Gender neutral language in Spanish

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Parents of Gays float at the 2009 Marcha Gay in Mexico City. The banner shows the @ symbol substituted for the masculine "o" or feminine "a" to make it gender neutral.

Gender neutral language in Spanish is more difficult than gender neutral language (also called gender inclusive language) in some other languages, because its grammatical gender is pervasive, and it has no true neutral grammatical gender, at least not in standard usage. See the main article on gender neutral language for general reasons to use neutral language, common problems in using it, and its use for nonbinary people.

Spanish has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine. Like other Romance languages, it's very difficult to talk about a person in a gender-neutral way. This is because every adjective, noun, and article are all either masculine or feminine. It's difficult or even impossible to be completely gender-neutral in standard Spanish. However, feminists, LGBT people, and other activists today have made ideas for how to speak Spanish in a gender-neutral way when necessary. For example, it's now common for people to write "Latinx" or "Latin@" as a gender-inclusive version of "Latino" and "Latina". For more information, see Wikipedia's article: Gender neutrality in Spanish and Portuguese.

Letter substitution[edit | edit source]

In Spanish, many nouns and adjectives end in either a masculine -o or a feminine -a. These same letters are also used in the grammatical gender of the definite articles. For example, niño bueno ("good boy") and niña buena ("good girl"); los amigos ("the friends," if the group has at least one man, or isn't known to be all women, although this can be used in a gender-neutral sense) and las amigas ("the friends," but only if the group is all women). Many people who want gender-neutral options for Spanish have had ideas for substituting these letters with something else that would make a word gender-neutral. These non-standard proposed alternatives are:

  • @. In this use, the "at" symbol is meant to look like a mix of a masculine o and a feminine a letters.[1][2][3] For example: niñ@ buen@ ("good child"), l@s amig@s ("the friends" with no assumptions about their genders), Latin@ ("Latino/Latina"). It can be pronounced as "ao".[4] It's one of the most commonly used in this list. It would go with the proposed neutral pronoun ell@.[5]
  • æ. The "AE" character stands for an alternative to the O and A. For example: niñæ buenæ, læs amigæs, Latinæ. It can go with the proposed neutral pronoun ellæ.[5]
  • . The anarchy symbol happens to look like a mix of an O and A, and some radical political writings use it in their place, in the sense of rebellion against gender roles and other oppressive aspects of society.[6]For example: niñⒶ buenⒶ, lⒶs amigⒶs, LatinⒶ. Like the more common @, this would also be pronounced "ao".
  • e. The letter E represents an alternative to the O and A.[3] For example: niñe buene, les amigues, Latine. Many nouns and adjectives already end in -e, so it can sound natural to create new -e versions. A few words would need spelling changes to keep the pronunciation the same: if the E comes after a C, the C becomes "qu" (chico – chique); after G, it becomes "gu" (gallego – gallegue).[2] The neutral E would go with with the proposed neutral pronouns elle or ele.[5] [6]
  • i. The letter I is a substitute for O and A. For example: niñi bueni, lis amigi, Latini. This would go with the proposed neutral pronoun elli.[5]
  • u. The letter U is a substitute for O and A.[4] For example: niñu buenu, lus amigus, Latinu. This would go with the proposed neutral pronoun ellu.[5]
  • x. The letter X represents the absence of either O or A.[1][4][3] It's one of the most commonly used in this list, and is intuitive in writing, but can't be pronounced. For example: niñx buenx, lxs amigxs, Latinx. This would go with the proposed neutral pronoun ellx. Note that, unlike English coinages such as "princex," which is only for people of color, a neutral x in Spanish is not only for people of color. "Ellx" can be used by white people as well.[5]


Articles[edit | edit source]

Spanish-language in Uruguay using neutral articles, referring to martyred students as "les estudiantes."

Standard Spanish articles have binary gender as well as number. The indefinite articles are un, unos, una, unas. The definite articles are el, los, la, las. People have come up with some gender-neutral alternatives to these.

Standard Spanish singular indefinite articles: un, una plural definite articles: unos, unas singular definite articles: el, la plural definite articles: los, las
@ letter substitution ? ? |@ |@s
e letter substitution une[2] unes[2] le. This creates a homonym for the masculine indirect object pronoun, le. [2][6] les. Also a homonym for the plural masculine indirect object pronoun, les.[2][6]
i letter substitution uni? unis? li lis
x letter substitution ? ? |x? |xs
miscellaneous other alternatives ol[6] oles[6]
Lu instead of Las/Los u or ux if preceding a vowel uxes lu, or lex if preceding a vowel. lues

Personal pronouns[edit | edit source]

Like other languages in the Romance family, Spanish doesn't normally have neutral pronouns. However, people have created some new, neutral pronouns, which are used in some groups that are sensitive about LGBT, feminist, and social justice issues. Most of these neutral pronouns work by taking the feminine pronoun, ella, and the standard abstract neuter pronoun ello (which can't be used for people), and substituting a different letter or symbol for the masculine "o" or feminine "a" ending. This approach of substituting a letter is shared by creating other parts of gender neutral language in Spanish, such as neutral-gender endings for adjectives. These new, neutral pronouns include:

ele. A neutral pronoun that is a mix of the masculine pronoun él ("he") and a proposed gender-neutral ending letter, -e. This is less common. The plural would be elles.[7]

ell_. A neutral pronoun that can't be said out loud. This is less common. The _ (underscore) means that the "a" or "o" is left out.[8]

ell*. A neutral pronoun that can't be said out loud. This is less common. The * (asterisk) means that the "a" or "o" is left out. Compare the splat *e pronouns in English, which work by the same idea.[8]

ellæ. A neutral pronoun. This is less common.[8]

ell@. A neutral pronoun that can't be said out loud, or else is pronounced like "ellao". This is non-standard, but one of the most common of these. The @ (at symbol) is meant to be seen as a mix between an "a" and an "o".[8]

elle. A neutral pronoun that can be easily said out loud. This is non-standard, but one of the most common of these.[8] It's used by nonbinary people in Chile.[9]

elli. A neutral pronoun that can be said out loud. It's uncommonly used.[8]

ellu. A neutral pronoun that can be said out loud. It's uncommonly used.[8]

ellx. A neutral pronoun that can't be said out loud. This non-standard, but one of the more common of these. Note that, unlike English coinages such as "princex," which is only for people of color, a neutral x in Spanish is not only for people of color. "Ellx" can be used by white people as well.[8]

ol. A neutral pronoun. Non-standard and uncommon. The plural would be olles. This would go with the non-standard definite article that is also ol.[7]

Non-binary articles and pronouns[edit | edit source]

-le or ele and les, elles While "le" and "les" are already used as indirect object pronouns, in these cases they cover all genders. The use of "le" as a direct object pronoun or "ele" as a pronoun match the -e ending. "Ele" could turn into "elles" just as "él" becomes "ellos" and "ella" becomes "ellas".
-ol and oles (articles, objects), ól and olles (pronouns) Agender indicators.

Nouns[edit | edit source]

In Spanish, every noun is either female or male. None have a truly "neuter" grammatical gender. There are some kinds of nouns that come close to being gender-neutral in some ways: epicene nouns, common gender nouns, ambiguous gender nouns, and newly-made neutral or genderqueer nouns.

Epicene nouns[edit | edit source]

Some words, regardless of their own grammatical gender, are used for men and women alike, without changing the word's ending. Its article stays the same, too. (However, when these nouns are used for women, it's now acceptable in standard Spanish to optionally change to the feminine article.) These words are epicene (epiceno). This is the closest that standard Spanish gets to gender neutral language.

Some signs that a word is epicene:

  • Some words that end in -o or -a are epicene, you can't tell by looking at them. Also, be warned that some nouns ending in -a are only for men, such as cura, "priest".
  • Words with the epicene -ista ending, which is used for occupations and people who do things. This is with the exception of modisto, "male fashion designer".

A list of some epicene nouns in conventional Spanish:

  • ciclista = cyclist
  • el cliente = client, but a female client can be la clienta.
  • el dentista = dentist of any gender, but a female dentist can be la dentista.
  • el especialista = specialist
  • el estudiante = student of any gender, but a female student can be la estudiante.
  • el esposo = spouse. This is masculine and can mean husband, but it can also mean a spouse of any gender.
  • la jefe = boss of any gender, but a female boss is la jefa.
  • el padre = parent. This is masculine and can mean father, but it can also mean a parent of any gender. "Tengo dos padres" can mean "I have two parents" or "I have two fathers."
  • la persona = person
  • el personaje = personage
  • turista = tourist
  • la víctima = victim.

Common gender nouns[edit | edit source]

There are also words with a "common gender" (común), meaning that the word itself stays the same whether it's applied to a man or woman, but its article changes gender to match the binary gender of the person to whom it is applied.

Some signs a noun is common gender:

  • Many end in -e, in standard Spanish.
  • Some end in -o or -a, so they look masculine or feminine.

A list of some common gender nouns in conventional Spanish:

  • el/la atacante = attacker
  • el/la espía = spy
  • el/la estudiante = student
  • el/la mártir = martyr
  • el/la presidente = president
  • el/la testigo = witness
  • el/la violinista = violinist

Ambiguous gender nouns[edit | edit source]

Some words in Spanish aren't consistent in what grammatical gender they have. They've been used as feminine or masculine words depending on the place and time period. They may have one conventional version, plus an alternative gender that is used poetically or in archaic language. These words are rare. There are only about a hundred of them. They still mean the same thing even when their gender changes. (Unlike, say, la cometa "kite" and el cometa "comet.") They're called ambiguous nouns (nombres ambíguos en cuanto al género).

New nouns[edit | edit source]

People have created new, non-standard nouns. Some are gender-inclusive (can be used for men, women, and nonbinary people). Some are only for people who identify as nonbinary or genderqueer.

One non-standard method for forming gender-inclusive and nonbinary nouns is by letter substitution, which is described above. This creates words such as:

  • abuel@ or abuele = grandfather/grandmother/grandparent
  • espos@, espose = husband/wife/spouse
  • herman@, hermane = brother/sister/sibling
  • niñ@, niñe = boy/girl/child
  • novi@, novie = boyfriend/girlfriend/datemate

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Sikian. Reddit. Forum comment. 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/genderqueer/comments/2ymn25/gender_in_language_to_all_you_nonbinary_redditors/cpdjdhi
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Sophia Gubb. "Construyendo Un Género Neutro En Español – Para Una Lengua Feminista, Igualitaria E Inclusiva." February 10, 2013. Sophia Gubb's Blog. Personal blog entry. http://www.sophiagubb.com/construyendo-un-genero-neutro-en-espanol-para-una-lengua-feminista-igualitaria-e-inclusiva/
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 http://www.spanishforsocialchange.com/2015/05/living-as-non-binary-or-gender-neutral.html
  4. 4.0 4.1 http://genderfork.com/2013/question-gender-neutral-honorifics-in-spanish/
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 rabbitglitter, "Multilingual pronouns list." Nonbinary Resource (blog). http://nonbinaryresource.tumblr.com/post/102614223062/multilingual-pronouns-list
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Phoenix Tawnyflower. "Nonbinary Spanish." May 24, 2014. Reflections of a Queer Artist (personal blog). http://phoenixtawnyflower.blogspot.com/2014/05/nonbinary-spanish.html
  7. 7.0 7.1 Phoenix Tawnyflower. "Nonbinary Spanish." May 24, 2014. Reflections of a Queer Artist (personal blog). http://phoenixtawnyflower.blogspot.com/2014/05/nonbinary-spanish.html
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 rabbitglitter, "Multilingual pronouns list." Nonbinary Resource (blog).
  9. http://linguaphiles.livejournal.com/5990300.html

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