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In the United States, the current largest conventional minority is the population with a Spanish heritage, either Spanish speakers themselves or descendants of Spanish speakers. Many of these are immigrants and their descendants, but a significant number are descended from those who lived in Spanish-speaking regions that later became part of the United States — in a wide swath along the border with Mexico, in the southwest more broadly, and in the Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico. There are also significant Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in larger cities, especially in the southwest and Florida. This population has long been recognized for its cultural distinctiveness, and referred to as ‘Hispanics’ (from Latin HISPANIA, “Spain”). Hispanics are treated as a “race” in the US social-political environment, but are not a race in the biological sense; Hispanics would otherwise be considered white, black, and Native American races, as well as mestizo.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the word ‘Hispanic’, but a later trend embraced instead, for this same population, the designation ‘Latino’ (and its declined forms, ‘Latina’, ‘Latinos’, ‘Latinas’), in this sense short for ‘latinoamericano’. This was done presumably on the grounds of authenticity and self-designation — a Spanish name for a group defined by Spanish — though the US Hispanic population contains small numbers not tied to Latin America (such as Spaniards), and the Latin American population in the US contains small numbers not tied to Spanish culture (such as Brazilians). Following Spanish usage, the masculine forms ‘Latino’ and ‘Latinos’ were originally used in English for mixed-gender or gender-neutral nouns. This eventually gave rise to objections on grounds of sexism. Because the gender of most Spanish nouns and adjectives (first and second declension) is indicated by the thematic vowel (which is ‘a’ for the first declension, typically feminine, and ‘o’ for the second declension, typically masculine), this led to the practice, in written English, of substituting a different character for the thematic vowel, such as ‘@’ (which resembles both ‘a’ and ‘o’) or ‘x’ (commonly used in English as a placeholder for an unknown). Eventually ‘Latinx’ became the norm for a small subculture of US activists and others (mostly liberal college graduates) under their influence. Without a thematic vowel, however, the word is unpronounceable (many English speakers render this as ‘Latin’ + ‘X’, [lætɪˈnɛks]). Moreover, the word ‘Latinx’ is almost never declined for the plural (which should be ‘Latinxs’). This in turn has given rise to the ideologically-befuddled combination of ‘Latinx’ for nearly all singulars, and ‘Latinos’ as a gender-neutral plural, sometimes in the same utterance. The use of ‘Latinx’ also undermines the original rationale for ‘Latino’, which was to use an actual Spanish word in preference to the normal English ‘Hispanic’ — which happens to be gender-neutral.

The term ‘Latinx’ is rarely used by US Hispanics, who (if they have a preference) strongly prefer ‘Hispanic’ to ‘Latino’, and overwhelmingly prefer either to ‘Latinx’. (Many US Hispanics identify more strongly with a more specific heritage, such as Mexican or Puerto Rican.) And since speech is the primary form of language and ‘Latinx’ is unpronounceable, the term is not used in Spanish at all. Some younger or more liberal Hispanophones in Latin America have addressed the problem by converting gendered words to the third declension (thematic vowel ‘e’), so that the gender-neutral terms, where used, would be ‘latine’ and ‘latines’.



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