Latinx

I am working ferociously to finish correcting the page proofs for my new book, and to create an index (a painful task that I actually relish), so this is just a short post to say “hello” and share an interesting article I just read in the Washington Post about the word Latinx.

Latinx is an example of gender-neutral Spanish, one of several attempts to reduce or eliminate the use of -o and -os for masculine words and -a and -as for feminine word. In standard Spanish latino (note the lower-case l) is simultaneously masculine and neutral, so it can be used to identify either a Latino male or a Latino of unknown gender, as in La empresa espera contratar un latino para ese puesto ‘The company hopes to hire a Latino for that position.’ Likewise latinos refers to either a group of Latino males or a group of Latinos of mixed gender, male and female.

As in English, where the normative use of he has ceded ground to they, in today’s Spanish many speakers (and writers) try to avoid using gender-specific endings. In Spanish-speaking countries one often sees the @ character (called arroba in Spanish) used as a neuter vowel, as in this ‘Welcome refugees’ sign I saw in Valladolid a few years ago:

The x is also used as an alternative to the @; that’s the source of Latinx, which in my experience is found more often in the United States than in Spain, at least (I can’t generalize to other Spanish-speaking countries).

Anyway, the Washington Post just ran an op-ed, by their reporter José A. Del Real, asserting that “‘Latinx’ hasn’t even caught on among Latinos. It never will.” The article is behind a firewall, so here’s the key claim in case you can’t access the article:

“The label has not won wide adoption among the 61 million people of Latin American descent living in the United States. Only about 1 in 4 Latinos in the United States are familiar with the term, according to an August Pew Research Center survey. Just 3 percent identify themselves that way. Even politically liberal Latinos aligned with the broad cultural goals of the left are often reluctant to use it.”

The anti-Latinx reasons cited in the op-ed are its awkward pronunciation (especially in the plural), the preference among LGBTQ Latinos for Latine, and resistance to stamping a broad community with a single ethnic label. (The latter makes the term Hispano equally problematic.) The op-ed reports that “people of Latin American ancestry in the United States often prefer to describe themselves by referencing their specific countries of heritage, according to a 2019 Pew survey.”

15 thoughts on “Latinx

    1. jhochberg Post author

      Of course not — just consider la criatura ‘baby’ and la víctima ‘victim,’ which can both be applied to male babies and victims. Not to mention that the vast majority of masculine nouns in Spanish, like el periódico or el papel, have nothing to do with biological masculinity.

      Reply
  1. Daniel Nappo

    I wonder if such adjustments would cause more orthographic problems. It is a fairly easy thing to go from “diputados” (male and female) to “diputades,” but what about “amigos”? How many will write it out “amigues”? Or “médiques” (instead of “médicos”)? Wouldn’t that be correct? I also don’t think the general characterization of Spanish as conservative and androcentric is accurate. The language has adapted itself well in many instances, especially in the professional context (I doubt there was a “profesora” in early editions of the DRAE). Franciscus and Judy are correct: linguistic gender is rarely aligned with gender in the biological sense. Look at “el” or “la editorial,” for example.

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      1. Daniel Nappo

        It does look like French! Have the people pushing for these changes considered saying, “amigas y amigos”? We’ve always said, “Damas y caballeros”… Maybe that would be too cumbersome.

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        1. jhochberg Post author

          My understanding is that unpronounceable written forms such as amig@s may be spoken as amigos y amigas. But I understand the desire to find neutral forms that work in both modalities.

          Reply
  2. Janet Terry

    I love the @ ending! I hadn’t seen it before but it seems a perfect solution, being seen as both –a and –o. Not sure how it would be pronounced though… Seems nonsense to create an English word latinx; if it’s in English, why not just continue to use the old word English word Latin?

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  3. jhochberg Post author

    My understanding is that people will see (e.g.) “amig@s” and say “amigos and amigas.” The word “Latinx” is basically a newfangled version of “Latino” which has a different flavor from “Latin.” We do still say “Latin America” and “Latin lover” (the latter is probably passé) but these don’t imply Spanish only, or at least “Latin America” doesn’t.

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  4. Franciscus

    You said “of course not” but your post and much commentary on this issue include references to non-grammatical issues relating to biological sex. Advocates for the non-organic creation and use of “gender neutral” typically tie those new words to biological sex. Many people really do confuse the two concepts. Thank you. I enjoy your books and writings.

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  5. Franciscus

    It is the use of “masculine” and “feminine” that is the cause of confusion. Those are just categories. The words could just as easily be called A gender and B gender, or Common and Neuter as in Swedish. Young people in particular impute sec into this issue.

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    1. jhochberg Post author

      True, but (i) these are standard grammatical terms, not just for Spanish but for many other languages, not all of which are even Indo-European; (ii) the distinction clearly has its roots in a distinction between biological masculinity and femininity, which gives some justification for continuing to use this terminology.

      This is such a thorny issue even among the well-intentioned. For teachers it comes to the fore when they have a non-cis-gendered student. I haven’t yet experienced this in my own classroom, but I know there are a lot of resources for me to tap into when it does.

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  7. Gary Edward

    Latinx is not Spanish. The word is not recognized by the Real Academia Española, Spanish entity that decides on what words go into the Spanish dictionary. It is not in the Larousse Dictionary either.

    Here is the query: https://dle.rae.es/latinx
    Aviso: La palabra latinx no está en el Diccionario. Las entradas que se muestran a continuación podrían estar relacionadas:
    latinar (latina)
    latino1, na (latina)
    latino2, na (latina)
    Real Academia Española © Todos los derechos reservados.

    If anything, it is an English word or perhaps Spanglish. And the pronunciation does not flow in Spanish.
    La – tin e-quis. Is it a beer? Dos equis?

    Reply

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