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Can a gendered language become gender-neutral?

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Jan 8, 2020 12:00:00 AM

As in many languages, nouns and pronouns in Spanish are gendered. While some languages use gender in complex variants, Spanish, like most of its fellow Romance languages, has two: masculine and feminine. Interestingly (and frustratingly) although Romance languages are related, nouns may not always be the same gender in each.

In our world, where movements like feminism, gender equality, and representation of an entire spectrum of gender identity are becoming more visible and influential, Spanish-speaking youth in Argentina are beginning to question the need for gendered words in their language. Instead of using word endings like “o” and “a”, which designate, respectively, masculine and feminine words, they’re replacing these with a neutral “e”.

It may seem like a small change, but as anyone who speaks a language with gender knows, the entire structure of certain phrases and sentences would have to be changed to meet this adjustment. Not only would nouns and pronouns be affected; so would adjectives, participles, and certain verb tenses, among other things.

Choosing to de-gender a gendered language isn’t just a trendy statement or sign of youthful rebelliousness. Some people believe that language influences how we think. With that logic in mind, if we categorize nouns into genders, or if certain nouns are associated with a particular gender, does it affect how we see men and women’s roles, capability, intelligence, value, and potential?

Not all linguists (or native speakers of gendered languages, for that matter) believe that language drastically affects a person’s perception, but the idea does give one pause. It certainly has given many people in Argentina pause. Several Argentinian universities now accept this gender-neutral form of Spanish, and many politicians and celebrities have adopted gender-neutral wording in some situations, as well.

On the other hand, The Royal Spanish Academy, which officially regulates the language, doesn’t condone this new development. Although that may seem reactionary, it’s not an indication of being against gender equality; it’s about the struggle to preserve a centuries-old language with a rich history of literature, poetry, and song lyrics. If Spanish changes, would these classics that tie the culture together suddenly feel less immediate, or even obsolete? If they were adapted into gender-neutral Spanish, would they lose some of their rhythm or compromise the culture and identity of their authors?

Read on to learn more about gender-neutral Spanish in Argentina.

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