How to Use Inclusive Spanish Alternatives
Have you ever written or spoken a word or phrase using inclusive Spanish?
Do you know what inclusive Spanish is and what it entails?
In this post, I’ll discuss a topic that’s a little bit controversial: inclusive Spanish. I’ll approach it with an open mind and a sincere interest in understanding the different positions regarding inclusive language.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll discuss what inclusive Spanish is, what purposes it serves, and why it’s controversial. Then, I’ll turn my attention to how gender works in Spanish, focusing on the generic masculine, and explaining finally how to use inclusive Spanish alternatives.
What Is Inclusive Spanish?
According to the dictionary, inclusive language is “a language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people, especifically gender-specific words.”
When bringing this concept into Spanish, I quickly learned that what I’m calling “inclusive Spanish” is known in the language as lenguaje inclusivo, lenguaje incluyente, or lenguaje no sexista. This lenguaje inclusivo avoids gender-defining expressions thus covering women, men, transgender persons or non-binary individuals.
What Purpose Does Inclusive Spanish Serve?
The idea behind inclusive language is to include the whole human diversity in the language we use, including those who don’t identify with any of the two genders linked to biology (female/male).
Inclusive language tries to eradicate the “sexist and male-oriented use of the natural languages,” bringing equality to the way we express ourselves, and giving visibility to the different gender identities.
Why Is Inclusive Language Controversial?
This is a recent and still fluid discussion, so let’s try to be as objective and open-minded as possible. As with every proposed change to the language (or any other area of life), there is always going to be people who don’t see the need for this change.
For instance, the Spanish philologist Inés Fernández-Ordóñez thinks that people express their sexism through the content transmitted in a linguistic structure, not through the structure itself. In other words, you may be the least sexist person in the world and using gendered nouns won’t change that.
However, the other side of the coin is also true, as racism and sexism can be expressed in everyday microaggressions, sometimes with the aggressor not even noticing them. So, isn’t there the possibility that this subtle sexism may be hidden in the language without most of us even noticing it?
Position of the Real Academia de la Lengua
The Real Academia de la Lengua (RAE) or “Royal Academy of the (Spanish) Language” is the institution that validates (or invalidates) the changes in use and the new words adopted by Spanish speakers.
The official position of the RAE about inclusive Spanish is that the changes proposed, as the use of the letter “e” in certain articles and nouns, is “unnecessary and foreign to the Spanish language.”
It justifies its reasoning with grammar-related arguments, showing that it hasn’t understood the issue. Obviously, inside the current Spanish grammar it’s correct to use generic masculine expressions for situations when the male gender isn’t the only one present.
That’s the issue: the institutionalization of sexism.
The subtle sexism hidden in the language is so hidden that most people can’t see it, because they have always used it without even noticing it’s there.
How Does Inclusive Spanish Work?
To understand how to use inclusive Spanish alternatives, you first need to understand how gender works in Spanish. Because, as you’ll see, gender is more present in the Spanish language, which makes inclusive language in Spanish a little trickier than in English.
Gender in Spanish
“English is gender-neutral, Spanish is not.” That’s the main difference in their approach to gender between these two languages. But, what does that mean? Well, in a nutshell, it means that every noun in Spanish is gendered.
Some are obvious, such as niña (girl) and niño (boy), while others not so much, such as radio (radio), aire (air), or agua (water).
In most cases, feminine nouns end in -a, while masculine nouns end in -o, but not always. That way you may be surprised to learn that radio is feminine, aire is masculine, and agua is masculine.
A useful clue to learn the gender of a noun is to look at its accompanying article. La for feminine nouns, and el for masculine nouns.
la niña – feminine
el niño – masculine
la radio – feminine
el aire – masculine
el agua – masculine
I’m just quickly explaining how gender works in Spanish, but it’s important to mention that inclusive Spanish isn’t used with every noun, only with those involving people (such as niña or niño).
The Generic Masculine
The generic masculine is the target of those asking for inclusive Spanish. In Spanish, when you have an all-male group, you address it as masculine. For example:
Los niños corren.
The children run.
If it’s an all-female group, you address it as feminine:
Las niñas corren.
The children run.
The problem arises when you have a mixed group including both males and females. Then you have to address them as masculine:
Los niños corren.
The children run.
When you use the generic masculin in Spanish, you basically refer to a group including males, females, and every other gender identity as if they were all male—which reveals the inherent sexism of the Spanish language.
Inclusive Spanish Alternatives
You can use inclusive Spanish when you don’t want to assume the gender of a person, when the person identifies as non-binary, or for mixed groups.
In order to avoid the sexism hidden in the language, proponents of inclusive Spanish have come up with different ideas:
- Mention both men and women in mixed groups (although this option doesn’t consider non-binary people).
Los niños y las niñas corren.
The children run.
- Instead of using the letter “o” for masculine nouns, and the letter “a” for feminine nouns, use the letter “e” or one of the following symbols: @, x, *.
niñes, niñ@s, niñxs, niñ*s
Currently, the letter “e” has been accepted as the best option, as it works both for the written and the spoken Spanish. The @, x, and *, symbols have the problem that they can’t be easily pronounced, which makes them less practical.
The use of the letter “e” can also include pronouns:
Instead of él or ella, use elle.
Instead of nosotros or nosotras, use nosotres.
Instead of ellos or ellas, use elles.
Instead of el or la, use le.
Instead of los or las, use les.
Instead of un or una, use une.
Instead of unos or unas, use unes.
Instead of altos or altas, use altes. (tall)
Instead of lindos or lindas, use lindes. (pretty)
Instead of rápidos or rápidas, use rápides. (fast)
Instead of listos or listas, use listes. (smart)
These simple changes would reduce everyday sexism in the way we talk and include those that don’t identify with any of the traditional genders.
¡Gracias a Todes por su Atención!
Thank you to everyone for your attention! I just used in that heading, one of the most common inclusive Spanish words: todes. The Spanish word todos means “everyone,” but it has that generic masculine problem I’ve talked about before. So, I just changed the second “o” to a neutral “e” to include all genders and identities, applying what we’ve just learned.
Leave a comment, let me know what you think about inclusive Spanish, and start the conversation with Spanish students all over the world!
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