The neologism “Latinx” is becoming popular, which is cause for concern for those of us who don’t want to see more harm done to the Spanish language in this country.
“Latinx” is the successor to efforts to eliminate patriarchal or male dominance from Spanish terms such as “Latino.” Let me elaborate. Spanish words, as is the case in other Romance languages, have one of two grammatical genders: masculine (which usually end in “o”) or feminine (which typically end in “a”).
When it comes to people, many languages use the masculine form of a noun as a generic, that is, to name both men and women. This happens in English, as in the expression the “Rights of Man.” Thus, according to Spanish grammar, the word “Latinos,” the masculine form of the plural noun, could mean just Latino men or, as a generic, both Latino men and Latino women together.
I am not opposed to the avoidance of the masculine generic as long as one does not do violence to Spanish. Early efforts to avoid the masculine generic relied on the “slash method,” which consisted of adding both the masculine and feminine endings to words separated by a slash, as in “Latino/a class.”
I’d like to propose a different strategy that follows the spirt of Spanish more closely. Instead of using a/o, one could choose “Latino” or “Latina” according to the grammatical gender of the object they modify in Spanish. For instance, one could refer to Latino Studies (from “estudios,” masculine gender) and Latina class (from “clase,” feminine gender). (To those who might object that it would be a hassle, think about those Latin plurals in English).
Latinx goes a step beyond by eliminating not only patriarchal roots but any reference to a gender binary. Its proponents oppose “o” and “a” endings because, they argue, just two endings cannot capture the entire range of sexual orientation represented by the acronym LGBQT.
It is not my intention to criticize individuals for their choices of gender categories. I do intend to take issue, however, with the growing number of universities, such as Amherst College, Harvard University, Oberlin College, and Yale University, as well as Arizona State University, where I taught for 36 years, that have adopted “Latinx” in their course and program titles.
The creation of “Latinx” represents another episode of American elites’ hegemony over Spanish. Some academics in the United States want to make an ideological point and do not seem to be concerned with undermining the cohesion of the language.
I’ve discussed my views with some people who argue that languages change, and that “Latinx” is just a reflection of this fact. Although it is true that languages change, changes develop gradually over a long period. “Latinx” is faddish. It was pulled out of the blue and follows a grammar created by American intellectuals that has nothing to do with Spanish.
Spanish has been mistreated in the United States since the end of the war between the United States and Mexico. It is treated as a language that doesn’t belong in the United States: Latino individuals who speak Spanish in public are often admonished to “speak English” because “this is America.”
The language is routinely mocked (a phenomenon that the late Jane Hill of the University of Arizona wrote extensively about) with expressions such as “Drinko for Cinco.”
We live in a time of anti-Latino xenophobia in this country when many identify Spanish as the “language of the illegals.” Spanish needs our support and one way to help the process is to eliminate buzzwords that claim to address the linguistic binary but undermine the language’s integrity.