various pronouns at war!
Pronoun Wars
173 :  Linguistics & Literature
Fall 2023
Class No: 31174
115 Social Sciences
Will Burton
2:00 PM - 3:29 PM

“I said that personal pronouns engineer gender through language, and personal pronouns are, if I may say so, the subject matter of each one of my books.” —Monique Wittig, “The Mark of Gender,” in The Straight Mind.

Based loosely around the lesbian theorist-novelist Monique Wittig’s “pronoun trilogy”—L’Opoponax (1964), Les Guérillères (1969), Le Corps lesbian (1973)—this course will focus on the history of debates about the French personal pronoun system, especially those related to gender.

We will study four areas of literary experimentation, linguistic research and social controversy in the use of personal pronouns in French:

  1. the omnipersonal pronoun “on”;
  2. the primacy of the masculine over feminine;
  3. the relationship between “I” and “you” (“tu” and “vous”);
  4. the development of gender-neutral third-person pronouns.

The syllabus will feature works of literature, cinema and philosophy as well as research and theory in linguistics; we will also look at activist tracts and materials and media coverage of pronoun-related polemics.

Readings will include Wittig, Roland Barthes, Cathy Barasc and Michèle Causse, Émile Benveniste, Luca Gréco, and more.