You may have heard that it is now perfectly acceptable to use “they” when referring to a single person. The old “he/she” rule is now passé. In fact, the singular “they” was named Word of the Year in 2016 by over 200 linguists who make up the American Dialect Society. “They” is a gender-neutral pronoun which parallels mainstream culture’s views of gender identity. According to Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal, the word “they” symbolizes how main stream culture now recognizes and accepts transgender and gender fluid people, some of whom reject traditional pronouns.
Another trending word is Latinx (pronounced “La-teen-ex). Designed to be a gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent, Latinx replaces Latino, Latina and even Latin@. So far, mostly ardent activists have been using the word, but it is increasingly used by scholars and journalists and catching on with the general public. As with “they”, Latinx is all-inclusive. It is a word aiming to move beyond gender binaries, making room for women and men of all racial backgrounds, and those who are transgender, agender, non-conforming and gender fluid.
In many languages, words are either feminine, masculine or gender neutral. The ‘x,’ therefore is a way of rejecting the gendering of words. Even with the Spanish language where the masculine version of words is often considered gender neutral. Same with plural words. For instance, if there is a room full of only women, it is full of amigas. Add just one man and it becomes amigos, the “o” denotes the presence of this solitary man, regardless of the number of women in the room. This is what proponents of Latinx are fighting – the patriarchal and heterosexual norms. They want a word that reflects what it means to be of Latin American descent in today’s world. Proponents see Latinx as a way to reclaim identity and rebel against “the language and legacy of European traditions that were imposed on the Americas.”
As time goes on languages evolve, words we never thought would become words are suddenly the word of the year! Viewpoints change, cultures shift and spotlights focus on different issues. The recent discussions on trans and non-binary identity are ongoing and evolving, and with it “Latino” is evolving too.
But Not Everyone Agrees
The usage of Latinx started around 2004 in the gay communities and rose in popularity in 2014. But not everyone is onboard. Opponents have said such an un-gendered noun is “disrespectful to the Spanish language.” They argue that they are Latinos who are proud of their heritage. They are not against non-binary people, but they see this language change as a bad idea. They forecast that words such as “latinos, hermanos, and niños would be converted into latinxs, hermanxs, and niñxs respectively. This is a blatant form of linguistic imperialism — the forcing of U.S. ideals upon a language in a way that does not grammatically or orally correspond with it.”
They also argue that the term “Latinx” is used almost exclusively within the United States. Since no Spanish speaking country uses it, they see Latinx as an example of the United States imposing their norms on other cultures, ignoring and degrading a culture rather than respecting it. They claim if we make all words gender neutral in Spanish, sentences would be unreadable, the language essentially erased, because without gender, you are no longer speaking the original language. They point out that “Latinx” may stem from good intentions, but there already exists a gender-neutral term to describe the Latin-American community: Latino. Why not use that instead?
To the Latinx lovers, the US imposition argument is flawed. After all, Spanish is also a language that was brought over by Spanish conquistadors, its own little linguistic imperialism.
So time will tell if Latinx becomes the word of the year or if it fades into obscurity like the archaic fourscore (80 years), love apple (a tomato) or otiose (lazy, slothful). Either way, it has added to modern discourse, opening dialogue and minds along the way, whether we use it or not.
by Ilona Knudson