January 24, 2021

Students, students and 'alumnes' | Babelia

Students, students and 'alumnes' | Babelia

In the United States, the word "black" is no longer used to identify those who today define themselves as black or african americans It was a battle that did not start with disputes over nouns, but with a long march from Alabama. First slaves, then second-class inhabitants, fought for legal equality, not simply for a place in the dictionary. Perhaps they sensed that the place in the dictionary results from social, cultural and economic struggles: it starts with a seat in the transport, a room in the same hotels and a table in the same bars. For decades, the orchestra of Duke Ellington he knew that he should respect the humiliating impositions of apartheid when it was time to go to sleep in a city they visited on tour and played for whites. Today, north of New York Central Park, a splendid circular avenue bears the name of Duke Ellington.

In my country, Argentina, the word gaucho He went through a century-old process of semantic changes. In the mid-nineteenth century it still meant vague and barbarous; a great intellectual, who was president, hated them as the incarnation of backwardness. Much later, gaucho He began to designate what he now designates: someone willing to help, out of good will and without interest. The Academy did not intervene or any other ideological tribune to establish the new meaning. The poor immigrants from Europe had arrived and, in front of those people who brought other customs and defended their rights with ideas as untimely as those of anarchism, the gaucho It became a national myth. The immigrants were despised as tanos they did not speak Spanish and Galician raw

It surprises the confidence with which today it is wanted to implant the joint use of masculine and feminine, as if that linguistic transformation guaranteed a gender equality. When that equality is fully expressed, it will be settled in the dictionaries. But what is most surprising is the curious solution of using the letter and end to indicate jointly masculine and feminine. Students of the social and cultural elite, who attend the two prestigious university colleges of Buenos Aires, today say: les alumnes, friend, as if the and final award the representation of male and female, against the grain of Spanish. The history of languages ​​teaches (to those who know it a little) that changes in speech and writing are not imposed from the academies or from the direction of a social movement, no matter how fair their demands.

History teaches that changes in languages ​​are not imposed from academies or from a social movement

Anyway, the elites are optimistic about what they can do even in such a tough subject as the use of the language. I will give an example. In the first half of the 20th century, the Argentine primary school imposed the use of you instead of you. The teachers, who used an impeccable voseo for most of the day, they entered the classroom and began to address their students. That elementary school had an exceptional power in the tasks of literacy. But he could not get the children, who learned so well to read and write, to be about you. The Rioplatense voseo (which, as the history of the language teaches, is an archaic trait of Castilian) did not submit to the instructions of a school institution that, in almost every other aspect, was of an effectiveness that we are now missing. Finally, the educational authorities abandoned their regulatory whims on the use of the you, and teachers and children live in peace with the voseo.

With the duplication of the noun in masculine and feminine one goes against a linguistic convention that has centuries. Surely because of a machismo of origin, which historians must prove, in Spanish the masculine covers the representation of both genders. The same happens with the third person pronoun in English: they But this does not happen with the same pronoun in French, which uses ils Y elles. The languages ​​are not uniform in these options, since the English that uses the same pronoun for the third person of the plural uses different pronouns (I have Y she) for the third person singular.

Changes in a language are more difficult to implement than political changes. The reason is obvious, if we consider that language is not an external instrument that is adopted at will (as an ideology is adopted, even a moral perspective), but that it constitutes us. To change it there are two ways: impose that fathers and mothers speak to their children from birth with the nouns in feminine and masculine, which is an attractive but authoritarian utopia. Or wait for victory in struggles for gender equality to result, as in the examples of black or gaucho, in long-term changes.

Militancy can favor these changes, but it can not impose them. If he could impose them, those who defend the most complete equality between men and women would already be speaking with a "double" noun from the moment we support a movement that is universal and unstoppable, but not omnipotent as a god or a goddess.


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