LINGUIST List 2.529

Tue 17 Sep 1991

Disc: Professeure

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. bert peeters, 2.498 Professeure
  2. , Madame le .., -ess
  3. Michael Newman, Re: 2.500 Professeure
  4. , Re: 2.519 Language change and teleology
  5. , ProfesseurE discussion on LINGUIST

Message 1: 2.498 Professeure

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 91 11:30:25 EST
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: 2.498 Professeure
> Date: 11 Sep 91 12:00
> From: <>
> 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.
Is it the same people who have been using "frau" instead of "man" (generic
_one_)? Or is that an earlier (or a later) phenomenon? And how widespread
is it? And where does this kind of "reform" end? Is it a Webster dictionary
which has recently approved of forms such as "herstory" for _history_? This
seems to me to be total nonsense. (For starters, it should have been *hertory*).
The dean of my faculty (who is not exactly a feminist) has for some time been
using generic feminine pronouns to refer to students. It used to shock me,
but it does so no longer. (Our dean is a professor, and male)
> Date: Wed, 11 Sep 91 16:44:32 EST
> From: (Jacques Guy)
> Subject: Make mine "Professoresse"
Jacques Guy's implicit suggestion to replace _professeure_ with _professoresse_
strikes me as an excellent proposition. The fact that -eur/-eure has been
proposed for nouns shows that people haven't been thinking ahead. (aha! yet
another argument against teleology!) There are few problems right now, people
are able to distinguish between existing contrasts of the -teur/-trice type
with roots that do not correspond to verbs or do so only indirectly, on the
one hand, and new contrasts with the same type of roots of the -eur/-eure type.
A few examples:
	(existing) acteur - actrice
		 directeur - directrice
	(new)	 professeur - professeure
		 auteur - auteure
But how about our grandchildren? For them, there will be no difference between
existing and new oppositions - and they will have to learn two separate series
of contrasts. Now, if all (non-deverbal) nouns in -eur were to be given a
feminine counterpart in -oresse, we would save the downline speakers of French
yet another series of exceptions (aren't there enough already??).
Another argument in favour of -eur/-oresse would be that the alternation -eu-/
-o- is not at all contrary to the language. Back in the fifties already, there
was a popular tendency to pronounce half-open -o- (as in joli, Maroc) as -eu-
(as in jeuli, Mareuc; cf. a study by Martinet in Romance Philology 11, 1958,
reprinted in the author's _Le franc,ais sans fard_, 1969, Paris: P.U.F.).
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: Madame le .., -ess

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 91 21:53:55 CDT
Subject: Madame le .., -ess
I'd like to add two notes to the discussion on morphological
markers of gender and sex:
1. Several years ago in "L'Express", the first woman to be
promoted to general in the French armed forces made it very
clear in an interview that she was to be addressed as
`Madame le ge'ne'ral', since `Madame *la* ge'ne'ral' would
refer to the general's wife.
2. I have seen the suffix -ess, specifically in the word
`poetess', used in reference to a man as a pejorative. Leigh
Hunt, whose poem "Jenny Kissed Me" stirred my 14-year-old heart,
is the male writer of poems I can remember being referred to
in this way - and it certainly wasn't a compliment.
 Margaret E. Winters
 Southern Illinois University
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Message 3: Re: 2.500 Professeure

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 91 23:55:33 EDT
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.500 Professeure
It is interesting to note how different related languages handle the same
conflict of pragmatic/social conditions with linguistic structure. In (at
least peninsular) Spanish words like *ministro*(meaning cabinet minister),
*abogado* (lawyer) and *medico* (doctor) have been as traditionally masculine
as the professions themselves. In the bad old days, la ministra, like *la al-
caldesa* (mayor/fem) would be the minister's wife. The change has happened
quite rapidly, with only a few years delay between the appearance of women in
the professions and the appearance of new feminine forms. But it has also
happened quite haphazardly. For example at first Maggie Thatcher was el primer
ministro, but after Spain got its first female minister, around 1982 I think,
she became La primera ministra, alongside Spain's new ministra. Ministra is
now fairly widespread. *Abogada* is another story entirely. It is not
accepted as normative, but is widely used. *Medica*has not made it at all, as
far as I can tell, but I would be happy to stand corrected if someone can
show that it is used. Instead, everyone seems to say *la doctora*. What is
interesting here is not that Spanish is absolutely strict in keeping gender and
sex equivalent. I, as a man, am expected to say 'Soy una persona alta' for
'I'm a tall person'with all the agreement in the feminine, to agree with
I am new to linguist so I missed the earlier interchange on this topic. So I
don't know if I am repeating anything.
Also Greville Corbett's GENDER has a lot on this topic.
Michael Newman
Hunter College/CUNY
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Message 4: Re: 2.519 Language change and teleology

Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1991 14:13 EDT
From: <PEARSON2umiami.IR.Miami.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.519 Language change and teleology
Subject is Professeure
One of the mentions in this discussion commented on the lack of
serious work in this area, and a short list of references has been
posted. Let me add to this list a very interesting paper by Ginny
Gathercole analyzing responses of Spanish speakers to a cloze-type
questionnaire which probes interpretations of grammatical gender
marking and real world gender in occupational terms. The paper
was presented at the U. of Ill. Conference on Pragmatics this year
and may appear in the proceedings. I think the title is something
like "The Interpretation of Grammatical Gender in Nouns for Humans
in Spanish." In the meantime, you can contact Ginny at the
Psychology Department, Arizona State Univ. 85287-1104. She is
temporarily without e-mail.
--Becky Burns Hoffman
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Message 5: ProfesseurE discussion on LINGUIST

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 91 01:02:58 EDT
From: <>
Subject: ProfesseurE discussion on LINGUIST
I sent this to Helen Dry since I didn't have the address of LINGUIST at
that time. (Someone on SLART-L forwarded the discussions about ProfesseurE
to me.)
---(Forwarded from:, Dated: Sun, 15 Sep 91 21:12:00
 Date: Sun, 15 Sep 91 21:12:00 EDT
 Message-ID: <>
 Subject: ProfesseurE discussion on LINGUIST
There is an interview in the current issue of LE JOURNAL FRANCAIS D'AMERIQUE
(6-19 septembre, p. 18-19) with the author (ecrivainE, auteurE?) Benoite
Groult that may be of interest: "Cachez de feminin".
 Helene Neu, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
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