💌 Welcome to the launch of Irreducible Langagièr

published9 months ago
4 min read

In summary: a very warm welcome; a thoughtful response to a Swiss student's award-winning typographic design to highlight nonbinary people; a short review of Marie Kondo's Joy at Work; and the nonbinary word of the day!

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Welcome, all!

I'm so pleased to get started (and just a bit nervous). I'm already a little humbled by how many of you signed up when I announced this project last week on Twitter.

What I imagine for Irreducible Langagièr:

  1. I will keep the focus on my current professional interests, but there may be times when I find something worth commenting on outside the usual scope of letters and language.
  2. A bilingual newsletter, I'll include linguistic and cultural context for any content specific to either of the English or French "solitudes."
  3. The still-evolving questions of including and highlighting nonbinary people in both the mechanics of English & French as well as in literature are essential to me, and will come up.
  4. Any responses and feedback are extremely welcome, whether through social media or by replying directly to this email. 💌
  5. Above all, I hope to provide engaging and thoughtful insights in your inbox on a periodic, most likely monthly, basis.

The First Nonbinary Inclusive Font: A Response

Design student Tristan Bartolini from Geneva has won the 2020 Red Cross Prix Art Humanité for creating over 40 new typographical characters to visually distinguish a grammatical third gender. Contratulations Tristan! I have some notes.

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A screenshot of the font designed by Tristan Bartolini. It includes, in French, characters that can be used for a third grammatical gender.
Source: tdG.ch​

While the project is interesting and illuminates rather than obscures the presence of nonbinary people (among many other gender nonconforming people), there are some major legibility and accessibility concerns inherent to this proposal. Boiled down: how do you pronounce any of this? The existing French gender neutral neopronouns such as iel, ielle, yol, ol, ille, among others, are pronounceable, even if you've never encountered them before. This "solution" unfortunately creates new problems to solve.

Many of the linguistic and cultural challenges faced by nonbinary people in French are not typographic but of spoken language. French nonbinary people on both sides of the Atlantic have been experimenting and innovating existing and new graphies for the better part of the last decade — if not longer. Our needs chiefly lie with revolutionizing spoken language and creating new vocabulary and grammatical possibilities. The big question right now is: how do you organically transform the French language to include a clear third grammatical gender that can be used when desired by all sorts of nonbinary and gender nonconforming people?

I've seen a lot of cisgender (as in, not trans and not nonbinary) people sharing this font on LinkedIn or Facebook with a lot of admiration. While I don't want to take away from Tristan Bartolini's accomplishment, I do hope no one will take this project seriously as a practical and effective response to nonbinary inclusion. Transforming the French language to make room for genders that fall outside of the masculine-feminine binary is complex work which encounters (usually violent) resistance at every turn. I genuinely worry a proposal such as this one backfiring and, especially in academia and the adjacent institutional arts, being used as a cudgel to counter the hard-won advancements of nonbinary French-speaking communities.

Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonensheim

Oh, self-help books! The vast majority of what gets slotted into the self-help section of the bookstore is frankly not worth much. These books tend to lack basic political and social sensibility, have virtually no fact-checking to speak of, and rely on pop science to an absurd degree. Marie Kondo’s first book, however, had a definite impact on me when I was younger so I was curious enough to check out Joy at Work.

Is the book gimmicky? More than a little. Does it deserve a grain of salt for being (co-)written by a lifestyle celebrity? Oh yes. Did I enjoy it? Mostly, actually! I think if you’re looking for guidance on how to take back a modicum of control from unsatisfactory working conditions, the book might be helpful to those who:

  1. have the power and privilege to make such decisions at work (the book is mostly self-aware enough to realise this) and
  2. derive comfort from tidying.

I enjoyed the book's emphasis on reducing multitasking, respecting your own boundaries, and withdrawing from constant responsive emailing. Not to mention, as someone who dreads overlong meetings (and is still learning how to run more satisfactory client intake meetings!) I found much of chapter 8 Tidying Meetings useful!

The idea of finding joy at work in these quarantimes can feel futile, if not outright embracing an almost toxic positivity that fails to read the global room. The book, to its credit, is better than its title in this respect. With over a million lost jobs across North America, a book like this will simply not be right for everyone right now. But, if you're a writer trying to pin down a livable writing schedule, or a freelancer trying to make work at least feel a little less frenetic and hopeless, I do believe there are helpful strategies in this book worth checking out.

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A photo of the word Langagièr, written in a calligraphic script.
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Nonbinary Word of the Day: Langagièr

Langagier (m) or langagière (f) is a Québec-specific title for those whose love of words drives their profession. The title generally refers to translators, interpreters, terminologists, editors and linguists. Using a the strategy of joining the two binary gendered forms together, I propose the new form langagièr to include a third grammatical gender applicable to nonbinary, gender nonconforming, agender, genderqueer, and Two Spirit folks (to name just a few of the genders that fall outside of the cisnormative conception of binary gender). As for its pronunciation, I propose the final "r" be silent.

Before we part, some awesome links:

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Be well, friendly subscriber, and take care of each other until we meet again!

Gersande


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