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Why the term Latinx is out and Latine is in

If you were one of the people who didn’t like the term “Latinx,” there’s another option for you: Latine.

They are both gender-neutral terms for people of Latin descent, but Latinx has become controversial — even within the Latino community. 

Now, Latine seems to be taking over. A new Axios-Ipsos poll shows 41% of Latinos in the United States say they are comfortable with Latine.

The Show talked about it with Megan Figueroa, a linguist and research scientist at the University of Arizona and host of the Vocal Fries podcast.

Full conversation

MEGAN FIGUEROA: People seem to say that it is ruining the Spanish language, that it's difficult to pronounce. That Spanish doesn't need it. And that seems to be the big difference between Latine and Latinx. Latinx is a little bit more difficult to pronounce for people. And Latine is something that follows Spanish rules much easier than Latinx does.

LAUREN GILGER: That's really interesting. So it really has to do, you think, with, with just pronunciation, something super basic like that?

FIGUEROA: Well, and, and then there is this idea that they don't want the Spanish language to change and people are kind of not amenable to change, always. Change is difficult. Change is difficult. I think there's also this component that they don't understand why anyone would want to be called Latinx. So there's, there's this kind of socio component as well, where they don't really understand why there is a need for it in the first place.

GILGER: So as we look at the, the Latine term kind of picking up steam. Polls are showing, you know, lots of people in support of this. Pronunciation is one thing. But tell us, you know, where did these terms come from? How does that play into this conversation?

FIGUEROA: It's interesting because I think that for Latinx, there's this misconception that it comes from like people that are in the ivory tower, these people that are non-Latinx people trying to impose it on the Latinx community. And you notice I use Latinx, and I use Latinx and Latine interchangeably. Yeah, they're the same thing. But yeah, there's this misconception and it's not true. Both terms, Latinx and Latine have both come out of activist communities that are Latin American.

GILGER: So there definitely is a perception that Latinx was like imposed on everybody, right? And, and that sparked a lot of rejection as well.

FIGUEROA: It sparked a lot of rejection. And it sparked a lot of rejection within the community. I know here in Arizona even thinking about a couple of years ago, I think it was the end of 2021. Rep. Ruben Gallego said that he would not allow his office to use Latinx in official communications even.

GILGER: And he's a left-wing politician for sure.

FIGUEROA: Exactly. He has this idea that it is coming, it's being imposed from, from above the people.

GILGER: OK. So is this the time to start saying Latine instead? Like is this the new Latinx?

FIGUEROA: I think that the existence of one shouldn't mean that the existence of the other will go away. But I think that there will be use of both because there are still people that prefer Latinx. But if one of your oppositions to the use of Latinx was the fact that it was hard to pronounce, then, then you have Latine now. And so that you should have no problem anymore, right? There should be no problem at all.

GILGER: I mean, so we've had you on The Show before to talk about Latinx. We've had you on The Show to talk about kind of grammar and the use of they-them pronouns, like this idea of binaries in traditional languages in English. But even more so in a language like Spanish, right? Where every noun has a gender in a way. I mean, is that part of the conversation here in just the sense that it's difficult for some people to wrap their head around how to say these things differently and how language can adapt?

FIGUEROA: Yeah, absolutely. So with Latinx, it becomes a matter of OK, if we're going to use this, how do we say like Latinx people in Spanish. Well, we can't just use the X over and over again. But with Latine, let's say you want to say niñas Latines, it's easier to say than, you know, what do you say if there's an X in niños?

GILGER: So, so you're changing it even in other words.

FIGUEROA: Yeah. Absolutely. To conform to the grammatical gender of Spanish. So that's why Latine is so much more preferred I think is because you can actually use it in Spanish speaking. If you're a Spanish speaker, you can use it in Spanish.

GILGER: There's a debate over using “todes” versus [“todos” or “todas"] now if you, you use this Latine idea, right?

FIGUEROA: Exactly. Todes is inclusive of all. So it's not just if you say todos, it could be a group of people that are all genders, but it's this masculine default still. But if you say todes, then it allows for this gender fluidity and it's not assuming that the masculine is the default.

GILGER: So what do you see as, as next in this Megan? Like you talk about this stuff all the time in your podcast. You are studying it as a linguist. You've been talking about Latine for years, long before it became well adopted, right? I mean, where do you see these changes going next in terms of trying to create more inclusive language?

FIGUEROA: I think that we're going to see more and more acceptance. I mean, we're seeing it in the younger crowd. I'm hoping that we will see it more in the older crowd. I know that they're more set in their ways in the Spanish language, it seems, according to polls. But we want to see just everyone kind of wanting this inclusive language to be available to people because it's like the same thing as if someone says their name is Bill, you don't call them Tom, right? So if someone says, if someone says that they want to be called Latine, you don't then say no, no, you're Latino, you're Latino. So it's just the same. It's a matter of respect. And so I think that more and more people are going to get on board with that and hopefully we'll start seeing the numbers that reflect that in the polls.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.