GENDER IN LANGUAGE PROJECT



by JESUS DUARTE

PRONUNCIATION OF THE X

One of the most widely used gender-inclusive Spanish forms is the x morpheme. Many people believe that the x is incompatible with Spanish phonology. However, attested pronunciations of the x in speech show that it is produced by speakers in ways that are compatible with the rules of Spanish phonology. The [ks] sound is often pronounced with the insertion of a vowel (IPA: [eks] by native speakers, [ɛks] by nonnative speakers whose native language is English), and the x is also pronounced as the vowel [e].

Spanish syllabification consists of three parts, onset, coda, and nucleus. According to the rules of the language, the nucleus of a syllable MUST be a vowel, resulting in syllables following the patterns:

V

a, y, o

CV

la, de, me

VC

el, al, en

CVC

los, las, les

CVCC

cons-tan-te

CCV

tre-gua

CCVC

tres, tras

CCVCC

trans-por-te

The possibility of diphthongs being the nucleus also allows VV (e.g. leo -> CVV) in place of V.

The problem with the sound [ks] alone is that it breaks many of these syllabification patterns, hence the vowel insertion in attested pronunciations. When considering grammatical gender in Spanish, it is marked by a vowel at the end of the syllable, leaving the following possibilities for the syllable occupying the position of the gender morpheme:


V, CV, and CCV


When the vowel is replaced by the sound [ks] with no vowel inserted, (changing to C, CC, and CCC) the rules are broken and this pronunciation is considered wrong, ungrammatical, or simply impossible.


Example of this include:

latinx

*[la.i.nks]

*CV-CV-CCC

mexicanxs

*[me.xi.ka.nks]

*CV-CV-CV-CCC

Following previously stated rules, the last syllable is ungrammatical in Spanish due to the lack of a nucleus in the absence of a vowel. This leads to the perception that -x cannot be a 'valid' gender morpheme.


There are four pronunciations of gender-inclusive x (most common in bold), all of which solve this problem by inserting a vowel into the syllable, or by pronouncing the x as a vowel:

[eks]

[la.i.neks]

[ɛks]

[la.i.nɛks]

[ek.is]

[la.i.nek.is]

[e]

[la.i.ne]

For plural forms using the gender-inclusive x, there are also multiple attested pronunciations. Written forms follow the Standard Spanish rule of adding -s to make the word plural (e.g. latinxs), however when it comes to pronunciation, the [e] is often used to avoid additional vowel insertion (e.g. [eks.es], [ɛks.ɨz]:

latinxs

[la.i.nes]

amigxs

[a.mi.ɣes]

mexicanxs

[me.xi.ka.nes]

However, some still stack the plural phonology, or count the singular phonology as the plural phonology, yielding the following attestations:

latinxs

[la.i.neks.es]

amigxs

[a.mi.ɣeks]

mexicanxs

[me.xi.ka.neks]

How to choose?


While all of these are valid pronunciations for the gender-inclusive x, [eks] and [e] are the two most widely used, as they are the closest to the native phonology of the language. In the United States, [ɛks] is often observed due to the influence of the English language on speakers' pronunciation of Spanish. However, it is rarely observed among native speakers as Spanish only has five vowel sounds [a e i o u].


PRONUNCIATION OF VOCALIC MORPHEMES (-E, -I, -U)

Unlike the x, these morphemes tend to be less disputed as they do not present problems for Standard Spanish phonology (syllabification or pluralization) and behave like canonical gender morphemes (e.g. o, a). Some believe the e to be the most 'phonologically natural' option because it is phonetically closer to both [a] and [o] than [i] and [u] which are both higher. The morpheme e is also an extant gender morpheme in the language. Gender-inclusive reform proposals to use the e morpheme further extend its 'neutral' usage, making it the most widely used of the three innovative vocaliv morphemes.

e [e]

amigue [a.mi.ɣe]

latine [la.i.ne]

i [i]

amigui [a.mi.ɣi]

latini [la.i.ni]

u [u]

amigu [a.mi.ɣu]

latinu [la.i.nu]



APA 7

Duarte, J. (2021). How is gender-inclusive Spanish pronounced? Gender in Language Project. www.genderinlanguage.com/spanish/phonology