Noun classification system in Spanish (II)

Personal Subject Pronouns & Grammatical Gender

In a previous entry, we explained that grammatical gender classification in Spanish follows the binary feminine/masculine distinction. When referring to ourselves and other people (but also animals and personified objects), the linguistic, grammatical distinction between feminine and masculine is extended to what we know as social gender, by which we identify people within the traditionally pre-established male/female binary.

This kind of identification typically relies on assumptions based on a person’s appearance or name. These assumptions are not always correct, and the act of making such assumptions (even if correct) may be harmful. This is why, in English there is an increasing awareness about how sharing one’s personal pronouns of choice can help other people avoid these assumptions and respect everyone’s right to be identified accordingly. 

The traditional subject pronoun system in English is a clear example of how this works:

SINGULAR PLURAL How is it used?
First person “speaker”         I      WE Used to refer to ourselves, individually or in a group of people.
Second person “being spoken to”                   YOU Used to address people in front us, whether it is one person or a group of people.
Third person “everybody else   HE/SHE     THEY Used to refer to other people (potentially not present or removed from the conversation).

As you can see, in English, when we use the “third person”, that is, when we refer to other people in the singular form, we identify them as male (he) or female (she). However, it is becoming more and more common to use “they” with verbs in the singular third person form to avoid gender identification (or gendering) and/or to signify gender neutrality.

Let’s look at the equivalent of these pronouns in Spanish:

As explained in the table and the video, thanks to ongoing activism from various LGBTIAQ+ groups in many countries across the Spanish-speaking world, there are several emerging non-binary options to describe ourselves and also to refer to and address other people. While these emerging forms have not yet been formally accepted by linguistic authorities (such as the RAE o Real Academia Española – Royal Spanish Academy) and even resisted by some speakers of Spanish, they are increasingly used by youth and social media outlets to visibilise the identities and struggles of people wishing to identify themselves outside the cis heteronormative gender boundaries.

This type of language is typically referred to as “lenguaje inclusivo” (inclusive language), although some prefer the expression “lenguaje inclusivo no binario” (non-binary inclusive language) because they argue that ‘inclusive’ language can refer to the use of language to include a wide range of marginalised communitities. [1]

We explore this topic further in other entries.

¿Quieres saber más?

What about Indigenous languages spoken in what we know today as “Latin America”?

Let’s look at an example from Quechua explained in this TikTok video:

@sisaquispe

#stitch with @watso_ how cool is that? #nativefamily #lgbtq #quechua

♬ original sound – Sisa Quispe

What about the language(s) that you speak or are familiar with, are there non-binary ways to refer to yourself and/or other people/living beings?

How would you translate and use personal pronouns in the languages you speak or are familiar with?

Still curious about the use of pronouns?

You may want to explore the website: MyPronouns.org (in reference to English) or Berger, M. (2019) A guide to how gender-neutral language is developing around the world. The Washington Post.

 


  1. This table also presents additional challenges. As you can see, the second person singular and plural pronouns in Spanish, can also carry a lot of information regarding the register of formality and reveal regional varities. See:

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

JUNTXS by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book