As you learn Spanish, you've probably noticed that every single noun and verb is either based on, or changes with, gender. And that makes the language rather inflexible when it comes to a fast-developing society around it!
In fact, I got a question about this from one of my Spanish Uncovered students who wanted to know more about inclusive Spanish.
It's a vital subject. But I'll also admit that it's outside my area of expertise, so I needed to do some brushing up myself!
So, I decided to ask my friend, Sofía, a native Spanish-speaking writer and journalist to help me out. And she did just that!
Thanks to Sofía, by the end of this post, you'll know everything you need to know as a Spanish learner about inclusive language, including why it was created and how to use it.
If you prefer watching videos to reading, then check out the video version of this post below. Otherwise, keep reading.
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Why Was Inclusive Spanish Created?
All languages change over time. And in recent years, some languages have started to adapt to recent changes in society.
Just as in English the “they” pronoun is now used to talk about non-binary people or people whose gender we don’t know, in Spanish some people are starting to use “Inclusive Language” or “Lenguaje Inclusivo”.
But in English you have it slightly easier, since gender is not so present as in Spanish.
In regular old-fashioned Spanish, just as in English, we express gender in pronouns. But there are a few more distinctions than “he” and “she”.
- él/ella (he/she)
- nosotros/nosotras (we masculine/we feminine)
- vosotros/vosotras (you plural masculine/you plural feminine)
- ellos/ellas (they masculine/they feminine)
Then, unlike in English, most nouns have gender, not only those that refer to people, such as el enfermero and la enfermera (nurse) or el maestro and la maestra (teacher), but even inanimate objects!
- table → mesa (f.)
- plate → plato (m.)
- dinner → cena (f.)
- clock → reloj (m.)
Don’t worry, we don’t use inclusive language with these. Only when it comes to people!
But gender is not only expressed in pronouns and nouns. In Spanish, there's also gender concordance with articles and adjectives.
- el enfermero (m.) / la enfermera (f.) (nurse)
- el maestro (m.) / la maestra (f.) (teacher)
- el enfermero es alto (m.) / la enfermera es alta (f.) (the nurse is tall)
- el maestro es serio (m.) / la maestra es seria (f.) (the teacher is serious)
The Generic Masculine In Spanish
And finally, in traditional Spanish there is something called “generic masculine”. So, what does this refer to?
It works like this.
If there is an all-male group, we address it as masculine; if there is an all-female group, we address it as feminine. But if it’s a mixed group, we address it as masculine!
- All boys: The children play → Los chicos juegan
- All girls: The children play → Las chicas juegan
- Mixed group: The children play → Los chicos juegan
It only takes one man in a group of a hundred women to make a group masculine!
For some people, this is unfair to women. And not to mention non-binary people, who are not even on the map!
Inclusive Spanish is a way to avoid all these issues.
How Do Spanish Speakers Use Inclusive Language?
As I said before, inclusive language can be used when:
- we don’t want to assume the gender of a person
- when the person is non-binary
- or for mixed groups
And since feminine gender in Spanish is usually marked with the letter “a” and masculine gender with the letter “o”, the neutral inclusive alternative normally uses the letter “e”.
For example, when it comes to pronouns, instead of él or ella, you can use elle. Instead of nosotros or nosotras you can use nosotres. Instead of vosotros or vosotras, you can use vosotres. And instead of ellos or ellas, elles.
When it comes to articles, instead of el or la you can use le, instead of los or las, you can use les; instead of un or una you can use une; and instead of unos and unas you can use unes.
It's the same with adjectives and nouns. When gender is marked with an “o” or an “a”, you change it for an “e”. As I said before, this is only when it comes to people.
My children are very beautiful → Instead of “Mis hijos son muy lindos”, “Mis hijes son muy lindes”
For example, if you say Mi hije tiene cinco años, (my child/kid is 5 years old) the word años (years) remains unchanged, because even if it's a masculine word, it doesn’t really have a gender in the sense that people do.
It's the same with objects…
- The table is square → La mesa es cuadrada
- The clock is old → El reloj es viejo
Finally, there are some adjectives and nouns that don’t mark the gender with an “a” or an “o”. These remain the same when using inclusive language.
- elegant → elegante
- brave → valiente
- useless → inútil
- person → persona
- artist → artista
- singer → cantante
Special Cases With Written Spanish
Now, let’s mention some things to have in mind when using written inclusive Spanish.
Because of the rules of Spanish grammar, when using the “e”, in some cases you'll have to change a “c” for a “qu” or a “g” for a “gu”.
- -co / -ca → -que
- -cos / -cas → -ques
- -go / -ga → -gue
- -gos / -gas → -gues
chico or chica change to chique and amigo or amiga change to amigue.
Another thing to have in mind is that, while it’s still pronounced like an e, many people write inclusive words with an X or an @ symbol.
cooks → cocineres
everyone → todes
If you have to read this outloud, just use an e.
Finally, there are a few gendered words that cannot simply be changed with an e, like “mother” and “father”.
But there are already some inclusive options being used, like xadre or mapadre.
The Future Of Inclusive Spanish
Of course, there are many conservative people who oppose the use of inclusive language. And many people who are indifferent to it.
There are some people and institutions that acknowledge that Spanish is sexist but they recommend avoiding the letter “e”.
Instead, they propose avoiding gender marks when possible and, when necessary, mentioning both men and women in mixed groups, like this:
- The senators debate → Los senadores y las senadoras debaten
- The children play → Los niños y las niñas juegan
But this can be problematic, because it ignores non-binary people and it also implies assuming people’s gender when we don’t always know it.
Since the introduction of inclusive Spanish is not happening as slowly or organically as normal changes in languages usually happen, some people are also arguing that it will not prevail, even if its intentions are good.
But I believe this is not necessarily true, since gender perception is changing rapidly. And it might become quickly unacceptable to use the language as we use it today.
In any case, you can choose if you want to use it or not. No one will judge you if you don’t, especially if it’s not your native language!