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Ungendered Spanish

December 7th, 2019
ling  [html]
Spanish has gramatical gender in a way English doesn't:

una amiga ruidosa — a loud (female) friend
un amigo ruidoso — a loud (male) friend
unas amigas ruidosas — some loud (female) friends
unos amigos ruidosos — some loud (not-all-female) friends

I remember when I was studying Spanish, learning the rule that even if you had a hundred girls and one boy you would use the male plural. My class all thought this was very sexist and unfair, but our teacher told us we were misapplying American norms and intuitions.

It's been interesting, ~twenty years later, following the development of gender-neutral ‑e:

unes amigues ruidoses — some loud friends

(Some Spanish language sources, English language sources.)

Spanish gender-neutral ‑e has something in common with English singular they that makes me optimistic about it: a decent path through which it could become a standard and unremarkable part of the language. For they this has looked like:

  • Existing long-standing use in someone and everyone constructions: someone lost their fork.

  • Usage expands into more generic constructions: I hear you have a new lab partner; what are they like?

  • Many non-binary people adopt it as their pronoun. People get practice referring to specific named individuals with it: Pat said they might be early.

  • Usage expands into cases where the person's gender is not relevant: The person who gave me a ride home from the dance last night doesn't take care of their car.

  • [prediction] Usage expands to where people use they unless they specifically want to emphasize gender.

Unlike the alternatives, amigos y amigas, amigxs, amig@s, and amig*s, gender-netural ‑e fits well with spoken Spanish. Reading articles from a while ago it seems strange to me that this wasn't seen as more of a priority before? Still there's now something of a path for it to enter the language as it's generally spoken:

  • Existing long-standing use in words like estudiante, though still with gendered articles and agreement (los estudiantes ruidosos).

  • Usage starts as an inclusive plural: Les estudiantes ruidoses.

  • Usage also starts with non-binary people: Presento a Sol, mi espose.

  • Usage expands to when the individual isn't known: Necesito une amigue...

  • Usage expands to when the gender isn't known: No puedo adivinar el género de le maestre por su voz.

  • [prediction] Usage expands to when the speaker doesn't want to specify gender for whatever reason.

  • [prediction] Usage expands to where people use ‑e unless they specifically want to emphasize gender.

My Spanish is pretty bad, and the cultural issues are probably different in ways I'm missing as well, but I'm very curious to see where this goes.

Comment via: facebook, lesswrong

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