LINGUIST List 2.499

Fri 13 Sep 1991

Disc: Professeure

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. John Bro, Re: professeurE, madelle
  2. bert peeters, 2.488 ProfesseurE
  3. Dennis Baron, professor

Message 1: Re: professeurE, madelle

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 01:01 EST
Subject: Re: professeurE, madelle
 My wife was frequently referred to by the parents of her students
in Normandy (Nord Cotentin) as the "professeuSe"
and even "PROFESSEUSE D'ANGLAISE" although I suspect that
the latter may have been most often 'langue en joue' ;^).
(I'll ask her in the morning..)
In any case, "professeuse" seems to be/have been the natural form
in the Patois around Cherbourg.
 As for "MADELLE" I remember hearing it suggested in the (early)
seventies, but have never heard anyone actually use it. (I lived in
France from 1971-1984). Sorry, no references.
 re: just_in_case as iff. I found this to be perfectly opaque
jargon, and was quite confused by it the first few times I encountered
it, and still cannot use it comfortably. It seems very strange to me,
too, to take an idiom with a solid conventional interpretation and give
it another related but significantly different sense.
John Bro bougieufpine
Prog in Ling.
Univ. of Florida
Gainesville FL
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Message 2: 2.488 ProfesseurE

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 19:28:10 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.488 ProfesseurE
> Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1991 09:58 EDT
> Subject: Madame LE Professeur... LA Prof... Madame LA ProfesseurE
> 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.
Both words may well have been used and be used in France, but do the feminine
forms have the same (at least semi-) official character that they have in
Quebecois? *Professeure* is not listed in my edition of the Petit Robert,
for instance.
> 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)).
Could anyone provide a full reference to this particular paper?
Michel Grimaud then discusses the influence of culture on language, with
examples such as *e'tudiante* (student's girlfriend -> female student)
and *pharmacienne* (pharmacist's wife -> female pharmacist). How about
*Madame la ge'ne'rale* ? According to my Petit Robert, this still refers to
the general's wife, not to a female general (are there any - forgive my
> Date: Tue, 10 Sep 91 12:40 EDT
> From: Jean Veronis <>
> Subject: Re: 2.483 Professeure
> 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.
The objects are not either masculine or feminine: their names are. A cup or a
glass, qua objects, are surely not thought of - by anyone - as being a feminine
or a masculine object. They may well be "neutral" in the speaker's (conscious)
mind, but their names remain feminine and masculine, respectively. Any speaker
of French is aware of that fact: it is sufficient to think of noun-adjective
agreement for instance.
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 3: professor

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 10:16:53 CDT
From: Dennis Baron <>
Subject: professor
Geoffrey Russom comments that the -or suffix is not gendered
in English, noting the obsolesence of _authoress_, _poetess_
and the like. Mebbe so. Trench declared such suffixes dead
in the mid-19th century, and every once in a while their
death is proclaimed again, most recently perhaps by Jacques
Barzun in the mid 1980s. But such reports may be premature,
to say the least. Wbster's 9th New Collegiate DIctionary
defines _authoress_ simply as "A woman author" with no note
explaining any derogatory or trivializing connotations and
no hint the word is disappearing. Indeed, _Webster's
Dictionary of English Usage_ finds that although _authoress_
is not a heavily used word, it has proved useful in its
500 year history and cites Jane Austen's application of
the word to herself. WDEU concludes, "It can be used
 condescendingly but it is more often simply neutral."
To reprise a popular expression among the young, "I don't
think so." The word is seldom neutral and probably in
light of the social history of the past 20 years cannot
be neutral now. Jane Austen may have used the term
neutrally, but Charlotte Bronte did not when she remarked,
in explaining why she and her sister chose non-feminine
pen names, "We had a vague impression that authoresses
are liable to be looked on with prejudice." I think it
was Robert Lowell who wrote the jacket notes for Sylvia
Plath's first collection of poems, calling her a "poetess"
with the clear implication, this is good stuff, for a
 Even the _Random House Webster's College Dictionary_ gives
no indication of the death of _authoress_, though its usage
note (s.v. -ess) indicates it is rare and discouraged
nowadays. Of course one pair of gendered words where there
is some current activity is waiter/waitress, with wait,
waitperson, waitron, waitri (pl.) and server as gender-
neutral alternatives.
-- ____________ 217-333-2392
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