Megan Figueroa: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: And I’m Megan Figueroa. Welcome to this break from the dumpster fire of the world. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Wow, this week has been bad.
Megan Figueroa: It’s been really bad.
Carrie Gillon: Just the fucking pits.
Megan Figueroa: It’s been the pits. Congratulations to everyone who’s not actually American because ya’ll look so much better than we do right now. So, congratulations, Carrie, you are better than me. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, but I live here, so it doesn’t matter.
Megan Figueroa: I know. Yes, if you are listening to us from somewhere that is not the US, yeah, we’re kinda drowning over here, but it’s okay.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, it’s not the only country that’s drowning, to be fair, but it’s still –
Megan Figueroa: Oh, yeah. And that probably wasn’t the best word because it’s fucking literally happening and everything is awful.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: But I would just like to apologize for Americans.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, this is just an interesting backlash.
Megan Figueroa: It is! I mean, I can’t – it’s already upsetting, but then, as linguists and as women, it’s really upsetting, I’m sure for you too, to hear her be so differential.
Carrie Gillon: She had to be though.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. Because then you’re like, at least I would do the same thing. I would try to sound smart – quote-unquote “articulate.” I would try to keep my “ums” to a minimum. I would try to do the things that we talk on this podcast about how we shouldn’t shit on women for doing. But if I were in that same position where it’s so important, it’s just like, fuck. I know what they expect me to do.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And even though she was basically like the quote-unquote “perfect victim,” she still got shat on. She’s white, of the right class, all these tick tick ticks to make her more acceptable, but she’s still a woman, and she has vocal fry because most people do. People are shitting on her for that. So, it doesn’t even matter how good you are, they will find something.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, quote-unquote “perfect victim” she was. And she is a Doctor of Psychology who knows more about all of this than anyone else in that room. And still she is not taken as seriously as Brett Kavanagh.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, she was taken more seriously than perhaps other people have been in the past. Maybe Anita Hill, probably, she was taken more seriously than that.
Megan Figueroa: Of course. Because she was black. Because that’s all you gotta be.
Carrie Gillon: There’s also been some time in between. They knew that they had to treat her better. I do think it’s partially time, but it’s also obviously race because a lot of things are.
Megan Figueroa: Well, their attempt to do that was having the woman prosecutor, right?
Carrie Gillon: Well, there was that, too, yeah. They were like, “This doesn’t look good. Let’s hire a woman prosecutor and call her a female assistant because that also looks good.”
Megan Figueroa: God.
Carrie Gillon: But – [sigh] anyway. Meanwhile, Kavanagh gets to rant and rave and fake cry, and Lindsey Graham gets to rage –
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Carrie Gillon: – rage! I thought the whole point of the Senate is that it’s this gentleman’s club, you know? They were complaining about the Democrats not playing by the rules, and then they go rampaging. I don’t –
Megan Figueroa: What is it? Like a bull in a china shop or something?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, kinda like that, except that it’s their own shop, especially for Lindsey Graham. What the fuck display was that?
Megan Figueroa: Is it like they have to tear it all down because this woman came in and just, like, ruined it all? I don’t know.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I think it was a show of force mostly for Trump’s sake. The weird thing is it seemed to work not just on Trump but on most of the other Republican Senators. I’m gobsmacked. I just –
Megan Figueroa: Women can’t speak like that to a man without being – I don’t know – the punishments, the consequences.
Carrie Gillon: But I thought of all places on the planet, that would be the one place where even men couldn’t get away with it. But obviously I was naïve.
Megan Figueroa: Well, powerful rich white men are gonna keep carving out weirder spaces for themselves as they lose power in other spaces, it seems.
Carrie Gillon: I guess. I guess that’s what’s going on. I don’t know. It was bizarre. I hope it doesn’t work, but it seems to be.
Megan Figueroa: It’s like, “Here we are. This is us optimistic right now.” We’ll see what happens.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, I hope. There’s almost no hope in my voice whatsoever.
Megan Figueroa: Overall point there is that it’s hard to be a woman and have a voice.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And this weekend has been extra hard because – I dunno if Chris wants me to tell the world, but oh well – he had surgery on Friday, and so I had to take him to the hospital, and I’ve been taking care of him like obviously I would. But it’s emotionally draining, and I can’t possibly absorb all this shit at the same time. And yet I am.
Megan Figueroa: So, that’s just where we are in life. We have a great interview today, but we have a few more things to talk about before that.
Carrie Gillon: First thing, we have actually a couple of emails. One of them was from a while ago, and I just forgot to mention it last time. It’s from /kɛɹəlɪn/ – or /kɛɹəlɑɪn/, I’m not sure – anyway. “Hi there. I’m a relatively new listener. I found you via the Wine & Crime interview a while ago. Since then I’ve been trying to catch up on episodes and came across something on a recent episode you said about journalist accent. I don’t know if you’ll find this interesting or not, but I thought I’d share it just in case.”
Megan Figueroa: We always find it interesting, by the way.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, yes! Anything language related we will probably find interesting. “Apologies if others have emailed you since then and I’m just repeating things. Anyway, when I was in college, one of my majors was in journalism. Something we were told often was that in broadcast journalism using our Mid-West Ohioan accents was the ideal. Many who didn’t conform to that accent often took special classes to change their accent.” Yeah, yes, but at least “change” is the correct term not “lose.”
Megan Figueroa: Or “get rid of.”
Carrie Gillon: Or “get rid of.” “We were told that here in Ohio, with a couple major journalism schools, plus the Scripps Center here in Cincinnati, we speak ‘General American’ or ‘Standard American’ English. Yet, this accent was also preferred because it’s neutral and non-regional.” What? Yeah, I agree with you. That doesn’t make any fucking sense.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: First of all, there’s no such thing as a “neutral accent.” It’s all constructed in our mind.
Megan Figueroa: It’s all political.
Carrie Gillon: It’s all political. But definitely it cannot possibly be non-regional if it comes from a region!
Megan Figueroa: Exactly.
Carrie Gillon: So, I’m with you. “Combined with a learned cadence, then you have the journalist voice.” It’s true. We didn’t talk about that, but there is a particular style of speaking that goes along with the accent in order to actually sound like a journalist. “Now, right off the bat, this has always struck me as odd, especially since Ohio has multiple accents” – yes, many places do have multiple accents – “even Appalachian surrounding one of our major journalism schools. But my now-husband, who is a linguist, then gave me a mini lesson on accents and how this is seen as the educated privileged accent and is often used to discriminate by class or race. It’s completely ridiculous, but I know you know that already.”
Yeah, great! Thank you so much.
Megan Figueroa: I love getting emails like that.
Carrie Gillon: I know! I know.
Megan Figueroa: And we have another one?
Carrie Gillon: We have another one.
Megan Figueroa: Wow! Dos emails in one epi. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: They probably would’ve been separated a little bit more, but I forgot last time. Okay. This is one is from I think it’s /ʒil/ – uh, yeah, he’s French. Okay. “Hi, I was just listening to your latest episode, another great one. I really enjoy your show.” Let me see. From the timestamp that would be our last episode which was about French in Louisiana. “I’m a French native speaker from France, and I was surprised to hear that Louisiana French has a typical structure ‘être après’ to mean ‘to be doing something.’ Usually, ‘être en train de’ in standard French. That’s definitely something I use and that I probably got from my mother. I can’t remember my father using it. I don’t use it as often as ‘Je suis en train de,’ but it’s definitely part of my French. For instance, ‘Elle est après manger,’ ‘She’s eating’ – ‘Il est après prendre un bain,’ ‘He’s having a bath.”
“I’m from Lyon. I’m not sure if it comes from this area or where my mother is. She’s from the Beaujolais – a 60-minute drive north from Lyon. Her mother was from there, too, but her father was from Lorraine in the northeast of France, and my mother has lived in Lorraine for a few years as a child.” Blah blah blah blah blah. So, basically, it could be from Lyon or from Beaujolais or from Lorraine. I don’t know. “But I was surprised to hear this feature of my colloquial French being a typical feature of Louisiana French, so I thought I should share. Thanks for your show. Looking forward to the next one.”
Thank you, Gilles!
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. So, I was like, “Okay, French, French, French.” And I was gonna be like, “Okay, so is he telling me that something that’s in Louisiana is something that he does?” And then he wrapped it up nicely for me.
Carrie Gillon: The typical way – the way that I was taught – is “Je suis en train de,” like “I am in the middle of” versus “être après,” “to be after.” They mean the same thing, but in Standard French you can only say “in the middle of,” essentially.
Megan Figueroa: Well, very cool. Awesome! Well, yes, people should feel free to share these things. Although, you know what, people do really share a lot with us, it’s just mostly in Twitter exchanges. I am not discounting that.
Carrie Gillon: This is true.
Megan Figueroa: Definitely not discounting that. If you’re listening to this, you should send us a question that you might want answered by us because this is your last chance because we’re gonna do a question episode very soon.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, very soon. If you have any questions about us or the show or linguistics or language discrimination or anything that overlaps with any of that, feel free to tweet it at us or send us an email. We’re firstname.lastname@example.org or @VocalFriesPod if you’re on Twitter.
Megan Figueroa: On the tweets. So, I just want to talk a little bit about what we’re gonna talk about with our interviewee just so we’re situated because right off the bat I talk about a little girl, and if we don’t have any context, it might be like, “What are you talking about?”
Carrie Gillon: It’s true.
Megan Figueroa: Today we talk to Dr. Santiago Kalinowski about “lenguaje inclusive” or “inclusive language” in Spanish! I’m so excited. People get fucking pissed off. I saw just an hour ago someone saying how they’ll never say “Latinx” because that’s just “I’m a Latina, and I’m not gonna say ‘Latinx’ because it’s bastardizing Spanish, and you’re not gonna get me to say that. I know how to speak Spanish properly. All of you Latinos out there that don’t know how to speak Spanish are the ones saying ‘Latinx.’” This is not true. And we will be able to see this when we talk to Santiago.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I mean, what he’s talking about is something different though.
Megan Figueroa: It is. It is. But “Latinx” is kind of a representation of trying to be more inclusive and getting rid of the O/A distinction in Spanish. It’s very gendered.
Carrie Gillon: But it’s taking a different strategy.
Megan Figueroa: It’s a different strategy, yes, absolutely. The “Latinx” thing and that kind of question is just a very small symptom of the inclusive language movement. And this little girl will help me. There’s a video of a girl – and we’re totally gonna tweet it because – we already tweeted it. People tweeted it at us because they knew how much I would love it. Basically, in Spanish, she says, “My teacher tells me that ‘todes’” – instead of “todos” or “todas” – “doesn’t exist. And I explained it – explained it, explained it. And the teacher says, ‘No, it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist.’”
“But regardless of how many times she tells me it doesn’t exist, it’s still part of my vocabulary.” And she said, “Okay, what does it mean then?” Ah, and this is where it gets so good. So, she goes on, “There are some trans people who identify as men. There’re trans people who identify as women. But there are ‘algunos y algunas y algunes’ that don’t identify as either man or woman. ‘nosotras,’ ‘nosotros,’ and ‘nosotres’ respect how we want to be called. We also need to respect how ‘ellos,’ ‘ellas,’ and ‘elles’ want to be called.” And then she went on to say how one of her friends made fun or her for using these “little words,” and then she said, “But it’s not a little word. It’s a right. I’ll keep saying it. I’ll continue saying ‘todos,’ ‘todas,’ and ‘todes.’” She says, “I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t necessarily be a lawyer to defend others’ rights.”
Carrie Gillon: Aw, that’s sweet.
Megan Figueroa: It’s so good. And that’s the best intro to what we will be talking about today. I don’t really think we really need to do anything else.
Megan Figueroa: Today, I’m really excited to say that we are joined by Dr. Santiago Kalinowski. He is the Director of the Linguistics Department at the Argentinian Academy of Letters. He’s here today to talk to us about “lenguaje inclusivo” or “inclusive language” – a topic that is not without controversy. This should be fun. Thank you, Santiago, for joining us.
Carrie Gillon: Thank you.
Santiago Kalinowski: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Carrie Gillon: Of course!
Megan Figueroa: We’re really excited to talk about this. I’d only been thinking about it in the abstract until I saw the video that was going around of the little girl that was explaining to the camera why she had started using this inclusive language in class and how her teacher was like, “No, no, don’t do that.” We’ll link to it or we’ll put the audio in it. But now it feels really real and practical to me, so I’m really happy to talk about this today. And she was an Argentine girl. What’s happening in Argentina, Santiago? I feel like there’s a lot of stories coming out of there about this inclusive language topic.
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, yes, it’s made it into the public eye, let’s say, because of the discussion of the abortion law that we just had.
Megan Figueroa: Was that this year – 2018?
Santiago Kalinowski: Yes. We just had it. It was a huge thing because lots and lots of groups were supporting that bill. In the context of that discussion, many times, feminist groups would use lenguaje inclusivo, which is this thing that happens in Spanish where – well, you know what it is. We cannot say “the students” without saying “male students” or “the teachers” without saying “male teachers.” Many, many people for a long time now have considered that to be really offensive.
They have come up with several things. At the beginning, they didn’t know a lot what to do, but they started by using both endings. Every time they would say, “los estudiantes,” they would say something like, “los y las estudiantes.” If the noun itself had a gendered ending, they would go to something like “el gobernador y la gobernadora.”
Megan Figueroa: That Spanish Academy in Spain said that that wasn’t efficient.
Carrie Gillon: [Laughs] Well, I guess that’s true.
Megan Figueroa: It’s true.
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, what they usually say, “It’s unnecessary because the masculine is already inclusive.” They’re against any type of innovation in this matter, beginning with the double ending. Because the double ending is grammatical. I mean, that’s no invention. We use it like you say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.” That’s always been possible. But to do it systematically in a whole text gets a little long. So, they have tried to use an argument of efficiency or what they call, “the principle of economy.”
Megan Figueroa: Right. Yeah. I’m seeing this quote from Darío Villanueva, the director of the Spanish Academy, and he says, “economic essence” – “It destroys the economic essence.”
Carrie Gillon: Wow.
Santiago Kalinowski: That’s already mixing things because, you know, we’re not economic when we talk many times. I would say the majority of times we just say something uneconomical because it has the desired effect. That’s not a principle that guides communication. It’s a principle that allows us to identify patterns of linguistic change. That is what it is. Since this is something that is out there – so we can bring into the attention of the listener that fact that the society’s unfair.
That’s not a linguistic thing. That’s something that has to do with the political discourse – with the effect that we’re trying to achieve – the people in general – so that with this popularization of the idea – the growth of conscious around the idea of an equality that can in the end and in time produce an effect in the reality of our society. Economy has nothing to do with it really, I don’t think. But they’re trying to use that argument to prevent people from using it. They don’t want people to use it. They want us – I just had an email asking us to forbid its use in university, for example, which is funny because – you know.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, telling you to do something – that is so bizarre.
Santiago Kalinowski: It’s how to do it. What kind of policeman will we put there in the classroom? What’s gonna be the punishment for someone who uses it against the law or whatever? Because it’s power, it’s in its granularity. I can use it whenever I like. Usually, it’s something that happens when we’re speaking somewhat publicly in some way because that’s what I think is it’s natural way of existing as a way of intervening public discourse.
Megan Figueroa: You got that email because, in your position as director, that would kind of be what you would do, right? You speak on issues of Spanish. Is that true?
Santiago Kalinowski: I do. The state of the public opinion regarding linguistic ideas is awful. I mean, I listen to you guys talk about this. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: That’s why we have this podcast.
Santiago Kalinowski: It’s why you have the podcast. People think that language gets decided in Madrid or something, and then if we don’t allow it, it’s not allowed. So, you have those really backwards ideas of what the language is. People say, “Well, we can’t use that word because it’s not in the dictionary.” And then you look up the word, and it has 20 million hits, so the dictionary has a problem. It’s a really hard thing to try to communicate how language works and what the academies are trying to do. And that’s not the fault of the people because during the entire 20th Century the Royal Academy has done a public campaign of communicating this type of thing exactly.
They did this active thing of communicating that they were the guardians, and the origin of the language was there, and so the real language was there. This has permeated down, and it’s really awful because the other thing that happened, I think, is that linguists here have just abandoned that arena. They just did linguistics, and they didn’t go to the media. They didn’t create a message that could be understood by the general public. So, now, of course, someone came and convinced the public of all sorts of things. Because of this thing I’m talking to the media every week now, and it’s really challenging.
Carrie Gillon: That’s good!
Megan Figueroa: It’s like you’re kind of playing catch up. You got to play catch up for all the damage that the –
Santiago Kalinowski: It’s not like people don’t know things because everyone that uses a language somehow feels that they know linguistics.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, yes.
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Santiago Kalinowski: Which doesn’t happen to other disciplines.
Megan Figueroa: You’re absolutely right. It’s because we all have language, so we think that we’re the authority on it, which is true in some capacity.
Santiago Kalinowski: And it’s really hard to really know linguistics. I mean, it takes a lot of training. Somehow, publicly, that idea is lost. I try to explain because I don’t think in Spanish this is a linguistic change. I think this is a rhetorical intervention – which is fantastic – because it’s a very powerful device that has everyone talking about this and everyone thinking about, “How are we making women invisible? What will we talk?” In this sense, it is a very powerful device. And the ones that are against the social change are against this device. I mean, they hate it. And I claim they don’t hate it because they are really worried about the vowels at the end of words, I claim they really hate it because they hate the claim that comes around it.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, they wanna maintain the patriarchy.
Megan Figueroa: Just to make sure that our listeners understand – so we mentioned that the Royal Academy is saying that the masculine default is already inclusive of all genders. So, in Spanish, if you have a group of ten men and one woman, you would use the masculine, correct?
Santiago Kalinowski: And if you have a group of ten women and one man, you use the masculine.
Carrie Gillon: Exactly.
Megan Figueroa: The opposite’s also true. And so you feel that, and you’re like, “That’s not right.”
Santiago Kalinowski: What they say at the Royal Academy is that that’s just conventional, that that doesn’t mean anything, and that really isn’t very convincing, I don’t think. Because you have a word in Latin – you have the word the “homo” in Latin, and you have the world “mulier” in Latin. One means “man” and the other one means “woman,” but it turns out, only men acquired an unmarked interpretation. Right? How is that not meaningful.
I’m not saying that this is a conspiracy or anything. What I’m claiming in the media all the time, and this is something I wanted to discuss with you guys because it’s highly speculative, is that we’ve been talking, I dunno, 400 thousand years we are using languages as a species. During that time, the male of species has been occupying every possible position of power or visibility – when politics came along, every office, art, you name it. In that sense, the grammar codified something that is coherent with the social reality, with the history of the species. That’s what I’m claiming. The fact that we have an unmarked interpretation for the masculine is not casual – is not meaningless.
Now, of course, changing words because the other thing that is really popular is linguistic relativism. That’s the other thing you have to deal with when you’re communicating linguistic ideas. People think that using this is gonna change society radically, and it’s not. I mean, it’s important because it creates a message, and that message might permeate and might capture the imagination of more and more people until there’s a consensus about how unjust, how unequal, the society is. But you have to deal with the fact that people think that we conceive of society, we organize society, in radically different ways because we speak different languages or because we changed a feature of our language.
Megan Figueroa: I pulled another quote from the director of the Academy, and he says, “Don’t confuse grammar with machismo.”
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, you know –
Megan Figueroa: Which I think –
Santiago Kalinowski: Yeah. But, you know, and I’m saying this is something – like I said – not a conspiracy, but this happens sort of naturally. In every space, everything is occupied by the male of the species, it naturally gets codified like that in the grammar. But now, 21st Century, every time you use the generic masculine, you’re reinforcing that social history of the species. That’s what I’m contending. That’s what I claim. It’s a reinforcement. So, if you wanna be active and you want to do something about it, nothing makes more sense than intervening that reinforcement and creating something that gets in the way there.
Megan Figueroa: In this case, I mean, maybe this man this is the director doesn’t want to use inclusive language in his own language, but to be so against other people using it, that’s where I feel like it’s the proxy for machismo. That’s where grammar is machismo.
Santiago Kalinowski: That’s the thing. Because you see the reactions. Those are really tempered reactions. He’s a very public figure. And that’s sort of an institutional position for the Academy. But this is not really a linguistic phenomenon. It’s a rhetorical phenomenon. Then would an academy of letters have a position? They shouldn’t because we’re not supposed to have political positions although everything is political. The equivocation, I think, is that they are unable to think this thing outside the framework of what is considered the linguistic system and the grammar of language. Because once you open, you broaden your scope, and you include discourse configuration of social struggle, then you understand that this is only capitalizing on the possibilities that a language has to create a message that is really powerful.
Megan Figueroa: And to go back to the abortion debate – we’ll link to it or, again, put audio in – but that woman that was interviewed that you sent to me, she is getting a lot of backlash, right. She uses inclusive language throughout her whole interview.
Santiago Kalinowski: And because she is a teenager.
Megan Figueroa: Yes, she’s a teenage girl, right.
Santiago Kalinowski: She’s a teenage girl, and she’s highly educated, I would say. I wanted to say when she speaks, she’s highly articulate, and she has very strong political positions. Naturally, she is using lenguaje inclusivo. So, in addition to all the machismo that the rejection of this device gets, she is getting all the ageism that –
Carrie Gillon: Of course, yeah, always.
Santiago Kalinowski: This thing has been around for a while, and it’s fairly under the radar. But with the discussion around abortion, and with the visibility that this girl had – because they were occupying the school. That’s a type protest that students do here. Sometimes they would suspend classes and have a big gathering as a way of expressing their position that will usually come at the result of a vote. Since she had this visibility, it went crazy. It was brutal. They tried to dismiss her. They tried to underestimate her. And after that, people started thinking that this was a phenomenon exclusive to the teenagers, which denies the fact that it has been around for, like, 30 years at least – and before that. Probably it had a lot of critiques of language as well – of the sexism that is coded into the language.
Megan Figueroa: Right. And that’s just ignoring all of the non-binary folks that have probably been doing something with language for a long time that we haven’t been seeing, at least not in the mainstream.
Santiago Kalinowski: I feel that, in English, as the language is not so expressive of gender in general, non-binary is actually a main feature there, I think. But here, this has been championed by women against the use of collective names in the masculine. So far, it’s mainly about that. We are still to have the debate around non-binary basically I think because we also lack voices from that community that are strong enough – like non-binary people from academia and things like that. You had a wonderful interview to a syntactician. I listened to that twice.
Megan Figueroa: That was a really great interview. Going back to, again, children or younger people, the video I was talking about earlier with the young girl using inclusive language, I just wonder what you – I am not a native speaker of a language that has such expressive gender as Spanish. How easy is it to just switch to this?
Santiago Kalinowski: It’s really hard.
Megan Figueroa: Okay.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Santiago Kalinowski: That’s the one thing. That girl, the accusation is that she’s ignorant. But in order to be able to use it, you have to have such competence in the grammar of Spanish that it’s only – that’s perhaps the one thing you could say – it has perhaps a problem of accessibility because you really have to know a lot of grammar to be able to use it properly. You have to know what a morpheme is, where to put it, where not to put it because when people try to use it and they don’t know, they just put it, like, inanimate objects and stuff. They don’t really know – they say things like, instead of “lenguaje inclusivo,” “lenguaje inclusive,” because they just put the E wherever they think it should go.
But actually “lenguaje” is a masculine noun. There’s no problem with that. And if you put the E there, you turn “inclusivo” from an adjective to an adverb, “inclusive.” That’s an adverb in Spanish. People make lots of mistakes using it. Only the ones that are really, really competent and have a lot of linguistic consciousness – I mean, like, they know what constitutes a word, what are the parts of the phrase, all of those things – only those are able to use it properly. To accuse someone of being ignorant when they’re using it like that so fluently and capably, it’s just a mistake. It’s just wrong.
Carrie Gillon: That’s amazing actually.
Megan Figueroa: Oh my gosh.
Santiago Kalinowski: And that’s the other thing that you could say. Maybe the accusation would be “This is elitist” because normal folks, they don’t have the resources to really use it like that. It’s really anti-intuitive, and it’s really hard to get it right. That’s what you could say. It’s a phenomenon of the political elite that are highly educated. That’s what you could say perhaps. But the other accusation is just – well, just stupid.
Megan Figueroa: I can totally see, after hearing you say that, how you’re arguing that’s a rhetorical device because it’s so hard to do, but they’re doing it anyway. And they want to make this point.
Santiago Kalinowski: It’s also the result of a very long effort – intellectual effort – from a lot of people. It has been designed like that. It is a conscious effort. All of those things separate it from a linguistic change in the sense that we know linguistic change in general in every language. It is not something that we can associate with that.
Somehow, the other thing that people think is that if it’s not codified in the grammar, it’s irrelevant, which is, of course, not true because if you have a look at the history of the Spanish language or the Romance languages in general, you can recognize rhetorical devices there in Spanish, and then Latin, and in Greek. And language changed, and the sounds changed, and the syntax changed, but the rhetorical device is always there fairly similar to itself. So, to say that this is a rhetorical device in that sense may give it not less relevance or less possibility to endure in time but more.
But somehow the debate is focused on the fact that if it’s not in the grammar, it is not relevant, and it is not important, or it is a sign of ignorance, which all of those things are not true. So, yeah, I mean, if you want to forbid people from using it, accusing them of destroying the language or – this is something that has been happening forever. Every social struggle ended up creating their own words and their own way of talking about it. This is just the way that they found, and it’s incredibly, I would say, potent.
Megan Figueroa: It’s very potent. It’s very beautiful. You mentioned destroying the language. That’s the flip side of the argument that it’s elitist. “Latinx” just got introduced into Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. People are both happy and disgusted. There are a lot of people that think that adding something like “Latinx” to the dictionary is destroying something. I think that that must be also happening in your Spanish-speaking world. They think that this is contaminating the language in some way.
Santiago Kalinowski: In the 19th Century, when all the Spanish empires started falling apart, linguists at the time, they were afraid that this would mean that the unity of the Spanish language was under threat because they had studied the Latin case very much. And in the 19th Century, it’s the first time that they really had a scientific approach or a scientific description of what had happened when the Latin empire fell. When the Spanish Empire started to fall, they thought that this was going to be the case, that Argentina, we would have one language, and then Mexico another, and in Spain another, and we wouldn’t be able to understand each other. So, this is sort of understandable if you’re a linguist of the 19th Century.
But in the middle of the 20th Century and even today, this idea that the unity of the Spanish language is under threat is still being communicated. It’s still being said. Even though there has been no evidence that there has been the slightest problem in the way that we understand each other. You get someone from Cuba, and he travels to, or she, travels to, I don’t know, the south of Chile, and outside some words, they understand each other perfectly. I mean, lexical differences might be there, but that’s just something very –
And that’s what I think will perhaps happen with the lenguaje inclusivo is that, as it progresses, and it triumphs in the social arena, that lexical items will be codified as discourse markers. Instead of using it productively in every word with a O/A ending, you will be able to introduce some lexical item that already sends the message of what your politics are about that. It reactivates your – I have this word in Spanish – denounce, you know, when you critique unequal conditions in the society, this is all going to be activated by the introduction of one of those lexical items.
So, this is something that I see really very likely, and I see very unlikely that it will become the way in which the Spanish grammar structures gender because I don’t see 500 million speakers doing all that. It’s really hard. Although, you never know – you never really know.
Megan Figueroa: You never know. This is what we’re seeing here in the US. I mean, it’s absolutely true that I’ll use “Latinx” to like – I’ll use it as a marker for anyone that reads it to know that I care about non-binary folks –
Santiago Kalinowski: “I’m aware of this” – yeah.
Megan Figueroa: – gender queer – yeah. It has been codified now. I mean, we have it in the dictionary. Some people are like, “It’s not real until it’s in the dictionary.” That’s not true. But here we are. It is in the dictionary now. And still people are angry because people like to be angry.
Santiago Kalinowski: Oh, people are always angry, yeah. We produce a dictionary here, and we get that as well when we put words that they don’t like. But that’s basically the same thing about what a dictionary is. There’s a wrong conception in the public about what it is and how it works.
Every time I do this interview, I end up saying, “Well, if the word that you use and know” – because they would say something like, “Does this word exist?” I mean, you just used it. You just used it. I understood what it meant. You know what it means. How can it not exist? And the idea that is mind-boggling for many journalists that I talk with that are not linguists is, “Oh, oh, but the dictionary has a hole if it doesn’t have that word. It’s a problem of the dictionary. The dictionary is incomplete.”
So, speakers use lexical items as the most ready way of adjusting language. I mean, we acquire new words every year. Like, speakers do it constantly. The borrow words. They take words from other languages and use them – apply them to – that’s why we have to re-issue the dictionary every five, ten years or so. That’s the way speakers deal with changes in reality.
A grammatical change is much more difficult – grammatical change of this scale – because in English the singular they has been, like you said repeatedly, has been around forever. What you need to change there is the sub-feature of the meaning of the pronoun. Here it requires overhauling the entire gender structure. That is something that is often lost when you’re talking publicly about this thing.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t think we’ve actually said what the thing is that’s being changed, like really explicitly. Can you explain the morpheme that’s changing?
Santiago Kalinowski: Yes. Well, Spanish really marks everything as masculine or feminine. Adjectives – “bueno,” “buena,” “It’s good. Those are basically the two options. At the beginning, the tended to use both, “bueno y buena,” just to include. That was really clumsy because it created long, long sentences. And then they used the @ sign in that place. People got angry about that because it sort of looks like an O inside an A or something. It got accused of being a re-issue of binary.
Megan Figueroa: Right, right.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I mean, I guess that’s true.
Santiago Kalinowski: It is, I dunno. It does look a bit like an O inside an A. Then they changed that for an X, but since that’s not pronounceable, they use the letter E. Instead of “bueno/buena,” you would say, “buene,” which is really anti-intuitive.
Carrie Gillon: To me, as a linguist, it’s actually very intuitive. When people started using X, I was like, “Why not E?” That makes more sense to me.
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, that’s the thing. The one thing that makes you think that this has something to do with natural languages that they chose that letter. That letter has some problems because some nouns with that letter are masculine. So, you could’ve used I or U and it would’ve avoided that problem. But the fact that they used E might signal to the fact that that is a vowel that occupies that place in word formation in Spanish. So, it has a tradition. It sounds more natural that way. That’s what they’re doing now. And it creates like, literally, you have to keep track of all the accord across a sentence. And you really, really have to be competent to be able to go against what you naturally would do and use that vowel instead.
Megan Figueroa: Just thinking about the clumsy, non-native speaker of Spanish that I am, you have to keep track of all that. I’m like, oh my gosh. That’s why I had to ask you if it’s difficult to do, and I had a feeling it was because – yeah.
Santiago Kalinowski: I would say maybe because you have to remember – well, it’s not – maybe for someone who is learning Spanish it’s just as hard as keeping track of the accord in regular Spanish. The problem comes when you are already a native speaker, and your intuition is really powerful, and everything in your mind, when you’re trying to focus on the message and stop focusing on the form, it really gets hard to keep up because, as much as you have to stay focused on what you’re saying, you have to focus your retention on how you’re saying it.
Megan Figueroa: That’s why that teenage girl was so remarkable. She was so passionate, and that interview was just amazing.
Santiago Kalinowski: She was very articulate, and her argument was perfect, and she was able to keep track of all the E’s in the right spots and the right places every time. So, accuse her of whatever you want, never accuse her of being ignorant or not knowing how to speak because that takes massive skills.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, absolutely.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. And everyone who’s been a teenage girl listening to this is like, “Of course they underestimated her.” Teenage girls are very underestimated.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Santiago Kalinowski: We have the very old, like – oh, I’d say sexist because that’s what they are – journalists being outraged by this, which adds to the fun of using it when you’re a teenager.
Carrie Gillon: Exactly. It makes me wanna be able to do it. I don’t speak Spanish, so I can’t. [Laughter]
Santiago Kalinowski: Also, it builds a sense of identity because you use that, and it means you’re part of a group that’s making history in your generation that is taking things to the next level in terms of sexual equality. From the point of the view of your identity as a group, something that is a very strong feature of that age, it’s really, really important. That’s why maybe they are the group that is using it most extensively or something, but it’s not something that is exclusive to them by no means.
And you get a lot of different situations in the classroom because sometimes it’s the teacher who is using it. That makes some parents angry. So, it’s a mess.
Carrie Gillon: I can totally imagine it.
Megan Figueroa: Yep.
Santiago Kalinowski: This discussion has been around for a long time, like tens of years. In Venezuela, in the constitution of nineteen ninety – I dunno – nine, I think it is, they wrote the entire thing with double endings. [Approving noises]
Megan Figueroa: But what about the economic essence? [Laughter]
Santiago Kalinowski: Where’s the essence? Well, the essence is out the window when you need to make a political statement.
Megan Figueroa: Wow, that’s amazing.
Carrie Gillon: That’s really cool.
Santiago Kalinowski: Yeah, and it gets cited over and over again of an abhorrent example of what would happen, but that’s actually a piece of legislation. There’s a great, great grammarian in Spanish called Ignacio /βokke/ – “Bosque” so that our Mexican friends understand. He says that nobody speaks like that – nobody could speak like that – and the proof of that is that when you turn the camera off, everybody stops using that and falls back to whatever they were using before.
He is using that as an argument of how this should not be used. But I don’t see a problem. What’s the problem of having a device that you’re using more if you’re speaking publicly? It’s a way in which you create this idea around your message, around the form that you choose when you’re speaking publicly. There’s nothing wrong if, when the camera shuts off, you fall back to whatever is more intuitive or whatever. So, what’s the problem there? Others say it’s propaganda. What’s the problem of it being propaganda? Its propagating something that is very positive. It’s propagating social progress. So, why is that wrong?
Carrie Gillon: How can you complain about propaganda when you are also using propaganda by saying that this is bad?
Santiago Kalinowski: This person wanted us to forbid people from using inclusivo in the university, she was phrasing everything as if she had no ideology and only the people using inclusivo had ideology.
Carrie Gillon: Right. That’s what they do! That’s a rhetorical trick that they use.
Santiago Kalinowski: “I’m not being political. You are being political. I’m not ideological. You are.” And the ideology, like we said, this is a proxy. They really are against social change and social – they’re not worried about one vowel, I don’t think.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, exactly.
Megan Figueroa: Right. What can other gendered languages learn from Spanish and what Spanish speakers are doing with inclusive language do you think?
Santiago Kalinowski: I think it’s a great opportunity because I have never been able to say more things publicly about what language is and how it changes than now. And you have this very same debate in French with even, like, the President deciding not to use inclusive formulas in official documents, but you have entire school books that are published in France that have some sort of inclusive formula at the end of the words. They use points to include both endings, and everything is with an E there.
Carrie Gillon: An unpronounced E.
Santiago Kalinowski: Yeah, that’s something that it looks different; it doesn’t sound much different. But in Spanish it really does sound different. It’s an opportunity to put out there an idea that you cannot police language, that language is something that happens. When I go out and communicate how things are with the dictionary, I feel like, you know, Copernicus because I’m not talking to people who don’t think anything. I’m saying, “Well, the Earth is round” to people who think the Earth is flat. It’s much more difficult because they have this backwards idea of what language is.
For us, it’s a very unique opportunity. And I say “unique” in the new sense that is now in the dictionary. [Laughter] It’s a unique way in which we can communicate ideas about language and try to do some good in an arena that is really tragic, I would say.
Megan Figueroa: Yes.
Santiago Kalinowski: The ideas people have – I hear people saying, “We Argentinians, we speak wrong. Our Spanish is bad.” All of the things that you encounter time and time again in every non-standard or whatever. We have a standard – the standard of Buenos Aires. We impose it to the provinces, but then many people feel that we are sub-standard in respect to what they do in Madrid. Those ideas, the power dynamics behind those ideas, are there, and I’m trying to do whatever I can to put in the society more scientific ideas.
Carrie Gillon: Well, good. That’s what we’re trying to do, too.
Megan Figueroa: You’re doing the good work.
Santiago Kalinowski: I really relate to what you do. I really relate to what you’re trying to do with the podcast. I actually stole things from you. The idea that language is proxy for racial or class discrimination, sexual discrimination – that proxy idea, I think it’s really elegant, and I’ve been using it here in the media here in Buenos Aires time and time again.
Carrie Gillon: Great!
Megan Figueroa: Yay! I love it.
Santiago Kalinowski: I should pay you guys something.
Carrie Gillon: That’s really cool. Thank you for doing that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, thank you. I’m just really excited for our listeners to hear this episode. I think it’s so – again, this has been around for decades – but this is very timely.
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, that’s the thing. It’s happening in English. I know in the Nordic languages it’s happening. They have this “hen” pronoun. It’s happening in French. I know that Germans are doing it. Really, when people try to leave the discussion of the inclusive out of the classroom, what they’re doing is they’re preventing the students from participating in one of the most relevant debates of the present period – global debates – and you’re not giving them the tools to understand what is happening.
All these ideas of “Yeah, this is a linguistic change, and it’s gonna be in the grammar, and that’s it. And it has always been like that. It’s something that gets said.” You have to bring that down a little bit and saying, “Well, it’s hard for the grammar to change.” But on the other side, you have to go against all the people that, because it’s hard grammatically, they use that as an argument to prevent it from being used. It’s really authoritarian. This person, she was really authoritarian in her desire – underestimating the students.
Carrie Gillon: I find it very ironic that people who argue against these things accuse us of being authoritarian. But they’re the ones using the authoritarian tactics.
Megan Figueroa: Right. And never trust anyone that says, “It’s always been this way.”
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Even if it’s true, it’s not a good argument.
Megan Figueroa: No.
Santiago Kalinowski: And nobody really – I mean, I have never seen cases of someone trying to force another person to use it. Like, that is not really happening. There’s no one – this is something that Ignacio Bosque, this guy that we – he’s a great grammarian – his reaction was – because in some texts there was talk about punishing people that didn’t use it – he reacted as a descriptivist. But since this phenomenon is not linguistic but rhetorical, and social, and political, people don’t listen to what he says in linguistic terms, they listen to what he says as a political statement.
And that’s the problem with creating an institutional position around this, against this, or even in favor. It’s not a linguistic phenomenon per se. It uses language. It capitalizes on the possibilities of language. But it’s not – in Spanish at least – I don’t think, and it’s my opinion, of course – it’s not really a linguistic phenomenon, it’s a rhetorical phenomenon. So, linguists shouldn’t really use linguistic arguments to go against it, really, because, you know, it’s just – and we have had cases – I put an example of this poet in the early 20th Century who would just invent words for aesthetic effect. This is just inventing words for political effects. It’s just really nothing new.
You could not say to this guy, “Dude, you cannot use this word because it’s not in the dictionary,” because he would laugh in your face. “I don’t need the word to be in the dictionary. I’m playing on the sounds of words to evoke things that I’m interested in. And that’s it.” When language is used to create an effect in others, coordinates of the linguistic system, you can set them aside a bit, and you use that in order to achieve something else. That’s what’s bogus about the economy argument.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, no, that’s just total bunk. I mean, all linguists should know that language is redundant inherently.
Santiago Kalinowski: Of course!
Carrie Gillon: Partially so that we know for sure that our message gets across. We say it in multiple ways. There’s a person that I’m reminded of. I don’t know if you know Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist?
Santiago Kalinowski: I don’t think so, no.
Carrie Gillon: So, the reason why he became famous recently, at least in North America, is because he claimed that the Canadian government was trying to force him to use pronouns like “they.” He was accusing the Canadian government of being authoritarian. And it was false. The document was basically something like, “Hey, let’s be more inclusive,” but nowhere was it prescriptive. These bad faith arguments keep coming up.
Santiago Kalinowski: Oh, yeah, they changed the anthem in Canada.
Carrie Gillon: This is true.
Santiago Kalinowski: That’s a political statement as well. I mean, and it’s the most public – language at its most public instance in the anthem. It’s really where you – and that’s the same thing about legislation because now there’s this kerfuffle going between the Spanish government and the Royal Academy because the Spanish government now has the majority of women ministers for [inaudible] [00:58:45].
Carrie Gillon: Oh, I did not that. That’s awesome.
Megan Figueroa: That’s right, yeah!
Santiago Kalinowski: And they asked the Royal Academy to review the constitution to make it more inclusive, which you can imagine how much noise that created for the Academy and its position about the fact that masculine is already inclusive. If there’s one place where language is not natural, it’s in legislation. And it shouldn’t be natural. It should be there to contemplate different situations that pertain to the way in which we organize society. They’re there so that we create a code that can encompass, that can include, everyone. In Venezuela, it’s not like people here in the street and everyone is using that because it’s like that in the constitution.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, how many people have read it?
Santiago Kalinowski: You have to understand this difference. This is, I think, a subtle difference. It’s a subtle difference between what’s rhetorical, and what’s linguistic, and what’s the difference between a linguistic phenomenon and the fact that something is used subconsciously, or something used – many people that are making public statements about inclusivo, they just say, “Well, this is something that is now happening because there are more women now in groups.” And women have been around in groups forever. I mean, you have groups with majority of women always. So, there’s something else that changed here.
Those differences are really hard to grasp if you do not have some sort of training. That’s hard. That’s why I regret so much that linguists have abandoned the public arena so much here because we left it open for the Royal Academy and people in there to create this idea that language is decided by an authority and that speakers have to follow that. You know that we use an originally plural pronoun in the singular here in Argentina.
Megan Figueroa: Really?
Santiago Kalinowski: Normally, we don’t go – you know how the conjugation in Spanish goes, right? It’s “yo, tú, él,” right. Well, we don’t do that. We go “yo, vos, él.” We use “vos,” like, the French do that.
Carrie Gillon: It’s the same thing that happened in English! “You” used to be the plural.
Santiago Kalinowski: The Academy, including the Argentinian Academy, was against the use of “vos” as the regular second person singular way of speaking here. Several authorities have been against that saying that it was a deformation, an infection, a disease or whatever using – it started in the 19th Century with this very important Columbian linguist called Andrés Bello. He was the first one to put out that idea, and it got reproduced all through the 20th Century in various important institutions, including us. I’m sorry about that, but that’s how things are.
Speakers didn’t care. They didn’t care. We have what we call the golden age of cinema here in like the, I think, the ‘50s where many movies were made, and it was really big. All of those movies that were spoken in Spanish and made here in Argentina – none of them, or a very small minority of them, used “vos” in dialogue in those movies. And speakers didn’t care. There’s not really any advantage – communicative advantage – of using that instead of “tú.” It’s just the same. They’re equivalent. It’s even more regular than the tú conjugation because, you know – the word “to have” is “tener,” right? In tú, you have to use put a diphthong there. You have to say, “tú tienes,” which is an irregularity.
With vos, you don’t have to do that. You just go, “vos tenes.” When I was teaching Spanish here, I would just say to foreign students, “Just take the R of the infinitive, put an S there, and there you have it. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.” It’s more regular. Speakers preferred that, and that’s what they used. They didn’t care about anyone saying that they shouldn’t use it.
Carrie Gillon: Yep, you can’t stop us.
Santiago Kalinowski: You can’t. Really, you can’t. There are things that we have to do – because, you know, the cultured language or the standard is a phenomenon that is in the speakers. We all think we can speak with more and less care depending on the communicative situation. You don’t speak in the same way with a friend and in a job interview. That is a phenomenon that is – it’s not the academies or the institutions that created that. That is something that happens – it’s a register thing. It’s a phenomenon of the speakers, really.
So, what we do here – you can call here and ask us, “What is considered to be standard and what not?” because if you get it wrong in a, I dunno, in a CV or in a job interview, that might cost you a job. What we do here is we help people figure out what is considered to be the standard way of speaking so that they don’t get punished in those situations. That’s one of the things we do as an academy.
The other thing we do is we include our normal words in the dictionary because if people see them in the dictionary, they stop feeling that they’re the wrong word. You have this very powerful – I would say, in part, normative – object, the dictionary. When something gets included there, you feel validated. You feel validated that your word is actually a word because this idea that the word has to be in the dictionary in order for it to exist is really powerful. We’re trying to get people to have a better appreciation about their own variety. If their dialect makes it into a dictionary, that makes it more formal or something. That’s the idea that it communicates in a way. Those are the things the academies need to do.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I think we’ve kind of run out of time. So, unless there’s one more question, Megan?
Megan Figueroa: No, I think we got the big questions we had, yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Thank you again! That was great.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, thank you so much.
Santiago Kalinowski: Thank you. It was a lot of fun. I loved talking to you.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, it was really great.
Megan Figueroa: I was great. And I’m so excited for everyone to hear this episode. I think it’s really important – and it’s super interesting.
Santiago Kalinowski: Let’s see where it goes. It’s not going away!
Carrie Gillon: No.
Megan Figueroa: Well, thank you so much, Santiago. And we leave our listeners with our favorite phrase – don’t be an asshole.
Carrie Gillon: Don’t be an asshole.
Santiago Kalinowski: Don’t be an asshole.
Megan Figueroa: How do you say it in Spanish? How would you say it in Spanish?
Santiago Kalinowski: Well, I was thinking about this. I would say – and I would use our word for “asshole.” I would say, “No sean forros.”
Carrie Gillon: Nice!
Megan Figueroa: I love it!
Santiago Kalinowski: Right? “Forro” is a bit of a harsh word here. It is a word for “condom.”
Megan Figueroa: Oh! Okay.
Santiago Kalinowski: But in Spanish – in Argentinian Spanish and around other places too – it means “asshole.”
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Carrie Gillon: Perfect. [Laughter] That’s awesome. Thanks again, and bye!
Megan Figueroa: Bye!
Santiago Kalinowski: Bye-bye!
Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio, theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @VocalFriesPod. You can email us at email@example.com.