What pronoun would a non-binary person use in Spanish? In 2020, the Royal Spanish Academy* posted the word, “elle” (inclusive language like they) on their site as Under Observation**. People around the world wondered, will he (él) and she (ella) have a new non-binary sibling? Will Spanish become more inclusive? Unfortunately, so far the answer is no. When the appearance of elle on the Royal Spanish Academy website caused a big flutter on Twitter, the Academy quickly erased the word and announced it was not proper Spanish. *(RAE in Spanish)/**(aka we’re thinking about it.)
Spanish speaking people who are non-binary and their allies were very disappointed. Some may wonder why the RAE controls the Spanish of 483 million people in 20 countries. This organization designed to keep Spanish grammar and usage separate from the influence of other world languages was founded in 1713 in imitation of the French Academy of Language. The Real Academia Española meets with the Academies from all of the Spanish speaking countries in order to have (impose?) consensus. So, no elle from the RAE, means no elle (officially) anywhere.
Curious why this matters? If someone you love is non-binary, the challenge when speaking heavily gendered Spanish is clear; in the pronouns, nouns, and adjectives. Someone dear to me does not identify with either gender. In English, I am accustomed to using “they” pronouns when referring to them. When we speak Spanish, however, we have been stumped as to how to proceed. In the last month, we have begun to experiment with using elle. For example: Elle está dormide. (They are asleep.)
Remembering the correct ending will take time (like dormide), but the effort is worth the smile on their face. In Latin America, many young people are using inclusive language, whether or not it is approved. Latinx (pronounced: Latinex) or Latin@ (Latinao or Latinoa) are other examples of common gender workarounds en español. Time will tell whether the language will flex or whether popular usage will create new grammar despite the Academy.
Do you wish we had an Academy of Language in English, or is the Oxford English Dictionary close enough to regulate the language?