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Friday, January 9, 1998 Published at 21:21 GMT


Vive la revolution
image: [ The Academie Francaise wants to reign in the French language ]
The Academie Francaise wants to reign in the French language

It was a small revolution when women in the leftist government's Cabinet started calling themselves "Madame la Ministre."

Now the language watchdogs want to quash it.

In a letter to President Jacques Chirac, the Academie Francaise - which has also sought to stem the widening use of English words - demanded the French president order the women ministers to stick with the masculine article and say "Madame le Ministre."

The women ministers "not only are committing a grammatical contradiction but in addition are going against the cause they think they're defending," wrote Maurice Druon, the academy's 79-year-old "secretary for life" and his colleagues.

The watchdogs, including historian Helene Carrere d'Encausse, said the French language must use the masculine gender when making a neutral reference.

Using the feminine gender in titles therefore "institutes a segregation between the sexes, or at least, a distinction", they said.

And they regretted the encouragement of feminine versions of author, professor and firefighter.

But women ministers are firing back.

The fact that "a high authority like the Academie Francaise can raise problems like this proves that women still have a long way to go," said Segolaine Royal, the deputy minister for school instruction, who took office last June.

"Today, women have legal equality, or so I thought. The language must evolve because after all, grammar is an arbitrary thing that for centuries was written by men and for men."

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