Are There Ways of Subverting Certain Generic Uses of the Spanish Language?

I see language students as adventurous 21st Century astronauts in a yet unwritten novel, exploring a new world with their own eyes. They are the new Adams and Eves in a new Paradise, eager to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and re-naming everything they discover. (Learning Spanish as a Second Language Must be FUN, February 2014.)

People Talking, courtesy of Cartoon People Talking©Cartoon People Talking

People Talking, courtesy of Cartoon People Talking. ©Cartoon People Talking.

With the statement above I wanted you to realise that language is not a dry fossilised set of unchanging signs, sounds and symbols, but a vibrant living aspect of communication that could and should reflect the world in which we live.

I would follow the opening metaphor with an interesting fact that changed our views of existence: in 1960, the well known English theoretical physicist and cosmologist Dr. Stephen Hawking expanded Einstein’s theory of relativity to the point whereby the Universe began with a singularity. This fundamentally changed our understanding of existence and added to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, thus demonstrating the impact that a student can have upon the subject they are studying.

Language students and language tutors cannot help but contribute to the transformation of the language they are learning or teaching. Cultural attitudes now are dramatically different from past times. As a student of Spanish, you have the opportunity to challenge the generic norms and perceived sexist aspects of Spanish usage on a ongoing basis.

I accept we may be on contentious territory here – but language has always changed and evolved to support and define our view of the world and each other. Below are some examples of how we can improve our speaking in a way that promotes respect and equality:

Avoiding the use of words like “hombres” or other similar words in the generic sense, as the subject of the phrase, will contribute to the promotion of a more inclusive way of expressing ourselves.
forbidden and thumb up




    Generic                            Generic +  

    los niños                              la niñez                         (the children)

    los vecinos                         el vecindario                (the neighbours)

    los jóvenes                         la juventud                   (the youth)

    los adolescentes               la adolescencia           (the adolescents)

    el hombre (the men)         la humanidad             (the human beings)


Similarly with titles and professions use those terms that are neutral rather than the generic (masculine).
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      Generic                          Generic +

       los jefes                         la jefatura              (the bosses)
       los directores                 la dirección          (the directors)

In some cases the female subject appears as an appendix, complimenting or being a possession of the male


Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43
    Los nativos trabajan la tierra con la ayuda de sus esposas e hijos.  (The natives work the land with the help of their wives and children.)


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   La población nativa trabaja la tierra colectivamente.(The native population work the land collectively.)



Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43

 Los gitanos desmontaron sus carpas y se mudaron junto con sus mujeres al pueblo vecino. (The Gypsies dismantled their tents and moved with their wives to the neighbouring   village).


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   Los gitanos y las gitanas desmontaron sus carpas y se mudaron al pueblo vecino. (The Gypsies dismantled their tents and moved to the neighbouring village.)

In the second paragraph, highlighted with a green thumb up, we have the chance to use an egalitarian and inclusive language.

Change the generic term “hombre” or “los hombres”, when they refer to human kind into a more inclusive term

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.53.43  Los hombres han preferido establecer asentamientos donde hay agua. 

(Men have preferred to establish settlements where there is water.)


thumb up La humanidad ha preferido establecer asentamientos donde había agua.

(Human beings have preferred to establish settlements where there was water.)


It is pertinent to mention both genders when referring to a mixed group as follows

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   Generic                          Generic +

   los abogados                    las abogadas y los abogados      (lawyers [female and male])

   los ministros                    las ministras y los ministros      (female and male ministers)

• Professions

Be modern, reflect the social changes using the feminine when naming professions or occupations. The fact that it may sound odd to our ears because it was not used in the recent past does not matter. We will all get familiar with them in time.

forbidden and thumb up




los ingenieros            las ingenieras y los ingenieros       (engineers female and male)

los mecánicos            las mecánicas y los mecánicos       (mechanics female and male)

los carpinteros          las carpinteras y los carpinteros    (carpenter female and male)

How the language teaching institutions favour an andocentric orientated education is perhaps a wider subject that deserves a blog in itself. A sample of this is the 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz. The book contains hundreds of extracts from Spanish literature and teaches how to analyse them. Only a dozen of them are pieces from women writers. Generations that are now in the position of influencing society have been educated with books like this one.

Cover of a 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz.

Cover of a 1970’s Spanish language third year secondary school book: Castellano, by Lacau Rosetti and published by Editorial Kapelusz.

In the article entitled Vertigo I concluded with a couple of questions: Is the prevalence of masculine gender in Spanish a symptom of sexism in the language? Is the language a reflection of the culture or viceversa? Throughout my last two entries, I have attempted to answer these. Thus, this is my humble contribution: being a single star in a vast universe of opinion on this issue.

April 2015

This is a follow up article to: Finding creative and positive ways to transform a language, published 1 April 2015.

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About hoxton spanish tutor info

Hi, my name is Adrian Sanchez. I am passionate about words and languages, particularly Spanish, the language I learned at my mother’s knee. I am curious about how languages change and evolve. I am a qualified Spanish Teacher (CLTA) and a journalist. I have taught in literacy campaigns in Latin America and given Spanish tuition in Spain and in the UK. I would like to share some of my thoughts on the Spanish language; and particularly on what I have learned from my students, who in many ways have become my teachers throughout the years. Spanish is a vast and beautiful language and I would like you to accompany me on a journey of discoveries, so I will be presenting two blogs per month and I would like to hear from you. Here is a link to my webpage: You can visit my blog here: Email: Thank you!

19 responses to “Are There Ways of Subverting Certain Generic Uses of the Spanish Language?”

  1. The Chaos Realm says :

    I just ran into this in an English-language manuscript I was editing. Had to make notes to change “men” to “people” in the same context. Thanks for the post. Very interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Thank you!

      I believe that we all must be proactive in promoting respect and equality.

      I would suggest that a good way to start is to pay more attention to the way we speak and write. If we all contribute to increase the visibility of women and equally respect everybody regardless of their gender, we’ll be opening new paths for a better future.

      Thank you again.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Maria F. says :

    Excellent lesson. I’m aware of the changes, but some Spanish speaking sectors continue using the archaic forms of assuming everything is male. I also write “El o ella as “el/ella”, is that correct?


    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Thank you Maria for your comments.

      Regarding your question of using “él” (he) or “ella” (she) before the verb, in Spanish it is not necessary as the conjugation of the verb informs about the subject. We might also understand the subject or gender we are talking about within the context. However, only in those exceptional cases that the context is not providing that information, then I would say that it is appropriate to mention “él” o “ella”.

      Kind regards



      • Maria F. says :

        Yes, I see. I knew I had encountered that situation, when the context was not providing the gender info, but I was still not sure whether to write it with the slash like that was correct or not. Thanks!


  3. giselzitrone says :

    Wünsche dir einen schönen ersten Mai und ein sonniges Wochenende lieber Gruß Gisinde

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jonathan Caswell says :

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Aquileana says :

    Realmente coincido con tus apreciaciones…. El uso que hacemos del lenguaje nunca es inocuo… Es interesante la cuestión del género de los sustantivos… Y, por cierto, es casual me pregunto que en inglés no se presenten estas polémicas…. O al menos con muchos adjetivos, sustantivos y artículos que son neutros… En fin, tu propuesta me parece necesaria y movilizadora. Gracias por compartir! Aquileana ⭐

    Liked by 1 person

    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Hola Aquileana. Muchas gracias por tus comentarios. Es hora que pongamos más atención y que hablemos de una manera más respetuosa e integradora. Esto debiera ser una tarea frecuente de todas las personas que hacemos uso de esta lengua tan bonita. Adrián

      Liked by 1 person

  6. roughseasinthemed says :

    Wow Adrián, that’s such a brilliant and thoughtful post. It’s hard enough promoting gender neutral language in English, I love being able to think about doing it in Spanish.

    Next time I do a linguistic post, I must link back to this. Very thoughtful 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Thank you for your kind comments. As you said, it is hard promoting gender neutral language, however, it is a challenge we all have to face to ensure positive changes. I hope to continue writing on this subject in the near future and I look forward to reading your next linguistic post. Keep in touch. Adrián


  7. Shery Alexander Heinis says :

    Very interesting and helpful post! It’s not only Spanish – I speak French and the same issues arise (well, even in English, the male gender was/is used to encompass women in the plural). I find it interesting that when you use the generic terms like “la direccion” or “la jefatura”, the article is feminine! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sartenada says :

    Your blog and this post are very interesting. I never learned Spanish as many people have done: courses, schools and university. I learned it in 1969 in 4½ months whilst I worked in Las Palmas, Spain. This means my Spanish level is yet today at the same level when I learned it in 1969, as a child learns, just listening to other people’s talk. Of course I have visited other Spanish speaking countries just to maintain my language skills.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Graham Stephen says :

    How prevalent is the use of @ for the concise inclusion of both genders? e.g. l@s gitan@s I’ve seen this usage a few times, but presumably it is only very informal.


    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Dear Graham

      It must be noted that the @ symbol is not a linguistic sign. However, as you noticed the increase use of the @ symbol, in “informal” Spanish writing, is a fact.

      The @ symbol is a graphic resource to integrate in one word the male and female forms of the noun, as this sign appears to include both the vowels a and o.

      Therefore its use in these cases is not accepted by the Academies that regulate the use of the Spanish language.

      The use of @ in that manner will remain controversial, particularly because, as I pointed out, it is not a linguistic sign. However, a living language constantly transform and we have a large number of words and expressions that although being of controversial use, the Academies have accepted and included them in the language.

      A few years ago, the Spanish Royal Academy, RAE, accepted that marriage is something that can also occur between people of the same sex. Acknowledging that these changes will bring some controversy, the RAE issued the following statement: “The Academy has no choice but to include in the Dictionary those annoying words, without giving acquiescence to what they mean now or previously meant” [1]. However, this step has been welcomed as a positive action of inclusion.

      [1] Free translation from: La Academia no tiene más remedio que incluir en el Diccionario esas voces molestas, sin que ello suponga prestar aquiescencia a lo que significan ahora o significaron antaño.

      Liked by 1 person

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