For many, a language is a kind of living being that is in constant movement, in permanent evolution. With the passage of time, certain words or phrases that are not used often are eliminated, and new terms are also incorporated. Now, there are expressions that try to define us as a community. These existential words can spark controversy, and this is the case with the term “Latinx.” Some people feel this is a word that denotes inclusivity; for others, it is an attempt at linguistic colonialism. Who is right?
As of 2019, some 580 million people spoke Spanish across the planet, which is 7.6% of the world population. Of these, 483 million are native Spanish speakers, which makes Spanish the second most common native language in the world by number of speakers, surpassed only by Mandarin. In addition, almost 22 million people in 110 countries study it. Spanish is the third most used language on the internet, according to the Cervantes Institute.
More than 60 million Latinos live in the United States. Here, 41.8 million people speak Spanish at home, according to Census estimates. This represents approximately 13.5% of the total population.
This language has some very peculiar characteristics, and we will highlight two. The first is the random assignment of gender to certain words. For example, for some reason the word ‘puerta’ (door) is feminine, while ‘techo’ (roof) is masculine. ‘Casa’ (house) is a feminine word, while ‘hogar’ (home) is masculine. Likewise, we have articles and words that are neutral in gender, such as: ‘lo fácil’ (the easy part).
For a few decades, groups of people who identify as non-binary (neither male nor female) and some members of the LGBT+ community in Latin America have pushed the idea of changing certain words to make them more inclusive. They propose a neutral mode, replacing the vowels “o” and “a” with an “e” in words such as: ‘todes’ (all) and ‘compañeres’ (companions).
Although the discussion about inclusive language is ongoing, the truth is that the letter ‘x’ is not used to denote neutrality in Spanish. How do we know that?
This is precisely the second characteristic. Unlike other languages, the Castilian language is regulated by an entity: La Real Academia Española (RAE) (in English, the Royal Spanish Academy). This organization has already spoken on this subject, assuring on its official Twitter account that:
“The letter ‘x’ is not part of the gender morphemes of the Spanish linguistic system.”
Is Latinx an offensive term?
The word Latinx is believed to have emerged in the early 21st century in the halls of certain universities in the United States. Over time, this term was adopted by some students and then passed on to civil rights groups, until Latinx was added to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary in September 2018.
But what do Latinos say? A Politico poll released in late 2021 found that only 2% of Latinos prefer the term Latinx. In fact, 40% said they find this word offensive and 30% said they are less likely to support a politician or group that uses that term.
What is the reason for this rejection? For many, this is a linguistic imposition on Spanish arising from people who speak mainly English. It is a way to rewrite the language while excluding the community that speaks it, a kind of linguistic colonialism.
We believe that the inclusion of all communities in our society is very important, but perhaps the efforts of activists should focus on transforming the system and expanding opportunities and services for all, instead of on changing the dictionary.
In the words of the philosopher and linguist Jacques Derrida:
“No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language.”