Buenos Aires Mayor Bans Inclusive Language

Friday, June 10th, the Mayor of Buenos Aires banned the use of modern forms of inclusive language in all primary and secondary schools, both public and private. Students test scores in reading and writing are low after the pandemic and Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta blames the new grammar and written forms developing to include female, trans and non-binary individuals. Teachers are prohibited from using x or @, and the e modification or teaching them in class. One teacher has already publically refused to comply with the measure. Interestingly, the Argentine President Alberto Fernández Pérez uses the inclusive word todes in his speeches rather than todos to say everyone.

When I began to learn Spanish, the word parents was always padres (fathers meant father and mother), although more recently I hear the phrase madres y padres or padres y madres to describe the same thing. Spanish, like English, most often uses the masculine to address groups of males and females; mankind or los hombres. The readers would be los lectores (masculine plural article). To avoid exclusive language, in Spanish people have begun to say los humanos (humankind) or los y las lectores.

The next step in Spanish has been to look for a way to say articles, nouns and adjectives without gender to forge completely inclusive language. That is difficult in a language not structured for such neutrality. You may ask why this is important. Well, for some this is central to their identity, as women, or as trans and non-binary people. As a parent to a non-binary teen, this is important in our family.

Youth realize the implicit bias of the current system of expression and developed several novel ways of creating space for themselves. Using the examples above, they use @ or x as alternatives, for example, l@s lectores or lxs lectores. (lectores is not gender specific) These symbols are most often used in writing, because they can be difficult to pronounce. In the past five years, the use of e instead of o or a is gaining popularity, as in les lectores.

Back to Argentina, students and teachers find it important to use the above tools to express themselves and address those who do not identify as male, or as solely male or female. Officially, the Spanish Academy of Language has ruled these modifications as outside the Spanish language, although they have entered common usage across the Spanish speaking world. Such opponents of these changes say that Spanish can be used in a way that does not make women invisible or act in an exclusionary way. Feminists and LGBT advocates disagree.

Three questions

1, Will banning these three types of inclusive language improve reading and writing scores?

2. Does a mayor have the right to mandate language use in schools?

3. Does this rule violate Argentine laws that guarantee equal rights to the LGBT community?

I look forward to your comments and our discussion. Happy Pride Month! 🌈 ¡Gracias! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Diccionario Escolar complete cover Photo: R. Cuningham

Alcalde de Buenos Aires Prohibe Lenguaje Inclusivo

Viernes, 10 junio, el alcalde de Buenos Aires prohibe el uso del lenguaje inclusivo de forma corriente usando x, @ y e, en todas las escuelas primarias y secundarias, tanto los públicos como los privados. Son bajos los resultados de los exámenes de lectura y escritura después de la pandemia y el Alcalde Horacio Rodríguez Larreta echa la culpa a las nuevas formas gramáticas desarrolladas para incluir a personas femeninas, trans y no-binarias.

Los maestros, o docentes como se llaman en Argentina, están prohibidos de usar la x o la @, y la modificación e, o enseñarlas en sus clases. Una maestra ya rehuso públicamente a cumplir con la medida. Interesante que en el mismo país, el presidente argentino Alberto Fernández Pérez usa la palabra inclusiva todes en sus discursos.

Cuando yo empezaba a aprender el español, la palabra era padres, ahora escucho más padre y madre o madre y padre. En español, tanto como en inglés, mayormente se usa el masculino para hablar a grupos de varones y hembras; los hombres or mankind, o los lectores (readers). Para evitar el lenguaje exclusivo, en español la gente empieza a decir los humanos (humankind) or los y las lectores.

El próximo paso en español era encontrar una manera de expresar los artículos, los pronombres y los adjetivos sin género para forjar un lenguaje inclusivo. Se queda difícil en un idioma sin estructura para tal neutralidad. Podrías preguntar, ¿por qué importa? Bueno, para algunes esta cuestión es central para su identidad; para mujeres, personas trans y no-binarias. Como mamá de une joven no-binarie, me importa a mi y a nuestra familia.

Jóvenes se dan cuenta de los sesgos implícitos del sistema actual de expresión y han desarrollado varias maneras nuevas de liberarse. Usando los ejemplos anteriores, usan la @ o la x como alternativas, por ejemplo l@s lectores or lxs lectores. Estos símbolos se usan mayormente en la escritura porque son un poco difíciles para pronunciar. En los últimos años, el uso de e en vez de o esta más frecuente, como en les lectores.

De vuelta a la Argentina, estudiantes y docentes encuentran estas herramientas importantes para expresarse y dirigirse a personas que no se identifican como varón, o únicamente varón o hembra. Oficialmente, la REAL considera que estas modificaciones quedan fuera del idioma castellano, aunque se usa comúnmente en el mundo hispanohablante. Oponentes de estos cambios dicen que el español se puede usar en manera no excluyente y en que no están invisibles las mujeres. Las feministas y la comunidad LGBT no están de acuerdo.

Tres preguntas

  1. ¿Eliminar tres formas de crear lenguaje inclusivo es necesario para mejorar las cifras de la lectura y escritura?

2. ¿Jefe de la ciudad tiene el derecho para mandar el uso del castellano?

3. ¿Viola esta regla las leyes argentinas que garantizan los derechos igualitarios para la comunidad LGBT?

Espero con gusto sus comentarios. ¡Feliz mes de orgullo LGBT. 🌈 ¡Gracias! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

30 thoughts on “Buenos Aires Mayor Bans Inclusive Language

  1. Interesting problems in evolving the Spanish language. I have a very basic level of Spanish, only enough to understand how difficult this is. Makes me wonder what the French language is doing since they also have masculine and feminine. Maggie

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your comments, Maggie! Yes, Spanish is structured to be very gender divided and male dominant. I don’t profess to know enough French to comment extensively, but I do know the new inclusive language was banned in French schools as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those who have power often think that they have the power to control language too, and sometimes they succeed: Occitan, forbidden to southern French Occitan speakers more than 100 years ago has largely disappeared). More often they don’t. Think of the successful re-emergence of Catalan in Spain and Welsh in Wales. I think that finding generally gender-neutral language will be one of the successful battles, though it may take a long while, because it’s something of interest and value to large groups of people in every culture. This mayor, whether he succeeds or not (and he won’t in the long term I think) will have zero influence on literacy scores. He needs to look elsewhere for his reasons, such as the destabilising effect the pandemic has had on education world-wide. Gendered languages have a particularly hard struggle on their hands when it comes to finding gender neutral language, but even English isn’t easy. I don’t find the use of the word ‘they instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’ very easy to assimilate for example, though I have no better suggestion. Question Three? I think you can guess my answer. An interesting post Rebecca.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Margaret, thank you for your detailed and thoughtful answers. I like your examples of languages that fought getting regulated out of existence. I agree that the mayor does not focus on the crux of the literacy issue and is impatient to look like he’s working on combating the book learning decline after the pandemic. How a language evolves in the internet age is very interesting to me. Communities beyond borders are more common and link groups, in this case the LGBT community, with a common language.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This is an interesting post, Rebecca. I studied Spanish in high school and college but haven’t used it much in many years. You bring up many good points. I can only image how difficult it will be to transition such a gender-specific language as Spanish into a more inclusive one! I’m glad to know that strides are being made in that direction. I think the younger generation will accomplish this because they will invent ways to do it in their speaking. I’m appalled that a mayor can mandate such an exclusionary order. It’s bad enough that we have state governors in the US making such narrow-minded proclamations. Thanks for a very enlightening post today!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Janet. I appreciate your comments and insights. I wonder if his ruling will have the opposite effect, making more people aware of the new gender inclusive changes that are available and interesting more people in using them in daily speech!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What an interesting education this was for me about how Spanish speakers are creating inclusive language. Seems to me that the mayor is making a political statement that is way outside his sphere of responsibility but I say that with no knowledge of the Argentine laws or governance.

    I find it heartbreaking that measures like this are put in effect anyway as a roadblock to authentic self-expression. It always seems like such a stunt to me – and one that ignores the basic right of humans to be who they are. I hope this mayor gets a lot of pushback on this idea!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with what you said about the mayor. In general, the Argentine laws are favorable to the rights of the LGBTIA community, same sex marriage is legal. So, I’m wondering what will be the outcome of this ban. Seems like a stunt to me to look like he’s addressing the school deficit, when actually time back in the classroom will do wonders unrelated to the language regulation.


  5. Thanks for sharing this, Rebecca. I imagine that this is a challenge for all Latin languages that use male and female articles. My Brazilian friends use to laugh at me when I mixed up the gender of words. I’ve never ever considered these languages as non-inclusive, but they sure do present numerous obstacles to inclusion as your article indicates.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, Rebecca.

    As a bilingual teacher from California, and being an older person, the new pronouns in both Spanish and English may possibly add a new level of difficulty for students and older teachers. Our students were not tested in Spanish, but in English where articles are neutral. Their scores were not high either. – Pre Covid. I’m sure they are worse now because many kids attended school in face only.

    Even older people can adapt to new language – NO WORRIES, LOL. I grew up when mankind meant everyone inclusively, God was He, the word “they” was the plural form of he and she, and so on. In other words, binary or even singular. As a woman, confident in my sexual identity, the pronouns don’t affect who I was or who I am. They just were learned.

    As a non-linguist student, but an ESL teacher and part-time English language consultant, the arguments over pronouns don’t move me emotionally one way or another. They just are. I learned them, presented them, and didn’t have a huge opinion about them while some debates raged around me. (Trust me the same types of debates exist in the mathematics and the social studies worlds, too.) Linguists in all languages continue to debate what is “right!”. As a consultant, I needed to know the debates to share them with teachers. As a writer, I need to be aware of what works and doesn’t work for my readers – who are worldwide.

    From a social studies perspective, I can see where the masculine and feminine articles are part of the Spanish culture that still exists today. In Spanish, as you well know, people are not the only ones with gender. As a third language learner, the binary pronouns made the language difficult to learn. What is going on socially is part of the language process and will become interesting fodder for social studies teachers as well as linguists.

    All language morphs over time. I am trying to read through The Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Thank goodness for online dictionaries connected to Kindle. The words are archaic. Even punctuation has changed since I was in college, especially the rules that were drilled into me in grade school. Thank goodness for grammar sites.

    No doubt, language will continue to evolve throughout time, and the words that are such an issue now will either become a non-issue or will be commonplace. Thank you for the thoughtful and up-to-date article on this topic. For someone who doesn’t care about debating, I really got into this, didn’t I, Rebecca. Good writing. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I”m curious about the politics of that mayor and city. But agree that non-local influences are likely to prevail. People may obey in local , public spaces, but rebel elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the mayor’s ruling seems politically minded, and actually against general policy that respects LGBT rights. Yes, as you say Carolyn, people have rebelled since the Spanish language academy has not resolved the central issue of non-binary expression yet.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Devang. Wise words about informing oneself. Say, I know that many people in India speak several languages. Other than English, which do you speak? Is gender reflected in adjectives in any of them?


  8. Interesting…never would I’ve thought that the government of Buenos Aires stamp down the inclusivity of the Spanish language, considering it’s such a cosmopolitan (and presumably progressive-ish) city. I’ve also seen this controversy arise in the French language, to some extent, with inclusivity focused on masculine/feminine articles and pronouns (e.g. “iel,” instead of “il/elle”). I’ve seen mixed receptions to this change in the Romance languages, with some touting its inclusivity for trans/non-binary people while others state it’s not gendered at all, and that it’s causing confusion with teaching the language to children. As I’m not a native French speaker, I don’t have a set opinion on the topic, but I can understand and see both sides. Very fascinating thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m also very interested to see how the mayor’s ban on gender-neutral language in schools will play out, legally. Considering non-binary was recently made an official gender option for Argentinean ID documents, this ban on language use is a bit odd.

    While I was in Argentina, pretty much every person i met in their twenties or younger used gender neutral forms of language regularly, and even many older people were learning to use it (probably learning from their kids). I met very few people who actively opposed it – tho I admit that’s probably because of the circles i was running in. Still, it’s already so widespread I can’t help but roll my eyes every time I see the RAE argue against its use by claiming it’s only used by a minority of the population.

    Another aspect of gender-inclusive language in Spanish I’m interested in is how it spreads outside of Spanish-speaking countries. People learning Spanish in english speaking countries – like Canada and the USA – I don’t think learn anything at all about the gender-inclusive movement in the Spanish language. The regular curriculums exclude modern developments in language, and I think it’s one of the ills of most educational institutions that they don’t implement newer and more robust language into what they teach. A friend of mine had recently taken some Spanish language courses at the University of British Columbia and, being curious about how gender inclusivity could work in Spanish, she asked her professors – to which they responded: “I don’t know.” I was quite surprised by the story. I would have expected a response along the lines of the RAE maybe, with the professors arguing against its use, but the fact that the people teaching the language didn’t even know anything at all about it was very telling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your great addition to the conversation, Trenton! Yes, since I saw a photo of several motorists receiving their new gender neutral ID in Argentina during my research I thought it was nonsensical and contrary, not to mention possibly illegal to ban neutral language in schools. I liked hearing your experience of people using the gender neutral modifications all around you in Argentina. I appreciate your discussion of the teaching Spanish as a second language aspect of the gender neutral evolution in the spoken and written word. I agree that is important. I was lucky in that our teen requested gender-neutral address in Spanish and English, so I learned more about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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