At the Intersection of Gender and Language: Nonbinary Spaniards

Date

2023-05

Authors

Algoe, Isabel

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Abstract

An increasing number of people are choosing to live openly outside of the gender binary, often identifying as nonbinary, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer. Many of these people feel that binary language such as the pronouns he and she don’t reflect their identities accurately. In English, we have the controversial but somewhat accepted “singular they” pronoun, which is gender-neutral. But the shift towards gender-neutral language in languages where binary gender is more deeply embedded has been more difficult. Spanish is one of these languages; it is a language that has grammatical gender, meaning that its nouns, determiners, adjectives, and pronouns are grammatically marked as being either masculine or feminine. A noun's grammatical gender usually corresponds to its natural gender, i.e., to its status in the world as a biologically feminine or masculine entity (e.g., la mujer / "woman"). Grammatical gender is arbitrary in the case of nouns denoting non-entities (e.g., el libro / "book" happens to be masculine in Spanish). There is no option to refer to someone in a way that is simultaneously grammatically correct and gender-neutral. Although some queer Spanish language activists have suggested a new gender-neutral pronoun, elle, and a corresponding gender marker, -e, these have failed to gain public recognition or support. This has led to the constant misgendering of nonbinary people, an experience that has many adverse psychological effects on its victims. It is well-established that the language we speak is a crucial factor in identity construction. With these factors in mind, there is likely much to learn regarding identity and language from the unique position occupied by the nonbinary Spanish speaker. To address these questions, I conducted four detailed interviews with non-binary Spanish speakers over Zoom. The interview questions that I asked them focused on their lived experiences with identity construction, language innovation, and acceptance. The findings from these interviews shed important light upon the complex societal position occupied by nonbinary Spanish speakers.

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Keywords

nonbinary, Honors College, grammatical gender, identity, Spanish, language innovation, Honors College

Citation

Algoe, I. (2023). At the intersection of gender and language: Nonbinary Spaniards. Honors College, Texas State University.

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