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Abstract

This is a tongue-in-cheek essay that I wrote for a class while I was studying abroad in Nantes, France. Our professor told us we could write about anything we chose, as long as it gave him a representative sample of our writing style. I chose to complain about French grammar rules. The title translated into English means, “The Plague of the French Language,” and the plague to which I am referring is the gender of nouns. Now, the grammatical concept of gender does not apply in the same way to the English language, so allow me to explain further.

In English we have gendered nouns for occupational titles, such as actor and actress. This allows us to quickly and easily express whether the worker in question is a man or a woman. In some cases we even apply gender to animals (such as a goose and a gander, or a cow and a bull). Now imagine that gender did not only apply to people and animals, but to everything. Imagine that doors, chairs, and lamps were female, that walls, pencils, and sandwiches were male, and that we had to refer to each of them as such. Now imagine that the gender of a noun affected what kind of articles and adjectives we used to label it. Taking for example our female door, we can no longer simply say “a red door,” because door is feminine and calls for feminine articles and adjectives, so we must call it “aye redde door.” This quickly complicates our use of language, because we must memorize the gender of every noun (of every person, place and thing in existence) in order to ensure proper use of accompanying articles and adjectives. When this concept is applied to preposition and pronoun usage, it becomes even more complicated, and so on.

Aside from unnecessarily complicating grammar usage, I complain in my essay that the “gendering” of every noun can have adverse effects on meaning. I cite the sexism inherent in the gendering of certain nouns, such as calling work masculine and vacation feminine, or calling problems masculine and the joy of living feminine. I also point out the illogicality with which parts of the body are gendered in French. The French words for “breasts” and “vagina” are both masculine, and while the most common word for “penis” is masculine, there are feminine words to describe it in both proper French and slang. I conclude my gripe session by decrying the gratuitousness of having a gender for every noun in the French language. I argue that biologically, only a small percent of the world’s living organisms actually are characterized as having sex or gender, and that it is foolish of us to attribute this quality to inanimate objects.

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