‘x’, ‘@’ and how other ‘letters’ fight for gender friendly languages

March 8, 2018 12:43 pm

‘Free of words, sentences or tones reflecting a prejudiced and stereotyped or discriminatory vision. It does not exclude deliberately or inadvertently some persons as a part of a group’. In the mid-1970s Robin Lakoff, professor of Linguistics at the University of California, established Language and Gender Studies as an academic discipline. In fact, language plays an important role against the discrimination of women. Some linguists, feminists, politics and journalists include non-sexist language under the umbrella of inclusive language, a ‘must’ to keep in mind on International Women’s Day!


There is a debate, though. For instance, the Royal Spanish Academy even condemns gender-inclusive language. This institution catalogues some uses of language as excessive and incorrect suggesting that this would not even allow speaking and reading fluently! So we should probably mention that language reflects some social sexism rather than being sexist itself! For example English, a natural gendered language, regarding titles highlights females’ relationships to men. Therefore, while single Miss Smith becomes Mrs. Smith when married, Mr. Smith always holds the same title. His marital status does not change anything.

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French, Spanish, Italian and German are gendered languages. Indeed, German has three genders (masculine, feminine and neutral)! In any of those languages, the generic masculine would include a mixed group of women and men. Only when talking specifically about women is the feminine suffix required. When referring to a female in German, the standard male form of a noun needs the suffix -in. Some people blame these rules, since women are not an extension of men. Nevertheless, French pays attention to the gender thanks to grammatical agreements. In 2014 the French Academy opposed the feminization of job titles, making Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s insistence on being referred to as Madame la Maire (and not Madame le Maire), grammatically incorrect.

Lenguaje no sexista (1)

In order to respect gender equality in many European languages it is trendy to put the feminine noun first and then the masculine one, e.g. Signore e Signori (translation: Ladies and Gentlemen). German created two-in-one new words referring to both male and female, e.g. SchülerInnen (translation: students both boys and girls). Since in Spanish the feminine is usually marked with the suffix -a and the masculine with -o, some people use @, x, e or even * for referring to both men and women, e.g. tod@s / todxs /todes / tod*s (translation: everybody: both men and women). These uses of language are grammatically incorrect. However, they have to be taken as a step towards gender equality.


Written by Víctor Mir Communication Robert Schuman Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament, Luxembourg. Víctor holds a Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting, a University-specific degree in Linguistic Mediation and a Master’s degree in Edition, Production and New Journalistic Technologies. 


  • Berrios, O. (2016). LA BROMA, Guías de lenguaje inclusivo. Available here (accesed on 07/03/2018).
  • Prewitt-Freilino, J.L; Caswell, T.A; Laakso, E.K. (2011): ResearchGate, The Gendering of Language: a Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender and Genderless Languages. Available here (accesed on 08/03/2018).
  • Schofield, L. (2017): European Young Feminists, Systematised Sexism: The effect of language on European World Views. Available here (accesed on 07/03/2018).
  • Vilella, P. (2012): BBC, ¿Es sexista el idioma español?. Available here (accesed on 08/03/2018).
  • Willsher, K. (2017): The Guardian, French language watchdogs says ‘non’ to gender-neutral style. Available here (accesed on 08/03/2018).

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