Lately, we’ve all heard something about it, but do we know what is neutral Spanish?
Neutral Spanish vs. Latin American Spanish
We’ll start by saying what it’s not: neutral Spanish, inclusive Spanish or non-binary Spanish must not be confused with Latin American Spanish. Latin American Spanish is a variety of the language mostly used in media and entertainment. You’ll find it in dubbing, subtitling, captioning, localization and translations. It’s a type of Spanish that is understood and accepted by different Spanish-speaking audiences. When you listen to it, it sounds like it’s from nowhere in particular.
Why do we need inclusive Spanish?
Now that we’ve established what it’s not, let’s talk about what inclusive Spanish is.
Spanish as a gendered language
Inclusive Spanish is the way people found to name and show diversity in their communities. If you speak a little Spanish, you may already know this, if you don’t, here it goes: Spanish is quite a gendered language. It’s not like English, where only pronouns reflect the gender of the person. In Spanish, even things have a gender: they are either feminine or masculine. And the articles and adjectives we use around nouns and pronouns have to match their gender.
The generic masculine
The “generic masculine” is another characteristic of the language that calls for a variant that is more inclusive in Spanish. We call generic masculine the process by which, when the gender of the subject is not specified, the language defaults to masculine.
Let’s see some generic masculine examples: a female student is called alumna and a male student is called alumno. However, collectively, students are called alumnos. Likewise, a girl is niña, a boy is niño, but a mixed group of kids is niños. That’s why, besides creating gender neutral pronouns in Spanish, they had to adapt other parts of the language to make it more inclusive.
The gender neutral Spanish pronouns
We’ll start with the easiest part: the gender neutral Spanish pronouns. They would be the equivalent to the singular they/them in English. The most used one is elle. But there are other Spanish gender neutral pronouns, like elli and ele. They are used to talk about non-binary people. “Non-binary” in Spanish is called no binarie, and, just like in English, it refers to people who don’t identify as male nor female.
However, unfortunately for Spanish speakers and curious people, that’s not all there is to know about inclusive Spanish. As we said before, gender is all around the language, and nouns, adjectives and articles change accordingly. If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed something in the examples above: the difference between female student and male student, and the difference between girl and boy is just a single letter: what we call a morpheme. In Spanish, many feminine words tend to end in A, and many masculine words tend to end in O. So, to be able to talk about people who don’t identify as one nor the other, Spanish speakers started using E (and other morphemes), and thus created a third neutral gender. Following the example above, we could use niñe for a non-binary child, and niñes for a mixed group of children. For students, the non-binary version would be alumnes.
So, to answer the question about what is non-binary Spanish, we could say that is the use of E, @, X, * or other morphemes to indicate a neutral gender.
Gender in Spanish
We mentioned above that even things have gender in Spanish. For example, the word for table, mesa, is feminine (note the A ending), and the word for shoe, zapato, is masculine (note the O ending). However, we can all agree that things don’t identify as male, female or non-binary. We’ve arrived at a very important issue: grammatical gender is not the same as people’s gender.
On one hand, we have grammatical gender: a property of the language used to classify nominal elements (nouns, pronouns, and adjectives) in classes. Spanish typically has two classes (masculine and feminine); German, three (masculine, feminine, and neuter); and there are languages that have even more, like Czech, which differentiates between masculine animate, masculine inanimate, feminine, and neuter. English is not generally considered to have gender classes in this way, because there’s no gender agreement between the nouns and the articles and adjectives around them, and gender agreement only affects pronouns.
On the other hand, there’s gender identity: a person’s sense of their own gender. This can be the same as the assigned sex at birth or it can be different. It can change throughout a person’s life. It can coincide with other people’s gender or it can be unique.
When do we use inclusive Spanish?
Now that we know the difference, we can say that inclusive Spanish is only used when we talk to or about people. We don’t need to use it for objects, feelings, or any other nouns. We’ll drop the last morpheme (generally A or O) of the nouns and the adjectives and change it into an E (or one of the other morphemes that we listed) when the person we are talking to or about identifies as non-binary, or when we are referring to a mixed group of people, to avoid the generic masculine.
We recommend using E as the neutral morpheme in Spanish instead of the others we’ve mentioned. That’s because it’s easy to say it at loud, unlike X or *, that pose a pronunciation problem. Besides, it’s truly non-binary, unlike @, that is a mixture of A and O and still in the masculine-feminine binary.
Are there gender-neutral Spanish names?
Another part of speech where gender is usually very present is given names. Spanish has typical female names, like María, Paula, and Sofía; and also, typical male names, like José, Francisco, and Juan. However, there are some gender-neutral Spanish names, and they are growing in popularity. Noa, Alex and Ariel are just some examples of names that can be given to either girls or boys, and that can also be chosen by non-binary people.
We’ve explained what neutral Spanish is and how it differs from Latin American Spanish. Also, we’ve told you about generic masculine and how inclusive Spanish is a way to avoid it. Now you know the Spanish gender-neutral pronouns and also some gender-neutral Spanish names. You can use all you’ve learned to be more inclusive in your community! If you know a little Spanish and you want to read more about this subject, you can check out our guide on non-binary Spanish. 🤓📖