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Language, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, is a “systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.” In other words, language is based on how a whole population can share their thoughts and give meaning to their lives in a way that others may understand what they’re trying to say. It’s how we slowly define our identity in the society we live in. Therefore, it only makes sense that groups of people who have been marginalized and stigmatized for so long finally have the courage to speak up and strive for the implementation of new words in our language. These people should feel that they have a place in our day-to-day conversations, that they are not only seen, but also understood. 

Of course, with change comes opposing sides that question and belittle the situation. “Why is the use of inclusive language all that important?”

Well, to put it in simpler terms, it’s a way to give back the power to those who have been oppressed for so long. They get to decide how they should be addressed. It gives them more of a guarantee, that if used correctly, the language they have created will open the door for them, into a kinder world where hopefully more respect towards them awaits. A study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health reported that the use of inclusive language helped members of the LGBTTQ+ community combat suicidal ideations and depression. 

Looking into the reasons why some people are against inclusive language, I stumbled upon an article titled “Four Dimensions of Criticism Against Gender-Fair Language,” which was written by Hellen Petronella Vergoossen, Emma Aurora Renström, Anna Lindqvist and Marie Gustafsson Sendén. As the title points out, this article talks about the four main reasons why people may oppose inclusive language. These reasons being:

  1. “Status quo bias.” Basically, people would much rather prefer to keep using the same words they have used for many years, than to have to get used to new words that may not sound “normal” or “pretty” for a while. They opt for things to stay the same way they have always been and question the whole concept of inclusive language. 
  2. Some people criticize inclusive language because they themselves are also against the concept of nonbinary people and members of the LGBTTQ+ community. For them, it’s just another thing they can criticize about them. 
  3. Other people heavily argue that new pronouns shouldn’t be made because there are only two genders, and that being able to identify another person’s gender is vital to be able to communicate with them. 
  4. Lastly, there are some people that do not feel comfortable using inclusive language because they feel as if they were going to be ridiculed by other people when using it, or that it might be a cause  for distraction in normal conversations. 

Although people are entitled to their own opinion, I believe that language evolves and there have been many occasions in which new words have been added into our language that obviously may have been “weird” at the start, but that have turned into terms we now use almost everyday. Why is it that it comes naturally to us to add these words into our dictionaries and way of speaking, but when it comes to slowly alternating some words here and there to make other people feel more comfortable with their own identity, we suddenly freeze up?

Also, the concept of gender is not equal to the concept of the sex you are assigned at birth. According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, sex is defined as “the “biological attributes” that a person has given to hormones and genes. Sex is usually divided into male or female.” 

Gender, on the other hand, is a “socially constructed role, set of behaviors, and expressions” that help a person grasp their identity and transmit to others what it means to them. So, there can be a myriad of genders that people can identify with. 

Now, you might be wondering, how did inclusive language even become a thing?

Inclusive language came to be because some people have adopted alterations to words that already exist, in order to make them less binary and gender-focused. For example, here in Puerto Rico, and in Spanish speaking countries, people will usually substitute the last letter of a noun that has to do with gender identity, with the letter “e”. For example, instead of él or ella, the right word to use is “elle”. Sometimes you will also see the letter “x” or the symbol “@” instead of the “e”. On the other hand, in English speaking countries, the equivalent of “elle”, is “they”; a pronoun that was actually accepted by the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2019 and defined as “ a singular person with a non-binary gender identity.” 

Even guides have been published by many different organizations providing detailed explanations of what words to use and which ones not to use when trying to incorporate inclusive language into our conversations. For example,  the American Psychological Association has published guidelines for inclusive language. 

The APA’s guideline aims to “raise awareness, guide learning, and support the use of culturally sensitive terms and phrases that center the voices and perspectives of those who are often marginalized or stereotyped.” It offers replacements for a lot of terms that are considered offensive nowadays and is continuously being edited to stay up-to-date with the latest changes made to inclusive language as we know it. 

In other words, learning how to respect others and getting to know the proper way to address everyone is becoming more accessible with every passing day. It’s our job to educate ourselves about these topics and help make the world a place where everyone feels they can have a seat at the table. 

Hello! I'm an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus and I'm currently majoring in biology. When I'm not writing or studying for a class, I usually end up reading a book or drawing something in my sketchbook. I hope to inspire, educate, and uplift others with what I write.
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