Grammatical gender is one of the easiest linguistic categories in English language. Nevertheless, it’s more complicated in Spanish. On Spanish for Different Levels Course at SpanishviaSkype.com our students can learn how to form masculine and feminine nouns, adjectives and pronouns.
For many years, feminism has been fighting against inequality between men and women. What would you think if a person, in order to defense the rights of women, said that the word “woman” is sexist because it has the word “man” inside? Even if that person knew something about etymology, he or she might say it means “wife” of a “man”. How machista is that!
Well, that is what is happening in Spain lately. Irene Montero, one of Podemos Party’s member of parliament, used the word “las portavozas” instead of “las portavoces” (spokesperson). That was not a gaffe. She actually did it intentionally for “giving visibility to women in their fight for equality”, as she explained. This is only the last one of the numerous examples of inclusive language that politicians are using for the sake of progress: “las miembras” for “las miembros” (members), “las jóvenas” for “las jóvenes” (young), or “la pacienta” for “la paciente” (patient).
Let’s shed light on this confusion. Spanish language has two géneros (genders): masculino y femenino. However, Spanish system has different ways to express them.
Masculine nouns often end in -o, but also in other vowels or consonants (amigo, jefe, doctor), and feminine ones usually use -a (amiga, jefa, doctora). This is the easiest group, that even has a coincidence with sex.
These nouns have a unique non-flexible form. How can we know if they are masculine of femenine? Easy; with the concordance with articles or adjectives (el/la artista, el/la periodista, el/la portavoz, el/la paciente, el/la miembro).
This group refers to nouns which are masculine or femenine but they can’t admit inflection or the usage of concordance. Although they are masculine, they can refer to both sexes and vice versa: el bebé, la persona, la rana, el gorila, el águila. As you can see, many names of animals are in this group. How can we know the sex of them? We need the help of other words like “macho” or “hembra” (el gorila macho/hembra) or “niño/a” (el bebé niño/a).
This last group is formed by nouns which admit both genders in the concordance of articles or adjectives, but don’t make a difference of sex: el/la puente, el/la mar, el/la calor, el/la sartén. One of the options is usually the most used (el puente, el mar, el calor, la sartén) and the other one is more dialectal, emphatic or poetic (la puente, la mar, la calor, el sartén).
In conclusión, “woman” comes from the word “wife/wif” (lady, woman in Old English) and “man” (human being, not only masculine, in Old English), and “portavoz” comes from the verb “portar” (to carry, to take), and the noun “la voz” that is actually femenine. So, “portavoz” belongs to the group called “género común”, so, if you need to make a sex difference, you just need to use the proper article (el portavoz / la portavoz).
As you can see, languages are not sexist, machistas or feministas. However, speaker’s intentions might be.
At www.spanishviaskype.com we will teach you all of these grammar problems, going even deeper. If you want to try a free trial lesson with us, don’t hesitate and reserve one here and serás “portavoz” del español en breve (you will be a spokeperson of Spanish language shortly).