Languages are Moving Past Only Gender Binary Pronouns

Reema Sabawi, World Language

Spanish and French are just few of many languages that are starting to include non-binary and all gender inclusive pronouns; and it’s spreading to school classrooms.

To start off, what does “non-binary” exactly mean? In English, it’s considered an umbrella term for gender identities who don’t identify with female or male. A standard definition, pronouns vary among non-binary people all over. In English, you may hear people prefer to use “they/them,” “ze/hir,” and even “she/her” or “he/him,” despite not identifying with the terms “female” or “male.”
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, how does this work in Spanish? If you didn’t know, Spanish has feminine and masculine endings and nouns. Even the word “the” has a feminine version – “la,” and a masculine version – “el.” Many Spanish speakers have started to use “x” at the end of nouns, making them gender neutral. The term “Latinx” is a big example of such, instead of using “latino” (masculine) or “latina” (feminine).

As for personal pronouns, “elle” became popular for gender neutrality to use in replacement of “el” (he) or “ella” (she). Many Spanish speakers have their own forms of dialects in different communities, so whilst talking to a non-binary Spanish speaker, it’s recommended to ask what they prefer. This concept has just recently started to become integrated in Spanish classrooms all over the US. Students have started to use “e” in place of “o” or “a” to describe themselves. Teachers have also caught on; doing the same while referring to a group of students.

French, another language offered in schools around the US, though not as popular as Spanish, is also implementing the usage of gender neutral words. However, it is a little bit more tricky. Lots of French speakers have developed the term “iel” as a gender neutral pronoun to potentially replace “il” (he) or “elle” (she). However, depending on the pronoun used, it must agree with the adjective that follows. For example, “content” (masculine) or “contente” (feminine). Therefore, when using “iel,” speakers must choose whether or not to add on the “e.”

Discussions within language specific communities are continuous everyday, and though some may spark more debate than others, it’s critical that everyone keep open ears and is willing to learn.