
"sup'erieur" / "sup'erieure". *And* two of France's best known grammarians
Ferdinand Brunot and Albert Dauzat proposed "UNE PROFESSEURE" in the early
Twentieth century.
But the main reason for the choice of one suffix over another is the
current value of each suffix in contemporary speech:
 -eur ===> -euse for NOUNS is not particularly PRODUCTIVE these days
	it can also have a somewhat negative aura to it
	This last comment suggests of course that if enough people care
	to use the term it can change that aura (as the "black is
	beautiful" movement did for "black" if the Sixties)
 --eur ===> -eure
	is simple, elegant, GRAPHICAL rather than radically different
	and is well received by speakers of French who are not, in
	principle, against feminine forms
universities in France. If I remember correctly, I read a few months ago
that MAITRES and MAITRESSES in ELEMENTARY school asked and finally were
given the title of PROFESSEURE and PROFESSEUR also.
In high schools children say "la, le prof" so that the issue of endings
never occurs. But it wouldn't in spoken French anyway -- except in the
South of France where schwas *are* pronounced... and thus their absence
The issue of productivity is essential: "doctoresse" (mentioned by Michael
Kac) is a rather unique derivation and is thus avoided.
The issue of what is aesthetic or what goes with or against the grain of a
language is an interesting issue. Usually what exists is good and what is
new is bad -- as we all know. This has been studied experimentally for
grammaticality judgements (see a recent [1989+] article in _Brain and
Language_ (I think)). Habituation works marvels as the history of language
shows. The references I quoted in my first email on "ProfesseurE" deal
with all of this and provide more than I can do in this text.
Email even more than linguistics perhaps fosters the "proof by example" method
as the only way to get one's point across speedily. To give examples of
how CULTURE changes LANGUAGE, it is good to remember that in the 19th
	'etudiantE = mistress of a male student and _not_ female student
In recent years female pharmacists have come to be extremely numerous if
not dominant in France:
	la pharmacienne = used to be the wife of LE pharmaCIEN
	but today no one thinks of her as anything but the pharmacist
And as for the frequent charge of "ridiculousness" of novel terms, this
used to be joked about a lot when feminists first wanted to be called
	--'ecrivainE = the "vainE = vain" stood out in the feminine
	although, of course, it was there all the time in the masculine
	form too but people did not hear it and don't now in many circles
	--cuisini`ere = no one thinks that it is both the woman cooking
	(masc. = cuisinier) and the stove she cooks on
	(Just as no parent thinks of "maitresse" as "mistress" when
	going to school for a PTO/PTA meeting -- "teacher" is the meaning
	that psychologically present... after the first milliseconds anyway
Michel Grimaud
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Message 3: Re: 2.483 Professeure

Date: Tue, 10 Sep 91 12:40 EDT
From: Jean Veronis <>
Subject: Re: 2.483 Professeure
- I am French, and male.
- I am completely in favor of using feminine equivalent for profession names
(provided they respect some basic linguistic rules...)
This being said, I agree with Jacques Guy on his remark that gender is much
more loosely associated with sex in French than it is in English, and therefore
applying the same judgements to English and French might be a little dangerous.
As soon as we (French speakers) are born we are surrounded by a universe in
which objects are either masculine or feminine. Everything, not only animate
things. A cup is feminine, a glass is masculine. This is *completely* arbitrary
(foreign learners know how much it is frustrating). I think we understand this
arbitrariness very early, and it is deeply part of our approach to language.
When I think of a cup or a glass, I certainly do not think of them as feminine
and masculine objects respectively. They are neutral in my mind. I have the
feeling that this neutrality conveyed by gender does not exist (or in any case
not to that extent) in English. As soon as someone uses "he" or "she", there is
a clear sex implication.
Of course, when it comes to people, there is a correlation between gender and
sex, but this correlation is pretty loose, and the sense of arbitrariness still
applies. I can't tell how women feel when they are applied masculine terms, but
I can tell what I feel when I am applied *feminine* terms. For example, I can
be called "une recrue" (recruit, new member), "une basse" (bass in a choir),
etc.--and consequently be referred to as "elle" ("she"). I do not feel at all
offended, embarassed, effeminated, etc. by those terms. I never heard of
anybody having any such reaction. I don't even think about their gender when
they are applied to me.
The most clear example is that a man is called "une personne" ! Person is
*feminine* in French. English speakers can achieve sex-neutrality by using
"person" instead of "man" or "woman", but this sex-neutrality is impossible in
French. Therefore, the problem is much more complex than just adding a few
profession names. If we want to be linguistically correct, much more is
involved than changing a few "he"'s into "he or she"'s. Lots of terms will have
to change. "The reader" will have to be referred to as "le lecteur ou la
lectrice", "s'adresser au Professeur" will become "s'adresser au Professeur ou
a la Professeure", etc. And what to say about agreement? We will have "Le
nouveau professeur ou la nouvelle professeuse est heureux ou heureuse de vous
annoncer qu'il ou elle a ete nomme ou nommee expert ou experte aupres du
president directeur general ou de la presidente directrice generale, etc.".
This is going to be pretty heavy.
These various considerations may explain why French speakers are less concerned
about sex equity in language than English speakers: on one hand gender has a
large built-in arbitrariness for French speakers, on the other hand, sex equity
is much more difficult to accomplish fully in French than in English. This does
not mean it is not worth trying. There are probably a number of things we can
do, and some of them have a symbol value, like create feminine profession
names, or invent a title for women that doesn't imply their married ("Mme") or
unmarried ("Mlle") status.
Jean Ve'ronis
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Message 4: ProfesseurE: Gender and Sex

Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1991 13:48 EDT
Subject: ProfesseurE: Gender and Sex
Professor Jacques Guy argues that "correlation between grammatical gender
and sex is extremely poor [even] for animate referents."
Aside from anecdotal evidence, there is little scholarship on the topic.
However, there is *some* scholarship _and_ in any case it would be nice if
long-standing "obvious facts" were investigated.
If "la sentinelle" and "la vigie" are striking as examples for occupations
of men it is precisely because it is exceptional that strongly marked
feminine suffixes like -ELLE (that is double consonant + e) and -IE
(that is, vowel + e) should represent men... it goes against one's
intuition. It also goes against what children expect. As Lambert et al.
(1967) showed children can predict the gender of a word from its ending.
But the basic fact is that -E is THE feminine marker in French for
ADJECTIVES and also NOUNS. This is true, statistically, morphologically,
psychologically, etc. Prima facie -- at least if one is a cognitively
inclined linguist... but even otherwise -- grammatical gender is thus
closely associated with sex.
Psychological agreement, something French grammarians have occasionally
talked about (compare "DAS Madchen... SIE), is yet another prima facie
instance. In French METAPHORICAL USAGE takes gender into account when it
SOCIALIZES/HUMANIZES an animal or an object:
	--la souris ===> MADAME la souris (not MONSIEUR)
	--le livre ===> Messieurs les livres
		(examples attested of course)
In short, there is a strong connection betwen gender and sex for speakers
of French. However, there are exceptions -- but let's not be impressed by
them without remembering that (as Lambert et al. 1967) shows, there are
striking regularities (see -elle, -ie etc. above). However Lambert's work
has not been continued: his was only a phonetic study not a morphological
and historical one, and not a cognitively oriented one.
Much work needs to be done for French, although there is more work on
French (mostly from Quebec oddly enough) than on other languages, although
there is some on German and Spanish. At the present time the work on
German, Spanish, and even French is insufficient -- but that's good news
for prospective PhDs in linguistics.
Michel Grimaud
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