Gender-neutrality in Spanish and Portuguese
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Two of the ten most widely spoken languages, Portuguese (Pt.) and Spanish (Sp.), are similar to a degree of considerable mutual intelligibility, spoken and written. Orthographically, phonetically and syntactically they are very similar in many respects. Both of them lack gender-neutral elements, and that is the reason they are considered together here. Both languages have very gendered nouns - they have no neuter gender.
- 1 Traditional Spanish and Portuguese orthography regarding genders
- 2 Proposals for gender-neutral spelling
- 3 Political use
- 4 Minority West Iberian languages
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Traditional Spanish and Portuguese orthography regarding genders
In both languages, the feminine is usually marked with the suffix -a and it is generally easy to make a feminine noun from a masculine one by changing the ending -o to -a: cirujano, cirujana (Sp., surgeon; m./f.); advogada, advogado (Pt., lawyer, f./m.); médica, médico (both languages, physician, f./m.) If the masculine version ends with a consonant, the feminine is typically formed by adding an -a to it as well: el doctor, la doctora (Sp., m./f.); o doutor, a doutora (Pt., m./f.). However, not all nouns ending in -o are masculine, and not all nouns ending in -a are feminine:
- Singular nouns ending in -o or -a are epicene (invariable) in some cases: testigo (Sp., witness, either male or female); caixa (Pt., cashier, either female or male).
- Nouns with the epicene ending -ista, such as dentista, ciclista, turista, especialista (dentist, cyclist, tourist, specialist; either male or female in both languages) are almost always invariable. One exception is modisto (Sp., male fashion designer), which was created as a counterpart to modista (Sp., fashion designer, or clothes maker).
- Some nouns ending in -a refer only to men: cura, that is "priest" in Spanish, a word which ends in -a but is grammatically masculine, for a profession held only by men.
Invariable words in Portuguese and Spanish are often derived from the Latin participles ending in -ans and -ens (-antem and -entem in the accusative case): representante; comerciante; estudante (Pt.), estudiante (Sp.). Some words that normatively epicene, can have an informal feminine ended with '-a'. Example: la jefe (Sp.), a chefe (Pt.) [female boss, normative]; jefa (Sp.), chefa (Pt.) [informal]. The same happens with cliente (client), although clienta seems to appear more often in Spanish than in Portuguese.
There remain a few cases where the appropriate gender in uncertain:
- Presidenta used to be "the president's wife", but there have been several women presidents in Latin American republics, and in modern usage the word means mainly a female president. Some feel that presidente can be treated as invariable, given that it ends in -ente, but others prefer to use a different feminine form.
- El policía (Sp., the policeman). Since la policía means "the police force", the only useful feminine counterpart is la mujer policía (the police woman). (In Portuguese, policial or simply "policia" can be used for both genders, policewoman and policeman.)
- Juez (Sp., male judge). Many new judges in Spain are women. Since the ending of juez is uncommon in Spanish, some prefer being called la juez while others have created the neologism jueza. Common nouns ending in -z are usually feminine, as in the cases of vez and paz. (In Portuguese, juíza is formed normally from juiz, male judge.)
Activists against perceived sexism in language are also concerned about words where the feminine form has a different (usually less prestigious) meaning:
- An ambiguous case is "secretary": a secretaria is an attendant for her boss or a typist, usually female, while a secretario is a high-rank position—as in secretario general del partido comunista (Sp.), secretário-geral do partido comunista (Pt.), both "secretary general of the communist party"—usually held by males. With the access of women to positions labelled as "secretary general" or similar, some have chosen to use the masculine gendered la secretario and others have to clarify that secretaria is a decision position, not a subordinate one.
- Another example is hombre público (Sp.) ["public man", a politician] and mujer pública (Sp.) ["public woman", a prostitute].
Proposals for gender-neutral spelling
As in other Romance languages, it is traditional to use the masculine form of nouns and pronouns when referring to both males and females. Advocates of gender neutral languages modification consider this to be sexist and favor new ways of writing and speaking.
At-sign (@), slashes (a/o), ligature (æ) and anarchist symbol (Ⓐ)
The anarchist circled A (Ⓐ) is also used in this manner, especially in radical political writing (¡CompañerⒶs!).
Many people, though, prefer use of the slash (/) as in (el/la candidato/a).
The ligature æ, proposed in Português com Inclusão de Gênero (PCIG, Portuguese with Inclusion of Gender) can be used in the same way. This proposal is also valid for Spanish. Escritoræs (writers) can replace escritoras/es or escritores/as. See also Satiric misspellings.
Inside PCIG, there is also a suggestion to utilize a small at-sign as lower-case letter, as in "muit@s menin@s". Preferred size is 25%-40% less than the regular '@'. Many computer programs allow selective font size reduction. Text editors, like MS Word and OOo Writer, allow font size changes to specific number of points. In blogs, Wikipedia itself and other HTML editors, the
small tag can be used. Wikipedia GUI has even a button to facilitate edition, enabling content contributors to write "<small>@</small>" in order to produce an '@'.
Proposals for a gender-neutral pronunciation
Opponents of the use of '@' and 'æ' as letters in these languages feel that these characters are a kind of degradation. Many also raise the question of how these new words are to be pronounced. Proposals exist, though, such as those made by PCIG.
However, some Spanish speakers are concerned that this proposal is unlikely to be adopted, since the Spanish language does not distinguish /ɔ/ and /ɛ/ from /o/ and /e/ respectively, and most of its speakers would therefore not even notice a difference in pronunciation.
The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, published by the Real Academia Española, says that the at-sign is not a linguistic sign, and should not be used from a normative point of view.
As for Portuguese, these two phonemes are widely used, but almost always in stressed syllables. What is new and requires a little practice is the use of the two phonemes in non-stressed syllables. Nouns and adjectives that vary in gender are paroxitone or proparoxitone and, according to PCIG, the use of the two phonemes should not change the stress. Examples:
- Since, 'médico' [ˈmɛdiko] and 'médica' [ˈmɛdika] are proparoxitones, 'médic@' should also be. So, its suggested pronunciation is [ˈmɛdikɔ].
- Likewise, 'escritoræs' [eskɾiˈtoɾɛs] should be paroxitone, because 'escritoras' [eskɾiˈtoɾas] and 'escritores' [eskɾiˈtoɾis] or [eskɾiˈtoɾes] are too.
The phoneme [ɔ] is between the [a] characteristic of feminine nouns and the [o] characteristic of masculine nouns in the scale of vowel height, which can be characterized symbolic of gender inclusion. Analogously, the "gender-inclusive" [ɛ] is intermediate step between the "feminine" [a] and the "masculine" [e].
Some politicians have begun to avoid perceived sexism in their speeches; the Mexican president Vicente Fox Quesada, for example, was famous for repeating gendered nouns in their masculine and feminine versions (ciudadanos y ciudadanas). This way of speaking is subject to parodies where new words with the opposite ending are created for the sole purpose of contrasting with the gendered word traditionally used for the common case (like *felizas and *especialistos in *felices y felizas or *las y los especialistas y especialistos).
Minority West Iberian languages
- Gender-neutral language
- Gender-neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
- Differences between Spanish and Portuguese
- Grammatical gender in Spanish
- Political correctness
- Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, GÉNERO2, in Spanish.
- http://numpol.com/br/pdf/2II.pdf in Portuguese and also http://conscienciaefervescente.blogspot.com/2009/08/proposta-do-portugues-com-inclusao-de.html, in Portuguese
- http://numpol.com/br/pdf/2III.pdf, page 5