Push to de-gender occurs in Spanish language

Spanish langauge may become more gender-neutral in the future


Ali Smith, Arts & Leisure Editor

Amid the modern social movement for human rights, in terms of feminism, race, religion and gender and sexual identities, some languages that depend on a feminine and masculine distinction are struggling to forge a path forward.

In the Spanish language, all nouns have gender, which are identified by “o” for masculine and “a” for feminine. There is a movement, however, amid all of this social change and acceptance, to de-gender the Spanish language and replace these gendered endings with a neutral “e.”

However, how will this affect native speakers and the language as a whole, or how language-learners learn the Spanish language?

Sofía Alvarez, a junior criminal justice major who was born in Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish as her native language, said she believes it’s very difficult to change the language, but she sees where the movement is coming from.

“For me, I don’t really think that putting gender into things makes the language less inclusive,” said Alvarez. “I think the language has been like that for so long and it wasn’t intentionally made to make one gender feel less than another. I believe there is a big LGBTQ community in Puerto Rico that may be in favor of this movement, but I have little knowledge about it.

“I certainly don’t think it will change Puerto Rico, since we are people of tradition and are known for the ways we express ourselves; changing that would be changing a huge part of our culture.”

Martha Kosir, Ph.D., a Spanish professor and program director for Global Languages and Cultures, weighed in on the pressing issue, and how it may affect her classes as well as the other languages she has learned.

“All romance languages have grammatical gender, and sometimes gender is given by default,” Kosir said. “But now with the whole question of gender identity, that is changing a lot, and people are taking different approaches to the concept of gender and language.”

This is true in English too, with the implementation of gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “them,” although as a primarily neutral language, not dependent upon grammatical gender distinction, it is easier for English speakers to adjust and adapt as a language and as an English-speaking society to this change.

Kosir said she has been giving this a great deal of thought recently because it’s so ingrained.

“Most languages that I know, they have gender, and how do you explain and how do you teach the difference between ‘e’ and ‘la’ and ‘los’ and ‘las’ if you don’t say or explain that it has grammatical gender?” Kosir asked. “Just for learning purposes, maybe, it’s a tool for remembering grammar. For now, I’d leave it simply as a crutch for being able to explain it.”

Kyona Nelson, a junior political science and global affairs major, said she thinks the gender change should be for people because that’s the problem.

“People are classifying themselves and defining themselves, not places or things; that should stay the same,” she said. “If you identify as that, they should address you as that; to gender-fy or nutrify how you call somebody if you don’t know their name. This includes any adjectives or words describing that person.”

From a student’s point of view, and as someone who will likely be communicating with those who speak Spanish and other foreign languages in her career, this is a pressing matter for Nelson and cross-cultural communicators, as it will dramatically affect how people from different countries communicate properly and respectfully with one another.

For the English language and English-speaking societies, the change was easy, to oversimplify matters: approach someone you are unsure of or you know is nonbinary as “they” or “them” in conversation.

But this change would take tremendous time, effort and adjustment for most romance languages such as Spanish.

Sarah Dubrul, a sophomore Spanish student and physician assistant major, said she thinks gender could be used as a tool, but “there are just so many expectations.”

“It could help a lot of the time, like with things that end in ‘a’ that could be feminine, but then again, what makes the letter ‘a’ feminine? I feel like it started as a tool but now there are so many exceptions.

“But when it comes to thinking about the dysphoria it may potentially cause someone, it is time for a change.”

What will come from this movement?

Doubtlessly, it will change how Spanish-speakers communicate and well as how Spanish is taught and learned in classrooms.

Kosir offers a temporary solution as an educator and as a multilingual speaker until we learn more about how to move forward.

“Every language has exceptions,” she said. “Every language. English included. What we can do, number one, is to recognize that the grammatical gender doesn’t necessarily have to reflect the actual gender.”


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