LINGUIST List 2.500

Fri 13 Sep 1991

Disc: Professeure

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. William J. Rapaport, Re: 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2
  2. "MICHEL GRIMAUD", ProfesseurE -- Feminists & Asymmetries between French and English
  3. "MICHEL GRIMAUD", Terms of Address in French: "Mad.", "Madelle", "Mr." etc.

Message 1: Re: 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 12:30:49 EDT
From: William J. Rapaport <rapaportcs.Buffalo.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.488 ProfesseurE Part 2
	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).
Not necessarily completely arbitrary, at least not for German. See:
Zubin, David A. (1977), ``The Semantic Basis of Case Alteration in German,''
in R. Fasold & R. Shuy (eds.), Studies in Language Variation
(Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press).
			William J. Rapaport
			Associate Professor of Computer Science
			Center for Cognitive Science
Dept. of Computer Science||internet:
SUNY Buffalo		 ||bitnet: rapaportsunybcs.bitnet
Buffalo, NY 14260	 ||uucp: {rutgers,uunet}!!rapaport
(716) 636-3193, 3180 ||fax: (716) 636-3464
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: ProfesseurE -- Feminists & Asymmetries between French and English

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1991 13:31 EDT
Subject: ProfesseurE -- Feminists & Asymmetries between French and English
Professor Geoffrey Russom notes that in the U.S. "actor" or "sculptor" is
preferred by many women as the neutral term and Professor Ellen Prince
notes that the feminine is seen as a "special case thereof" -- which is
something anyone who "acts seriously" would not want.
This is true for English. In fact, reference books such as F. W. Frank & P
. A. Treichler's "Language, Gender, and Professional Writing" (MLA 1989)
and Rosalie Maggio's "The Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender-
Free Usage" (Beacon Press, 1988) both argue in that manner.
English, as several LINGUISTs have noted is far more gender-free than
French in the first place. English being poor in feminine suffixes, it
seems more "productive" to go the gender-free route.
But French has many productive feminine suffixes.
Some of them are pejorative today. But languages change and can be made to
change by one's actions. This has been true for terms of address over the
centuries and for many grammatical points both in English and French. The
issue is not usually change but rather whether one approves of the change.
Judging from the battle over French orthography reform -- where arguments
about beauty and disfiguring the language are made by people who ought to
know better (haven't they read Rabelais' French or even Racine's?) -- one
cannot expect that an emotionally laden issue having to do with the social
status of women over the centuries and how it is reflected in language --
would be easy to change.
But (remember my earlier examples about "etudiante" -- mistress of a male
student -- and "pharmacienne" -- wife of the pharmacist, but now pharmacist
plain and simple) things do change although language is usually slow to
catch up with social realities.
The issue in French is complex. One might never reach simple, direct, and
universal solutions. So what. Many partial solutions are still possible.
There is no need to solve the problem across the board: IF we want to deal
with titles of address (and many other terms) in a manner that reflects the
sex of the bearer, we can do it easily in many cases like "ProfesseurE".
That's one step.
Will we be forced to say "professeurs et professeures"? In some cases
perhaps, but check the Quebec job ads for variety of standard solutions.
There are also solutions that respect standard linguistic and socio-
psychological principles:
	--point of view
	--sex of speaker
If I am a man speaking to a male audience, it would seem that the dominant
point of view may well be "professeurs"... or on the other hand, I may want
to stress that I'm also thinking of women and, in my dialect, I would say
"professeurs et professeuREs" (with stress of the last unstressed syllable)
Conversely: A women talking to women... (see above)
For a woman or a man talking to a mixed audience... well how mixed is it?
How does it "feel" to the speaker? I would fight for a psychologically
tolerant grammar... which would accept psychological gender as French
grammarians have since the 17th century... although they would not have
wanted to apply it to gender, only to pluralization. But, in addition, one
does hear psychological gender in speech even though it is considered
incorrect grammatically. (In English, I suppose, the equivalent is the use
of singular/neutral "they" -- which was shown to have been in use for
Michel Grimaud
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Terms of Address in French: "Mad.", "Madelle", "Mr." etc.

Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1991 13:01 EDT
Subject: Terms of Address in French: "Mad.", "Madelle", "Mr." etc.
In answer to Dennis Baron's query about "Madelle" and the French equivalent
of "Ms.":
		Mad. = Madame or Mademoiselle on some commercial addresses
			But it is not officially equivalent to "Ms."
		Madelle = Mad + elle in superscript
		This is one of the myriad of variations on
			Mademoiselle, Madame and Monsieur I have found
		(to be precise, I've attested 31 non-nonce uses for both
		singular or plural of the standard forms
			Mme, Mlle, M.)
"Madelle" is attested around 1627-37 in French in letters by N. de Peiresc.
He also uses "Monsr", "Mr" and "Mesdelles".
"Mr" which many French people think of as "wrong" or even as an anglicism
-- as the above attestation shows has been around for a long time in French
and is used regularly by the best authors, e.g., randomly, Voltaire.
Michel Grimaud
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue