Dr. García Peña has been involved in… the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures’ program in Latinx studies [my bolding]. (Latinx is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American heritage, used commonly in academia.)
(Kate Taylor, “Denying a Professor Tenure, Harvard Sparks a Debate Over Ethnic Studies,” NYTimes, 1-2-20)
Ms. Taylor helpfully clarifies “Latinx” in her parentheses, since it’s not likely to be on everyone’s tongue. I’ve confessed before how the term nettles me; hence “redux” in the title.
Linguistically, the striving for gender freedom in woke English can collide with the ineradicable genderedness of other languages. Ecce “Latinx.”
In assimilating “Latino,” a Spanish word, English inherited the word’s masculine gender marking. Absent that marking we get “Latin,” which is native and has its uses — indeed had considerable currency in the past, along with “Hispanic,” for labeling persons of, or descended from, Spanish-speaking cultures of the Americas and Caribbean. (The proverbial “Latin lover” was not a man who cherished the orations of Cicero. He was Latinx!)
Grammatical gender follows no discernible logic. In Spanish, it ranges from la mujer (woman) and el hombre (man) to la gente (people); el pueblo (town); la sociedad (society); el ambiente (atmosphere); el mapa (map); la luz (light); el tema (theme); la catástrofe (catastrophe); el cutis (skin); la piel (skin, too); el imperio (empire); la soberanía (sovereignty); and so on.
No noun in Spanish lacks gender. Articles, as well as adjectives that are themselves susceptible to gender marking, must agree with the noun’s gender (not to mention its number). “Agree with” in grammar-talk means to adopt appropriate markings: la pared pintada (the painted wall); el vidrio pintado (the painted glass); los dibujos pintados (the painted drawings); las nubes pintadas (the painted clouds).
To import a Spanish word into English is to import its gender baggage in one form or the other: masculine or feminine — “Latino” vs “Latina.” X-ing the gender suffix creates a scratchy neologism. Perhaps “Latinx” will catch on outside ivied precincts; perhaps not.
My pickiest beef with “Latinx” concerns its combination with “studies.” I suggest that the phrase it replaces — “Latino studies” — does not mean the study of Latinx-ers who are male. (It would require the sister discipline: “Latina studies.”) Rather, “Latino” classifies that discipline whose subjects are the peoples and cultures of the Spanish-speaking Americas — just as “Bible studies” are not the study of physical Bibles, but of the biblical canon in all its aspects.
But never mind; the distinction is academic.
(c) 2020 JMN