Inclusive language at N26

We analyse the Spanish language from a linguistic perspective and share the techniques we use to fight sexist language and support inclusion.

5 min read

Some people think that banking is all about numbers and figures, but words also play a big role. Without getting too much involved in linguistics, let's establish the premise that it's not only the language that changes as society evolves, but society can also be influenced by how we use language—although to a lesser extent.

This is why we consider it appropriate to worry about certain aspects of the Spanish language, aspects that could transmit outdated ideas or perpetuate discrimination against certain groups.

What's sexist language?

We talk about sexism in language (or "sexist language") when speaking and writing in a way where certain groups—mostly women and non-binary people—are devalued. The most common examples, or at least the most condemned are: the default use of masculine singular nouns (e.g., el hombre) to refer to a person whose gender is unknown, the use of generic masculine (e.g., los clientes) to refer to several people of mixed gender, and the use of masculine terms to designate professions practiced by women (e.g., la juez).

The latter is perhaps the most obvious, as it's very easy to justify why it's been like this so far. This happens with professions that were more commonly attributed to men, for the simple reason that—historically—women were not allowed to study or develop in these professions (medicine, engineering, law, politics, etc.). Let's take for example the judicial degree: in Spain, it was legally forbidden for women to study law until 1966. As nobody conceived of the possibility of women practicing this profession, the Spanish language simply didn't have a term to define such a concept. In 1972—after the prohibition was lifted—the first woman in Spain approved the public examination for the judiciary, giving birth to a new concept for society. Nevertheless, the term judge in its masculine form continued to be used preceded by the feminine determinant (la juez), the only argument in support of this being that its feminine form (la jueza) "sounds bad". This has never been and is not grounds for linguistic criterion per se.

The logic of language evolution leads to the emergence of new terms which are then used to define new concepts that arise as women gradually start to enter into these fields. There’s no grammatical rules in this regard to dictate whether or not these new terms are valid or why—so their acceptance depends on the use that Spanish speakers give them. It's a matter of using these terms continuously until the majority of Spanish-speaking people normalize them, get used to them, and integrate them in their speech.

How to use inclusive language

Spanish is a very rich language—spoken in twenty-one different countries across three continents—offering us endless grammatical possibilities and a wide variety of vocabulary when communicating. We can say that those who don't use inclusive language do so because they don't want to. In the Spanish language we’ve several techniques for inclusive language that allow us to express anything we want without the need to use sexist language:

  • Double mention ('desdoblamiento' in Spanish) consists of both feminine and masculine forms—however, this excludes people who identify themselves as non-binary. This example is perhaps not the best as it goes against the economizing logic of language. According to the grammatical agreement in Spanish, we'd have to duplicate many of the words—determinants, nouns, adjectives, etc.—resulting in a significant increase of a text's reading time without providing any additional content value. Imagine that you're taking the Metro and you read a billboard from your bank that goes like: "N26 Business You – para los (masculine the) autónomos (male freelancers) y las (feminine the) autónomas (female freelancers) más viajeros (male travelers) y viajeras (female travelers)"—not very practical, right?

  • The use of @ or the letters "x" and "e" to replace the binary endings "a" for female and "o" for male is increasing in a semi-artistic context, as a graphic resource to express the concept of inclusion in a visual way (e.g., compañer@, compañerx, compañere). However, when reading these words in a text we face an inconvenience to pronounce them and agree with their respective adjectives, determinants, etc.

  • An actual good technique is to use collective nouns, which refer to the group of people who belong to that collective .

What does N26 do about it?

At N26 we want to do our bit in the fight for the inclusion of all members of society. That's why we're in the process of adapting the content of our website, emails and different channels in an inclusive way. Here are some real examples of the techniques we use in our communications:

  • Reformulations: "¡Bienvenido a N26!" ⇒ "¡Ya eres de N26!" (You're part of N26!) "Notificaciones en tiempo real para mantenerte informado de lo que pasa en tu cuenta" ⇒ "Notificaciones en tiempo real para mantenerte al tanto de lo que pasa en tu cuenta."

  • Collective nouns: "¡Tu amigo (male friend) ya ha recibido su recompensa!" ⇒ "¡La persona que te invitó ya ha recibido su recompensa!"

  • Epicene nouns: "Envía dinero al instante a un amigo (male friend) de N26" ⇒ "Envía dinero al instante a más gente de N26."

  • Relatives: " la libertad de ser tú el que elija adónde quieres ir" ⇒ " la libertad de ser tú quien elija adónde quieres ir."

We understand diversity as an inherent quality of nature—as there's nothing more natural than being who you are and to be able to behave however you feel. The entire concept of binary gender opposes this idea as it divides human beings into only two genders: female and male. However, in our sign-up process we're forced to ask for only the binary options in our gender field solely because we’ve several partners who require this information to use their services.

En N26 respetamos tu identidad de género. Sin embargo, solo puedes escoger una de estas dos opciones por razones reglamentarias.

Welcome to the bank of the XXI century!

By Rubén M. Haro

N26–The Mobile Bank

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