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Spanish as a Sexist Language – Hey, Don’t You Mean as a World Language?

On March 4, the Spanish Royal Academy (Real Academia Española), the regulating body of the Spanish Language, published a detailed (and very long) article criticizing nine language guides that make recommendations for using gender-neutral terminology. The guides were independently developed by various entities, including universities, for example: Manual de lenguaje no sexista en la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid published by that university, and the Guía syndical del lenguaje no sexista, published in Madrid by the Unión General de Trabajadores.

The article, Linguistic Sexism and Female Visibility, by Ignacio Bosque, staunchly defends the use of the masculine gender in Spanish. While Bosque recognizes that the nine language guides are written with well-intentioned assumptions (inequality and discrimination against women, sexist terminology, and so on), he flatly denies their conclusions: that Spanish lexicology, morphology, and syntax implicitly and explicitly have a direct impact on sex and gender, and that the Spanish language is automatically discriminatory against the “visibility of women.”

Bosque, who is also the main author of the revised version of the New Grammar Manual of the Spanish Language (Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española)—a must-have-on-your-shelf handbook for any teacher, editor, or good writer—goes on to cite authorities that have written on the subject, such as Álvaro García Meseguer and José A. Martínez, and clarifies that admittedly there are obvious sexist remarks and discriminatory phrases embedded in Spanish culture, and cites an example from a well-known song, Libertad sin ira: “Gente que solo busca su pan, su hembra, su fiesta en paz.”

However, he continues, generic constructions that use masculine articles or quantifiers are not sexist in nature and there is no need to change them. He argues that gender does not necessarily equate to sex in Spanish grammar.

Examples of generic constructions:

• El que lo vea.

• Los afectados recibirán indemnización.

• Los futbolistas juegan en la cancha.

• Los españoles irán a las fiestas.

Suggested changes to these constructions:

• Quien lo vea.

• Los afectados, hombres y mujeres, recibirán una indemnización.

• Los niños y niñas que juegan fútbol en la cancha.

 •  La población española irá a las fiestas.

Additional suggestions in the guides to include both sexes (some of which have already taken root in a some Spanish textbooks):

• l@s niñ@s

• los/las niños/as

• los (las) niños(as)

The University of Murcia provides a list of gender-neutral terms, among them:

• alumnado, profesorado, clientele, adoloscencia, licenciatura, coordinación, infancia, niñez, ingeniería, vejez, jefatura

Bosque goes on giving various detailed examples, arguments, and counter-arguments that are worth reading as they illustrate a clear and methodic thought process. One of his arguments is that language is not decided in assemblies and promulgated as law. Those who speak it cannot consciously regulate language; its transformation has to be subconscious.

Bosque’s article was co-signed by 26 direct members of the Spanish Royal Academy (of which 3 are women) and 7 adjunct members (of which 2 are women).

Ignacio Bosque’s article has generated a good deal of criticism from all over the  linguistic world. “What is clear is that we all have to fit within the grammar of the language, and we all need to feel reflected in it,” says Micaela Navarro, consultant for Equality and Social Justice of the Junta of Andalucía, and cited by one source.

This “war over words”, is similar to what has been happening in the English language over the past two decades. Words such as “fireman,” “postman,” and “policeman” are now “firefighter,” “postal carrier,” and “police officer.” How much of a difference has this made in recognizing equality in American society?

There was a time when the Spanish word médica meant “the doctor’s wife” and the jueza was the “judge’s wife.” As society has evolved, so has the language. Ignacio Bosque is correct in that language is not decided in assemblies, but the laws that are passed in the assemblies do affect the way society thinks and eventually behaves. Of course a woman can be a great doctor and of course she can be a great judge. Who doubts that nowadays? And these kinds of advances just might help us move in the right language direction.

And what about the Spanish that we are teaching our students? Do your textbooks use gender-neutral terms? Do they have a balanced representation of gender roles?

What about you? Do you teach Spanish-as-a-Sexist Language or Spanish-as-a-World Language?

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