Non-sexist Uses of the Spanish Language

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At Win & Winnow Language Services, we approach communication from an inclusive perspective, which means that we use language in a way that allows sharing information with precision, respect, and empathy, while celebrating human diversity. This can be achieved in many ways. In this blog, we’ll focus on non-sexist uses of the Spanish language.

Why the need for non-sexist grammatical forms?

Language both reflects the extra-linguistic world and plays a role in shaping it. Language can highlight inequalities by expressing biases, prejudices, and values. Gender inequality has been an issue throughout history, and it can also be traced in some grammatical uses of the Spanish language. In response, non-sexist language introduces linguistic resources that allow delivering messages without discriminating based on sex or gender, and avoid perpetuating gender stereotypes.

In 2018, the Department of Linguistic and Philological Research of the Academia Argentina de Letras published an article on inclusive language among their recommendations and observations on the Spanish language. In this article, they stated that “the fact that inequality between men and women is practically a human universal fact cannot credibly be separated from the fact that it was the masculine gender that was predominantly codified as unmarked, with the unquestionable cultural or ideological advantage that this entails.”

Spanish tends to resort to the use of masculine generics, i.e. “linguistic forms that are used sex-specifically in reference to men and generically in reference to mixed groups” (Kaufmann & Bohner, 2014:1). Although the differentiation of genders in writing or speaking has been considered “artificial and unnecessary from a linguistic point of view” by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), we believe that it is relevant to pay attention to the social perceptions and representations of language and to assess and try other uses that are more emphatic and gender-fair.

Below, we share some options to implement non-sexist language in your communications so you can avoid stereotypes and bias toward a particular sex or gender.

Non-sexist language: 8 ways to implement it
1. Use collective and abstract nouns

Collective nouns encompass a group of nouns that are considered as a single whole, and abstract nouns are used to define anything that is typically nonobservable and nonmeasurable. For example:

- Instead of saying “los coordinadores”, you may opt for “el equipo de coordinación”.

- Instead of saying “los ciudadanos”, you may opt for “la ciudadanía”.

2. Use epicene words

An epicene word ignores the semantic gender of the referent and has the same form for male and female referents. For example:

- Instead of saying “los postulantes”, you may opt for “las personas postulantes”.

3. Use relative pronouns  "quien" and "quienes".

For example:

- Instead of saying “todos los participantes”, you may opt for “quienes participen”.

4. Use indefinite pronouns "alguien", "cualquiera" and "nadie"

For example:

- Instead of saying “el que quiera”, you may opt for “si alguien quiere”.

- Instead of saying “ninguno”, you may opt for “nadie”.

5. Use periphrasis and change the grammatical category

A longer phrase and a different grammatical category can be used in place of a marked form of expression.

For example:

- Instead of saying “tranquilo”, you may opt for “con tranquilidad”.

6. Suppress what does not add meaning

Some expressions are used out of habit or for mere emphasis and could be suppressed. For example:

- Instead of saying “buenas tardes a todos”, you may opt for “buenas tardes”.

7. Use coordination to mention both feminine and masculine nouns

Only when the opposition of sexes or genders is relevant to the context, the explicit presence of both genders is necessary. It is also often used to make those named visible for a particular reason. In other cases, it is recommended to use the alternatives mentioned above.

- Instead of saying “los científicos”, you may opt for “los científicos y las científicas”.

8. Disruptive gender-neutral language

Some argue that the current structures of the Spanish language are not enough to express the thoughts and feelings of non-binary people (i.e. those who do not feel included in the feminine or the masculine gender) in a clear, precise, and inclusive manner. So they proposed the use of the letter "e" or “x” to encompass all genders and specifically their own. It can be compared to the use of pronouns they/them.

- Instead of saying “los amigos”, you may opt for “les amigues” or “lxs amigxs”.

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Ayelén Giraudo

Ayelén is an English to Spanish translator and a specialist in Social Communication. She is Communications Coordinator at Win & Winnow Language Services.