by Dani Cooke
Note: This article was originally written in Spanish and then translated into English for The Watermark.
I. What is inclusive language?
Currently, in the Spanish-speaking world, there is a linguistic battle; in the simplest terms, it is a fight between tradition and progress, between machismo culture and the feminist movement, between institutions and the people. But, in reality, the movement is much more complicated and much more controversial.
The problem of machismo—a construction of masculinity which has historically permeated Latino culture and has been connected to the very high levels of femicide, sexual violence, and gender inequality in many Latin-American countries—is well-known in gender studies and social movements. While the feminist movement expands and gains global strength, more and more aspects of society have been called into question as machista institutions—including the Spanish language and its use of gender.
This fight exists in the form of “inclusive language,” which aims to balance the use of masculine and feminine words (for example, using todes nosotres in place of todos nosotros [all of us] or los niños y las niñas in place of los niños when speaking about a group of children with mixed genders). The movement is strongest among students and young people in Argentina, a country known as very progressive, but it exists in many other countries as well.
The topic of inclusive language has become so large that the Royal Spanish Academy—an institution with the mission of “ensuring that the changes undergone by the Spanish language in its constant adaptation to the needs of its speakers do not break the essential unity maintained throughout the Hispanic world”—has published some formal opinions about the issue:
Still, despite the fact that inclusive language is not accepted as “correct” in Spanish language institutions, the linguistic movement has become common use for many Spanish-speaking people.
II. Inclusive Language: An Analysis
It is true that a language shapes the ideas and values of a society. At some level, it is not possible to separate the use of language from its ideas, because communication is limited by the medium of communication. So, the debates about the use of gender in the Spanish language have a point. If a language considers the masculine as the default, what does this say about the ideas of the society which uses this language?
But inclusive language contains some problems as well. Changing the “o” to “e” (as with todes nosotres) seems like Catalan, and can cause confusion or change the meaning of a word.
I am inclined to say that there are greater problems than inclusive language—after all, Latin America has some of the highest rates of femicide and sexual violence in the world. But this reasoning has also been applied to arguments about sexual abuse in the entertainment industry; about racism in contemporary times; about poverty in the first world. Justifications like “things could be worse” or “there are bigger problems,” historically, have been used to discredit the struggles of people that want to improve their conditions and argue for more justice. Thus, who am I to say that inclusive language is not a valid or important movement?
III. My Opinion
In my perspective, there are bigger problems than inclusive language. But my opinion is limited—by my country (the United States), by my primary language (English), by my age (young), by my life experience (limited and sheltered).
I agree that language is not separate from meaning. For example, I think that the reality in Latin America that the feminine words for some animals have derogatory meanings reflects societal points of view of women as inferior. (In some countries, including Mexico, the slang perro [dog] means “handsome” or “cool,” but perra has the same meaning as “b*tch;” the slang zorro [fox] tends to mean “intelligent” or “clever,” but zorra means “wh*re.”) This tendency of the Spanish language is based in a societal perspective that women are worse and deserve less respect than men, and this is especially clear because slang comes directly from common use among people.
But, at least superficially, the Spanish use of masculine words as the standard words is not based on sexist ideas—it is based on the Latin language on which the majority of its rules are based. This justification does not mean to say that the movement is not valid, and of course I recognize that the voices of Spanish-speaking feminists are more important than mine in this movement, because they are the most affected.
But it is also important that people recognize the origins of the language that is allegedly machisto and the limits that exist for a language. It is necessary that language is accessible—and inclusive language carries with it the risk of complicating communication between people.
I do not know if inclusive language should be incorporated into common use or not. It depends on the context and the beliefs and intentions of each individual person. As a more or less inexperienced Spanish-speaker, I do not use inclusive language, but this has much more to do with the level of difficulty than anything else.
I predict that, eventually, the Royal Spanish Academy will accept inclusive language as correct, because it seems to me like the movement has gained strength recently. But, until then, it will be a very prominent movement in the linguistic field—and in feminist struggles as well.
Alemany, Luis y Prieto, Darío. “Política, machismo y privilegio: lo que hay más allá del debate del lenguaje inclusivo.” El Mundo, Unidad Editorial, S.A., 3 December 2018, https://www.elmundo.es/cultura/laesferadepapel/2018/12/02/5c016226fc6c8398358b46c0.html.
Benegas, Lucía. “Lenguaje inclusivo: ¿Un nuevo género o moda pasajera?” Parati, Infobae, 29 June 2018, www.infobae.com/parati/news/2018/06/29/lenguaje-inclusivo-un-nuevo-genero-o-moda-pasajera/.
“Los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas, los niños y las niñas.” Real Academia Española, Real Academia Española, http://www.rae.es/consultas/los-ciudadanos-y-las-ciudadanas-los-ninos-y-las-ninas.
“Orientaciones para el empleo de un languaje inclusivo en cuanto al género en español.” Naciones Unidas, http://www.un.org/es/gender-inclusive-language/guidelines.shtml.
“La Real Academia Española volvió a rechazar el lenguaje inclusivo.” Perfil, 27 November 2018, https://www.perfil.com/noticias/actualidad/rae-real-academia-espanola-rechaza-lenguaje-inclusivo.phtml.
Salgado Borge, Antonio. “Lenguaje inclusivo.” El Diario de Yucatán, Megamedia, 17 September 2018, https://www.yucatan.com.mx/editorial/lenguaje-inclusivo.