More language fun – gender and Spanish nouns

// 24 March 2008

The English language is not alone in having deeply ingrained problems with sexism.

The Unapologetic Mexican proposes a solution to the gendering of words in Spanish – use @ instead of a (for ‘feminine’ words) and o (for ‘masculine’ words). Notably, when a group of all female friends is present (to give the example used by Unapologetic Mexican below), they are “amigas”. If even one male friend joins the group, they are suddenly “amigos”.

You will see many words in the blog that are ended with an “@” symbol. Example: Chican@, vat@, Chicanism@. In Spanish, words have a gender. Not only that, but words will reflect the sex of the subject of a sentence, and this is apart from the word’s gender. This is signified by “a” or “o” in a word, such as “la gata,” or “el gato,” which mean (respectively) “The female cat,” and “the male cat.”

Because Chicanism@ involves the raising of consciousness, respect for oneself and for others (even females!) we make an effort not to sweep women under a male pronoun, as they have to live with normally, but to recognize them as equal players in this world, as they certainly are. To do this, we are lucky enough to already have a symbol on the keyboard that joins both the “a” and the “o” and makes sex-neutral/sex-inclusive words like “amig@,” to include both types of friends at once.

(Hap tip to Lisa for introducing me to this excellent blog)

Photo by Gonzavision, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Louise // Posted 24 March 2008 at 2:57 pm

Interesting article.

” Notably, when a group of all female friends is present (to give the example used by Unapologetic Mexican below), they are “amigas”. If even one male friend joins the group, they are suddenly “amigos”.” The same thing applies to the French language, which shares its latin roots with Spanish. There was a whole debate about the topic in France a few years ago, with women’s group introducing the idea of “parite linguistique” and arguing that some nouns which traditionally do not have a feminine (eg. le ministre, the minister, is always masculine for the reasons you imagine) should be allowed to be preceded by the feminine article “la” should the minister in question be female in order to reflect the evolution of women’s role in society. The proposal was met with downright hostility from academicians but, thanks to the support of female journalists and magazines like Marie Claire ( which made a point of systematically using the feminized versions of words) those words are gradually entering the mainstream.

Languages naturally evolve to fit the needs of the societies that use them. I’m not too sure about using @, though…

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 24 March 2008 at 8:13 pm

This idea is very nice in theory, but it has unfortunately one major flaw: there is no way to pronounce @ in the Spanish language. There is no intermediate sound between “a” and “o”. This is probably the reason why, as popular as it is getting the use of @ on the internet and the written world, it cannot really take off.

Though I, personally, am so devoted to the idea of gender neutral words that I would just go for the sound “e” and the Hell with it all.

Lesbilicious // Posted 27 March 2008 at 11:46 am

I’m sure using @ as a gender-neutralising vowel has been around for a while in Spain – I’m half spanish and I’m sure I remember my cousins talking about it a few years back. Having said that, I don’t think it’s used all that much, and as MaryTracy said, there are definite problems in how to use it in spoken language.

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