Let's Talk About Gender-Inclusive Language
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
By Vasco Vidal
Image via The New York Times
When we talk about gender-inclusive language, we usually think of asking everyone their pronouns and using they/them when we are not sure of someone's pronouns. However, the conversation around the gender-inclusive language turns more complicated and controversial when it comes to Spanish, not only because all nouns have gender, but because the Royal Spanish Academy is against it.
In Spanish, all nouns are either masculine or feminine, which is very problematic as it leaves aside non-binary people who use gender-neutral pronouns. Many aware of this situation began using 'e' or 'x' instead of 'a' / 'o' to refer to people that do not fit into the gender binary. For example, a worker that identifies as a man is called "trabajador", a worker that identifies as a woman is called "trabajadora", a non-binary worker is "trabajadore" or "trabajadorx."
This has made Spanish-speaking non-binary people more comfortable, so more Latin American people are using this pronoun, and the use is becoming more popular.
Furthermore, the language rules elaborated by the Royal Spanish Academy establish that the masculine form is used when describing a group of people that contains members of both genders. A group of students where all identify as women are referred to as " las alumnas," if there is at least one man in the same group, it is referred to as "los alumnos" with the masculine plural ending. Which, in addition to completely excluding non-binary people, is sexist. According to Mercedes Bengoechea, a philologist by the University of Alcala, by the language considering the masculine plural extensible to women, girls "enter into a process of self-censorship, of absenting themselves from reality on certain occasions because the language does not take them into account." More people are moving away from this rule and have started using "todos y todas", (both do not include non-binary people), "todes" and "todxs" to refer to a group of people.
However, the Royal Spanish Academy, which is dedicated to developing normative rules for the Spanish language, disagrees with gender-inclusive language. Based on "the grammar. masculine works in our language [Spanish], as in others, as an inclusive term to refer to mixed groups, or in generic or nonspecific contexts". This means that gender-inclusive language cannot be used in academic institutions, governmental institutions, and companies. Which is detrimental because it feeds a macho, patriarchal, and cis-normative culture.
The Royal Spanish Academy Language must understand that language evolves over time. New words are invented to represent new things or situations, and the meaning of old words sometimes change due society’s use of them. It is essential that the academy officially recognize the change because Spanish must represent all speakers and must not nurture cultures that oppress many. Spanish should represent equality between people of all genders by not using the masculine plural when referring to a group of people of multiple genders and the existence of non-binary people, and recognizing gender-neutral pronouns for people who do not fit in the gender binary. Language is one of the means by which the conception of the world is transmitted. It is a social element that allows us to interact with people; by changing to be more inclusive, it can make a statement to people who hold discriminatory ideas currently reflected in the language.
Written by writer Vasco Vidal