Gracias a todos. Adiós a todos…
What strikes you about these greetings? Not too long ago, addressing a group of people in this way would be uncontroversial. Nowadays however, people think twice, and literally double the number of words in these short phrases, in order to include the female half of the population:
“Hola a todas y a todos”.
By no means everyone obeys this unwritten, but increasingly adhered-to rule; there is still a significant swathe of the population who are untroubled the traditional way of referring to groups or individuals, and who resent the tinkering with the language by the ‘woke left’, as they might put it. This post is designed to report back to you on what happens, rather than what I personally think should happen, in terms of the words to use. Every effort will be made to write objectively, without sounding judgey or disrespectful to either side.
Why is it even an issue?
For a while now, we English speakers have been encouraged to say police officer and cabin crew instead of policeman and air stewardess – amongst a bewilderingly long list of others. Some people might huff and puff at this and refuse, or forget, but political correctness is here to stay.
In Spanish, as indeed in all other European languages that are gendered, it is even more difficult than English to find words and phrases that are inclusive but not cumbersome or ridiculous. This post could become a thirty-page study of examples of how and why Spanish has evolved in recent years, but I’ll be disciplined and stick to the single phrase in the title.
Hola a tod@s
This is what I see regularly on Spanish Facebook groups.
It is neat, modern, and pleasingly corresponds to exactly what it represents. The @ symbol (which by the way is called “arroba” in Spanish) could have literally been designed to represent an equally weighted ‘a’ and ‘o’, so it fits the bill perfectly here.
This obviously works well on the page, but try saying it out loud. We’re back to the same problem!
Hola a todas y a todos
It unarguably does the job of including people of both genders. Oh no! That’s the next caja de los truenos – at what point does a language officially recognise that there are more than two genders?
The Spanish speak so fast* that it is not going to cause any major hardship to have to utter a single short phrase like this, so what’s the big deal? Well, imagine a political speech or an official document, which have to give feminine and masculine versions of every noun. It’s exhausting!
Wait, “have to”? Really? The former for reasons of expedience, the latter, increasingly, by law.
*It’s not just you: it is literally true that the Spanish spoken in Spain is the most rapidly-spoken language in the world. Add to that the technical-sounding reason that Spanish is a syllable-timed-, not a stress-timed language, and the phrase like a machine-gun becomes very accurate. Read more here: Dodging-the-machine-gun-spanish-bullets
Hola a todes
I believe this was put forward as a compromise – the ‘e’ being halfway between the ‘a’ and the ‘o’, but as far as I know, it has never really caught on.
Neat, simple to write and to pronounce, and is already an accepted form for many “neutral” plurals:
· Las camisas son grises (feminine plural)
· Los coches son grises (masculine plural)
Apparently pleases neither side!
This option was possibly inspired by the approach taken in Sweden to the same issue. In characteristically efficient Scandinavian fashion, Swedish has got around this problem by inventing a completely new pronoun: “hen” is the neutral he/she pronoun, half-way between han (he) and hon (she).
Hola a todos
Simpler. You can cite any grammar book published before 1995 to bolster your case, to default to the masculine for mixed plurals.
The “as you were” approach might appeal to the die-hard traditionalists, who claim two thousand years of history as vindication, but with every passing generation, they are less likely to win the argument.
For much more detail on this, and related tangents, you can see my recent blog on the Gender of Nouns.
The phrase in context
Away from the vagaries of Spanish grammar for a moment, I would like to say in the most humble and heartfelt way, “Gracias a todas y a todos” to you. As some of you know, I lost an awful lot to the pandemic – all my business classes quit more or less overnight, and I wondered at one point whether I’d be able to continue at all. I am so grateful to everyone who is reading this, whether you have just recently joined a group, or whether you are one of my originals! Onwards and upwards – hopefully gaining more and more confidence and proficiency in the language but also meeting new people and learning from others’ experiences of this wonderful language and country.
Andrew Wenger, SameSky Languages Some of our classes are now full, but there are a few places in certain groups, and we are always open to the idea of starting up new ones, depending on demand. Please contact me here if you would like to find out more about joining a class