Linguistic reflections on the generic feminine

  • Javier San Julián Solana University of Oviedo
Keywords: generic feminine / inclusive feminine / universal feminine, generic masculine, linguistic sexism, gender-inclusive language / non-sexist language, gender in Spanish

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine, from a strictly linguistic perspective, a phenomenon that has been gaining ground in recent years, especially in the field of politics and social activism: the use in Spanish of feminine forms with an extensive value (referring to beings of both sexes) as a strategy to make women more visible, and as a stylistic alternative to the simultaneous use of both the masculine and feminine form.
After comparing the underlying assumptions of the feminists’ position with some linguistic principles, we analyze the conditions under which the generic interpretations of feminine forms take place in ordinary language. We then present the problems that the generalization of the phenomenon can give rise to: limitation of «displacement» capacity (Hockett, 1960), poor processing effort / cognitive effect ratio, and difficulty in accomplishing the communicative function of language. This brings us to the point that the generic feminine is most unlikely to become established in general uses of Spanish; it also seem not to be feasible to achieve a free alternation of masculine and feminine forms as a means of expressing gender neutralization. However, the occasional use of the feminine with extensive value could be made habitual —considering the social function of language— in political discourse, where it would function as a badge that shows membership of (or solidarity with) a social group.

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Published
2017-12-08
How to Cite
San Julián Solana, J. (2017). Linguistic reflections on the generic feminine. Verba Hispanica, 25(1), 117-132. https://doi.org/10.4312/vh.25.1.117-132
Section
Linguistics