I would like to draw attention to an interesting new development in the writing of (essentially so far) peninsular Spanish, which arrestingly combines the discourses of cyberutopia and equal opportunities. It is now quite frequent in academic, feminist and even some mainstream circles (e.g. bookshop websites) to use a new, gender-neutral graphic convention for certain nouns, adjectives and even articles (wherever the endings -o/-a and -os/-as apply). Where a gender-neutral or gender-indeterminate referent is implied, the terminations -o (masculine) and -a (feminine) are both replaced by the graphic neologism @ (in other words, the ‘at’ sign’ familiar from email addresses), so that ‘amigo y/o amiga’ (male and/or female friend) becomes ‘amig@’. Similarly, in the plural ‘los/las amigos/amigas’ (‘the male friends and/or the female friends’) becomes ‘l@s amig@s’, i.e. friends of either gender, both genders or non-specified gender. In at least some people’s usage, then, a new letter has been added to the Spanish alphabet. In a further curious twist, this usage is not transferable to speech and remains confined to page and screen, thus serving in the cyber age to call in question the orthodox notion of the absolute primacy of speech over writing.

This is an extract from my paper ‘Why the Internet age will not accept simplified English spelling’, given at the University of Mannheim, Germany in July 2005). The full text is at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/Mannheim.pdf , and considers aspects of English, Spanish and Portuguese spelling.
I should add that I have recently encountered the cyberfeminist @ in Portuguese as well, but so far only in friends’ emails. Further information would be welcome!


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