When Language Changes: Using the @ Symbol

This is a guest post by Bianca of Latino Sexuality and of The LatiNegr@s Project. I’ll be cross-posting and blogging! Read a bit more about me when we introduced The LatiNegr@s Project team.

cross posted from my Media Justice column

“So if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself.”

Gloria Anzaldúa, “How To Tame The Wild Tongue” in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2007. pg. 59.

Earlier this week I created a post on The LatiNegr@s Project about our use of the @ symbol. It stemmed from a question about if this was an appropriate term and form to use in a academic paper by a student in college. I was humbled and thankful to be asked this question and responded by providing this statement so the student could have a citation to support their use of the @ symbol.

Since writing that post many folks have had something to say and shared an opinion. For those of you uncertain about how Tumblr works, you can look to the bottom of the page and see who has responded and in what way, sometimes clicking on a person who has “reblogged” the statement can also show more input. I’ll get into some of their suggestions and thoughts in a moment. Before that I want to make a few things clear: The post I wrote was specific to LatiNegr@s. It discussed the code-switching that occurs, as a first language for some of us, in our daily lives and among LatiNegr@s. As a result, many comments and suggestions asked about other ethnic and racial groups using the @ symbol. I think this is fantastic!

The terms “Latino” and the use of the @ symbol in identifiers such as Chican@, Xican@, Mestiz@, etc. are fairly new terms. This is something that occurs when we speak for ourselves, from the spaces we occupy, and when we claim new and more appropriate and representative self-identifiers. I believe this is not something we need to be scared of or find anger in. I think these are opportunities to be challenged (much like challenging our use of ableist language), be more inclusive, and reflexive of how we use language to include, exclude, and create messages.

Language is at the core of media justice.

Language changes and that is something we may celebrate, especially when it is changing in a way that recognizes and includes people who are experiencing multiple oppressions. The @ symbol does just that by challenging a gender binary and dichotomy that has been implemented to privilege men, masculinity, and maleness especially in romance languages such as Spanish. It is also inclusive of our transgender and gender queer community who are often excluded and omitted on a regular basis.

When someone challenges and questions the use of the @ symbol, claims this is a part of “rewriting language” and who do we think we are to do that, those folks are not yet at a space to understand how language was created and in that creation it can be changed (regardless of how long ago it was created). In addition, these folks are also continuing to erase and isolate people in our community that are the most in need of our support. Finally, they are upholding the misogyny that is present in language, especially in the Spanish language. The process of unlearning can be a struggle for many and one that several may resist.

I ended my above post by stating: “The questions still exist of how to actually speak the @ sign and this has yet to really be resolved. How have others negotiated this?” This is where the most responses were shared and presented. I really loved reading how so many folks considered pronouncing and speaking the @ symbol. People shared some really thoughtful and personal testimonios of using the @ sign and how to speak it when in use.

There’s a lot of food for thought about this particular topic, and I hope it continues. I’d love to hear how others are approaching the use of language, code-switching and speaking new terms such as the @ symbol. How have you negotiated these terms?

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