Ciutadans i ciutadanes! When I was first interested in Catalan I thought a lot about why Catalans tend to address unknown groups of people in both masculine and feminine form. While you might come across this also in Spanish, in Catalan it is more or less standard. Then I got used to it and guess that I explained it to myself by Catalans partly being, and even more so thinking of themselves as, more progressive than the stereotype Spaniard.
Therefore, an article by Pere Marsé i Ferrer in a recent issue of our local Diari de Vilanova served as an eye opener. The author reminds us that Catalan like other Romance languages solved this issue long ago, by letting the masculine form serve for both sexes when a group of people is being addressed.
With an example from our own town – and let us remember that the official name is Vilanova i la Geltrú (Vilanova AND la Geltrú) – he underlines that although their intentions are often good, speakers who use both forms are not protected from discriminating anyone. If, for example, a cultural program only addresses the vilanovins and vilanovines, is that not a lack of respect for the geltrunencs and geltrunenques (the male and female residents of la Geltrú)? It is not easy to be politically correct.
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