‘They’ Was the Word of The Year in 2019 — But the Battle for Gender Inclusivity is a Powerful One in Latin America

word of the year They BELatina

One of the most common situations for members of the LGBTQ community is to be questioned by children and adults alike who have something to say about our “gender.”

If I had been given a dollar for every time someone asked me “Are you a girl or a boy” in my life, perhaps my working life would be very different today.

Since Adam and Eve, the binary division of the world seems to have become so rooted in the Western social system that talking about something “in between” seemed virtually impossible… until now.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary announced that its 2019 word is “they,” the most-Googled personal pronoun during the course of the last 12 months, and whose influence on Internet traffic has had to do not only with events and news, but also with the transformation of language itself.

“They” thus became the symbol of the neutral gender, corresponding to singular pronouns such as “everyone” or “someone,” but also now to refer to a person whose gender identity is not binary.

Merriam-Webster noted the influence of the new pronoun usage both in national news and in recommendations by the American Psychological Association to use the singular in professional writing instead of “he or she” when referring to a person “whose gender is unknown or a person who prefers it.”

However, this linguistic phenomenon had already been recognized by the American Dialect Society in 2015, when it chose the singular “they” as the word of the year “for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.”

In Spanish, on the other hand, the linguistic revolution has been just as powerful during the past decades.

Amidst the public battles for abortion rights and the fight against gender-based violence, Argentina has been the focus of a transformation in this rich language.

The proposal of thousands of young people is to change the grammatical basis by substituting the e mainly or even the “x” for the masculine and feminine genders, as reported by the Spanish newspaper El Pais at the beginning of the year.

Todes, todxs or tod*s, are some of the ways in which Latin American Spanish has tried to include the genders and transits of identity within the representation of the language, and for a very long time.

As author and philosopher Diana Maffía explained to the newspaper, “already in the 1980s, inclusive language was discussed, referring specifically to the difference between marked and unmarked gender.”

By the 1990s, the diversity movement went beyond sexual orientation: It was a struggle for rights.

It was precisely the new generation of young people actively involved in Latin American politics that gave the definitive impulse to the transformation of language, supported, of course, by the use of social networks as part of the debate.

Today, demonstrations against political models as in Chile and Colombia echo a wider discontent, but where “right” and “inclusion” are the basis and the common factor. 

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