“What if I used a masculine word when I speak in French, what would people think about me?” That was a question I asked my roommate, a francophone Quebecois. She laughed and then replied: “people are going to think you’re not good in French, that’s all.”
As a French language beginner, I have some questions about grammatical gender and pronoun in French language. In my first language, Chinese, there is no grammatical gender. Gender only needs to be specified in written form, such as 他 (he) and 她 (she), but both of them pronounce in the same way “ta”. Therefore, Chinese speakers never have to think about “gender” when they speak, and certainly there is no verb conjugation either! You will find that some Chinese speakers still have the problem when starting a sentence with “he” or “she” in conversations. (At least I do!) However, later when I started to learn English and Korean, there is no grammatical gender rules either. Thus, I was oblivious of this issue until this September I began to learn French.
Recently my French class is covering grammatical gender. I learned masculine and feminine adjectives, for instance, “Je suis gentille et ouverte.” I should use feminine adjectives “gentille” and “ouverte”, simply because I am physically a female! And that provoked me to question about what if a French speaker doesn’t feel associated with the language gender? Wouldn’t they feel a little uncomfortable when they speak? What about a transgender French speaker, does he or she have to change the speaking style?
Nevertheless, what is a pronoun? According to Oxford Dictionary, “A word that can function as a noun phrase used by itself and that refers either to the participants in the discourse (e.g. I, you) or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse (e.g. she, it, this)”. I was surprised that there seem very few neutral words in French (or there is no!), they are mostly either black or white. It’s well-known that French is a precise language. Everything has to be addressed accurately. Unlike English has a “they” for referring to neutral things or gender (e.g. nonbinary people), what would French speakers use then? I found it interesting that grammatical gender words have very little to do with culture in French, for example, chair is feminine and park is masculine. But for the common pronouns, the society associates “il” with man, and “elle” with woman. The link between the words and society are not about grammatical gender. They carry more substantial meanings than grammatical gender words. I’m really curious about how a language associates with gender (grammatical gender or biologic gender).
Maybe my French is not good enough to give correct opinions and pose appropriate questions, feel free to tell me what you think!