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Gender-Neutral Language in Brazilian Portuguese

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All the time, my students ask me if there is a gender-neutral language in Portuguese. How to refer to a mixed group with men and women? Is there a gender-neutral pronoun? How to refer to non-binary people?

Is there a gender-neutral language in Portuguese?

First, it is important that you know that, officially, there is no gender-neutral language in Portuguese. Portuguese is a very binary language. That is, almost all words are masculine or feminine.

For example:

- Ela é minha amiga. (gênero feminino) / She is my friend. (feminine gender)

- Ele é meu amigo. (gênero masculino) / He is my friend. (masculine gender)

In Portuguese grammar, there is no gender-neutral option to say this same sentence.

When we want to refer to a mixed group, with men and women, we use the masculine plural.

For example:

- Eles são meus amigos. / They are my friends.

This sentence can refer to a group with only men or to a group with men and women. Even if this group has 10 women and one man, we still have to say “they are my friends” in the masculine plural, according to the standard norm.

Now, I would like to talk to you about two types of language:

1. Inclusive language

The inclusive language is a way of using the Portuguese language more inclusively, without breaking any grammatical rules.

For example, instead of saying:

- Ela é brasileira (She is Brazilian) / Ele é brasileiro (De is Brazilian)

We can say, - Aquela pessoa é do Brasil (That person is from Brazil).

The word “pessoa” (person) does not refer to any gender and can be used to refer to any human being.

In the Portuguese language, there are many nouns and adjectives called “uniforms,” which are words that can be used to refer to people of any gender. These words are not exactly neutral, but they can be used in an inclusive language.

Here are some useful articles about uniform words in Portuguese:

Uniform nouns: https://www.normaculta.com.br/substantivo-comum-de-dois-generos/

Uniform adjectives: https://www.todamateria.com.br/adjetivos-uniformes/

2. Gender-Neutral language

Gender-neutral language a new non-binary language that started to be used in Brazil some time ago but has not yet been added to the grammar of the Portuguese language.

Currently, at least 4 gender-neutral language systems are used in Brazil: ELU, ILE, ILU and EL. I will talk a little about the ILE system.

The ILE system

A) Personal pronouns

In the ILE system, the personal pronouns ELE (he) and ELA (she) are replaced by ILE. The same happens with all the words that are formed with the pronouns ELE and ELA.

For example:

dele, dela, dile (his, hers)

aquela, aquele, aquile (that one)

daquela, daquele, daquile (of that one)

B) Possessive and demonstrative pronouns

Possessive and demonstrative pronouns also use the letter E at the end to indicate the neuter gender.

For example:

nosso, nossa, nosse (your/yours)

minha, meu, minhe (our/ours)

minha, meu, minhe (my/mine)

essa, esse, isse (this/that)

C) Nouns and adjectives

Words ending with the letters A or O also use the letter E at the end to indicate the neuter gender.

For example:

garoto, garota, garote (boy, girl)

namorado, namorada, namorade (boyfriend, girlfriend)

parceira, parceiro, parceire (partner)

bonito, bonita, bonite (handsome/pretty)

Let's see some examples in sentences:

Eles são amigos. (linguagem binária) / They are friends. (binary language)

Iles são amigues. (linguagem não-binária) / They are friends. (non-binary language)

Seu amigo passou aqui. (linguagem binária) / Your friend stopped by. (binary language)

Sue amigue passou aqui. (linguagem não-binária) / Your friend stopped by. (non-binary language)

Essa caneta é daquela menina. (linguagem binária) / This pen belongs to that girl. (binary language)

Essa caneta é daquile menine. (linguagem não-binária) / This pen belongs to that person. (non-binary language)

When should I use a gender-neutral language in Portuguese?

The purpose of a gender-neutral language is not to eliminate the masculine or feminine gender from the Portuguese language. That would be very difficult!

The purpose of a gender-neutral language is very simple: it is simply to add a third option, which would be a neutral gender, to refer to people who identify themselves as non-binary.

Therefore, if you have a friend who identifies as a woman, there is no need to use neutral language with her.

Also, remember that neutral language does not apply to objects, animals or things.

Can I use the letter X to identify the neutral gender?

Many years ago, when people started talking about gender-neutral language in Brazil, many people began to use the letter X or @ at the end of words to indicate a neutral gender.

However, words with the letter X or @ are unpronounceable and are not recognizable by operating systems that read to blind people. So, for accessibility reasons, using the letter X or @ is no longer recommended.

Where can I learn more about gender neutral language in Portuguese?

If you want to learn more about all these neutral language systems, I recommend reading the “Manual para o uso da linguagem neutra em Língua Portuguesa” by Gioni Caê. The manual is available for free download here.

That's it, everybody! As I said before, gender-neutral language has not yet been incorporated into grammars and dictionaries. However, as the great Professor Pasquale Cipro Neto always says, grammars and dictionaries record the use of the language and not the other way around. So, if a large number of people start using a neutral language, that language will likely be added to grammars and dictionaries in the future.

I would love to hear your opinion on this matter. Is there gender-neutral language in your country? Write a comment below with your answer.

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