LINGUIST List 2.498

Fri 13 Sep 1991

Disc: Professeure

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. bert peeters, 2.487 ProfesseurE
  2. Lars Henrik Mathiesen, 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2
  3. , ProfesseurE/ProfessorIn
  4. "ALICE FREED", RE: 2.483 Professeure
  5. Jacques Guy, Make mine "Professoresse"

Message 1: 2.487 ProfesseurE

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 18:44:33 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.487 ProfesseurE
> Date: Tue, 10 Sep 91 15:17:45 +0100
> From:
> Subject: Re: 2.481 Responses: French, in case
> (...)
> but the whole point of Madame LE Premier Ministre et al is that one should
> consider Premier Ministre, resp Professeur, as NOT implying a gender, viz
> that it can be and *is* actually a function occupied by a woman.
> (...)
Idle thoughts, I would say (with all due respect): the fact that we say *Le*
Premier Ministre and *Le* Professeur IMPLIES a masculine gender - whether
you like it or not. However, they don't imply a male referent. But this is
a purely linguistic contrast (gender - sex) and you can't blame non-linguists
in Canada for getting upset because they fail to realize that there is a
difference between gender and sex. They think it's the same thing, so they
want separate words for both sexes. In France, for some reason or other,
that same urgency does not exist. Not that all native speakers of "French
French" know of the distinction between sex and gender. I doubt they do.
There must be another reason (which I don't know).
Dr Bert Peeters Tel: +61 02 202344
Department of Modern Languages 002 202344
University of Tasmania at Hobart Fax: 002 202186
GPO Box 252C
Hobart TAS 7001
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Message 2: 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 11:44:41 +0200
From: Lars Henrik Mathiesen <>
Subject: 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2
Geoffrey Russom <> wrote:
 French job descriptions might simply declare that gender is not
 a consideration rather than trying to communicate this through the title.
This was done in Denmark --- a law was passed to the effect that if a
job description includes the abbreviation M/K (for mand/kvinde ==
man/woman) it is by definition sex-neutral. Danish only has common and
neutral gender, so the main application was to professions with
traditional sex implications (secretary, typist, nurse, ...).
It has had the effect that job titles that were compounds with words
for men or women ("work man", "cleaning woman", "keypunch lady")
looked silly with the mandatory M/K, so alternative terms have largely
been found. But women still find it easiest to get jobs in the
traditional areas, and there are very few male typists. In fact, M/K
is seldom seen anymore (I don't think anybody official cares).
Lars Mathiesen, DIKU, U of Copenhagen, Denmark	 [uunet!]mcsun!diku!thorinn
Warning: This article may contain unmarked humour.
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Message 3: ProfesseurE/ProfessorIn

Date: 11 Sep 91 12:00
From: <>
Subject: ProfesseurE/ProfessorIn
Those who have engaged in the debate on French "la professeure" might be
interested in a recent development in German.
 In German, as in French, gender assignment is largely morphologically
determined, so one cannot just say "die Professor" for a female professor.
In contrast to French, the derivational process that makes female nouns
is practically unrestricted, so words like "die Professorin", "die Ministerin",
etc. are easily accepted.
 But there is still the case of the generic or non-specific use of nouns
denoting persons, as in "We are looking for a professor of linguistics".
Here the masculine/male word "der Professor" is the only possibility, because
"Wir suchen eine Professorin" would mean that she must be female.
 Feminists have objected to the generic use of male person-denoting nouns in
German, just as they have objected to the use of generic masculine pronouns
in English. About six years ago feminists started to use FEMALE nouns
generically, and they have been surprisingly successful in this. At first
their followers were mainly in intellectual progressive-alternative circles,
but now there is a nationwide newspaper that makes use of the generic feminine,
and increasingly one sees official job announcements. An orthographic trick
has helped to void misunderstandings: Whenever a feminine person-denoting
noun is meant to refer generically, the "i" of the suffix "-in" is
capitalized. Thus: Wir suchen eine ProfessorIn, die StudentInnen, etc.
Martin Haspelmath (Free University of Berlin)
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Message 4: RE: 2.483 Professeure

Date: 11 Sep 91 07:58:00 EST
From: "ALICE FREED" <>
Subject: RE: 2.483 Professeure
This is in reply to Michael Kac's remarks about English and the
gender identification of words.
More than a cursory look HAS been taken of this in English.
There is a large and valuable literature on the subject, written
mostly in the past twenty years, motivated in part by an interest
in the analysis and elimination of sexism in English. The
references are too vast to list here. _Language , Gender and
Society_ (edited by Barrie Thorne, Cheris Kramarae and Nancy
Henley) Newbury House, 1983, contains a detailed annotated
bibliography. Section II of the bibliography is entitled, "Gender
Marking and Sex Bias in Language Structure and Content." It is
not the most recent but remains pertinent.
In a language such as English, where, in theory, grammatical gender
does not exist, the issues are slightly different from those in a
language like French. In French there is the matter of grammatical
gender as well as the matter of words reflecting the attitutdes
of the socity in which they are used.
Most of the people I talk to have eliminated from their speech
almost all occupational terms that distinguish male from female
by the addition of different grammatical endings.
_actor/actress_ remains but many actresses refer to themselves
simply as actors. _waiter and waitress_ is still used but very
few others.
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Message 5: Make mine "Professoresse"

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 16:44:32 EST
From: Jacques Guy <>
Subject: Make mine "Professoresse"
My point was to argue par l'absurde that the whole exercise was
a farce.
It is a farce in a regard which Michel Eytan encapsulated very
nicely. Verbosely:
So far, nouns denoting people by their professions, tastes,
beliefs, or habits have fallen into two categories:
(1) those with one form only (either f. or m.)
(2) those with two forms, f. and m., one derived from the other.
In case (1) the sex of the referent is not expressed.
In case (2) the sex of the referent is expressed by its
 grammatical gender.
The purpose of the proposed reform of the language is to remove
references to sex (to make it non-sexist, if you prefer). And it
is being carried out by turning the nouns of category (1) into
category (2), in which sex is obligatorily expressed!
Not only a farce in general implementation, a farce in the
details of it.
This sexualization of the language is being implemented en depit
du bon sens, et en depit de celui de la langue. Take Michel
Grimaud's arguments.
First, the evidence presented for a pattern -eur/-eure is:
"prieur/prieure" and "superieur/superieure". The latter is an
adjective used as a noun, of which there are more: meilleur(e),
inferieur(e), anterieur(e), posterieur(e), ulterieur(e).... What
is "prieur"? I have never heard or read "la prieure" (du couvent
je suppose). Never fear: even though to me the word "prieur"
automatically conjures up the meaning "one who prays", I suspect
that I am wrong there, and that it is originally an adjective
(prior). Professeur is not an adjective. So much then for
-eur/-eure. (Oh, the lofty authority of Brunot and Dauzat? Let me
call on the lowly authority of Montaigne: "Au plus haut trone du
monde si ne sommes assis que sus notre cul").
Second, "-eur ==> -euse for NOUNS is not particularly PRODUCTIVE
these days". Uh? Wot? Programmeur / programmeuse, emmerdeur /
emmerdeuse, tirlipoteur / tirlipoteuse...? Oh, I see, "-eur /
-euse SUFFIXED to NOUN STEMS". No, indeed, it is not particularly
productive these days. Matter of fact, it never was. Examples,
please, of -eur/-euse tagged onto nouns. Who advocated
"professeuse" at any rate?
Third, "-eur ==> -eure is simple, elegant... well received by
speakers of French who are not, in principle, against feminine
forms". I do not receive it well, therefore I am, in principle,
against feminine forms. And you can tell those who are in
principle against feminine forms, I imagine, from that they do
not receive it well. E.g. my wife does not receive "professeure"
well, ergo she is a closet male chauvinist sow (et elle cachait
bien son jeu la garce, jusqu'au point d'avoir garde son nom de
jeune fille; oh, mais maintenant la voila demasquee).
So in summary:
Point one: an erroneous interpretation of the data, and an
 argument ad hominem (per homine rather?).
Point two: un non-sens.
Point three: an argument ad hominem (fortasse ad Jacobum Vitum?)
On the other hand, if you care to observe words in -eur, you will
notice two very productive suffixes: -eur/-euse and -teur/-trice.
The former if there exists a verb, the latter a noun in -tion,
most often (but not necessarily always) formed from a verb. E.g.:
programmeur/programmeuse <---> programmer
programmateur/programmatrice <---> programmation
(Careful there! This latter relation is not 100% transitive,
only close to it, viz. precepteur/preceptrice. I wonder if you
could refine it so that it never failed? Any ideas?)
The opinion that the pair docteur/doctoresse is not the outcome
of a still productive formation is debatable. I have thought
about it, and come to the conclusion (nothing firm, opinions
welcome), that it is the result of a productive process, only
obscured by a morphophonological change. Consider:
prophete prophetesse
maitre maitresse
patron patronnesse ("Les dames patronnesses", merci le Grand
negre negresse
drole drolesse
See? An alternance <zero>/-esse? Apply it now to "docteur":
docteur --> docteur+esse --> doctoresse
on which model you will derive the word in my posting.
(and I hope that no-one will have le toupet de me chercher des
poux dans la tete a propos de eu/o)
Now I am all for the enrichment of the French language, sorely
depleted par les pisse-vinaigre of some 300 years ago. Not at the
cost of destroying what holds it together. French is complex at
all levels (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax; of the
languages of which I know, only Navaho compares). Innovations
that reinforce the already existing patterns are welcome,
especially welcome when they help reinforce a not-so-evident
pattern. Innovations that weaken them are not. Innovations that
confuse them stink. "Professeure" is one. It leads to asinine
neologisms in the style of those I showered you with (I am rather
partial to antilope/antilaud).
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