They and Them: Gender Inclusivity Across Languages

Alexander Gonzalez, Maeneka Grewal, Nico Hy, Zoe Perrin, Vivian San Gabriel

The relevance of gender-neutral language has surged due to growing acceptance towards nonbinary and gender non-conforming people as well as the dissolution of the gender binary. Through comparative analysis of native English and Spanish speakers, we investigated the impact of grammatical gender on the methods speakers employ to express gender neutrality. Since Spanish sentences require full gender and number agreement, expressing gender neutrality in Spanish presents more challenges than in English. We asked participants to describe images of individuals and observed that the English speakers used gender-neutral language at higher rates than the Spanish speakers did. Their methods differed as well. Spanish speakers were more likely to mix feminine or masculine forms, alongside neutral descriptions, which we interpreted as attempts to use gender-neutral language. We can infer that even when Spanish speakers are looking to express something gender-neutrally, they may be limited by the lack of gender-neutral lexical items that can be used throughout an entire utterance. Our experiment was limited to written responses and as a result may not be representative of these speakers’ language use overall. More experiments dealing with oral speech and analyses of other gendered languages would contribute to the knowledge and understanding of this field.

Read more