Terminology used to describe people matters when building an inclusive workplace. As more terms are being introduced into workplace vernacular, many company leaders are perplexed about a specific term that is becoming more popular: “Latinx.”
The gender-neutral moniker “Latinx” (pronounced lah-TEEN-ex), plural: “Latinxs” (pronounced lah-TEEX-exez) has been in use online since 2004, mostly in the United States. The term was added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in September of 2018 and is used to describe those persons of Latin American descent who do not identify as male (Latino) or female (Latina) or who simply do not want to be identified by gender. According to the 2019 Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the term “Latinx” is part of the broader conversation on gender-neutral/inclusive terms as it breaks with the Spanish language’s masculine/feminine grammatical tradition with the ‘x’ connoting unspecified gender. Some have suggested similar uses of ‘x’ as in the gender-neutral Mx. (versus Mr. or Ms.), as having influenced the creation and use of “Latinx.”
The adoption of the ‘x’ is similarly, though not as commonly, used in Chicanx and Filipnx.
The frequency of use of “Latinx” has increased year over year, and it is expected that trend will continue in 2019 and beyond – “Latinx” is gaining traction in the United States on social media, and in academic writing. The term is being mentioned without remark or explanation by more and more media outlets like NPR, but not without confusion and sensitivities.
There is currently a lot of confusion about the proper usage of “Latinx” because the term is relatively new, and some perceive it as politicized. There are no hard and fast rules about its application. Linguistically and politically, the term “Latinx” is where Ms. was in the early 1970s and where the singular they was only a few years ago when it was named the 2015 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. Colleen Newvine, product manager of the AP Stylebook, suggests when using the term, it is advised to know your audience.
For instance, LBGTQ communities (especially younger individuals) in several countries are embracing its use, especially those communities in larger cities and those home to academic institutions. Samantha Díaz Roberts wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016 that their perspective is that “Latinx” seeks to transcend traditional gender binaries and improve inclusion for the LBGTQ community, gender binaries and improve inclusion for the LBGTQ community.
Other communities provide politically passionate arguments against the term and the ideology it represents. Some believe its use is disrespectful of the Spanish language and others have resentment of cultural meddling by academic elites, “social justice warriors,” and non-Latinos. Comments in the mainstream press as of this writing, run approximately five to one critical of “Latinx” (as seen in two of the latest articles covering the term Latinx and the politics around it in the New York Times).
When in doubt about its use, it is advised to ask the target audience. Generally speaking, use Latino/a with audiences that are more conservative and over the age of 30, including traditional Catholics and people with a deep reverence for the sanctity of the Spanish language. Consider using “Latinx” with younger (25-30-year-olds), more liberal audiences, including the LBGTQ community, liberal arts/higher education faculty and staff, artistic communities, third-wave feminists, progressive politicians and those who have stated it as a preference.
Be aware that visually-impaired audiences may have difficulty with the word until dictation/narration software learns its pronunciation. (It can be mispronounced as lah-TEEN-inks.) Also, keep in mind that the term’s proper pluralization is Latinxs, not Latinexs. Some audiences will insist on altering articles to reflect gender neutrality as well, so los Latinxs becomes lxs Latinxs, and yet others prefer Latine to Latinx. (The plural of the former is Latines, which avoids the awkward construction and pronunciation pitfalls of Latinxs.) Other efforts for challenging binary reflections of gender include the use of the slash (Latino/a) and the at sign (Latin@) – the @ symbol suggesting inclusivity.
Writing experts are starting to frame how to use it in various contexts. For example, according to the 2019 edition of the AP Stylebook,
“Some prefer the recently coined gender-neutral term ‘Latinx,’ which should be confined to quotations, names of organizations or descriptions of individuals who request it and should be accompanied by a short explanation. Hernandez prefers the gender-neutral term ‘Latinx.’”
Understanding the context and sensitivities of “Latinx” provides additional opportunities for enhancing diversity and inclusiveness while giving insight into bias surrounding the terminology. So, if you’re not sure how your organization should proceed, try starting with open, honest dialogue in your company. That act alone will show that you care about inclusivity. And don’t be surprised if you get some pushback – it’s still a very fluid situation as it’s quite controversial.
“Latinx” and similar terminology may not be a permanent solution to creating gender-inclusive language, but terms like it are at least a temporary solution for addressing non-binary individuals and gender-biased language.
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- Concepción de León, “Another Hot Take on the Term ‘Latinx’”, New York Times, 11/21/2018
- Julian Castro, “What It Means to Be ‘Latinx’ and What That Means for America,” New York Times, 11/14/2018
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