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Gender-Inclusive Language

Stick Figures with Gender Symbols

Using gender-inclusive language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. Given the key role of language in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias.

Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is more than a matter of political correctness. Language powerfully reflects and influences attitudes, behavior and perceptions. In order to treat all genders equally, efforts have been employed for decades to propose a gender-neutral/gender-fair/non-sexist use of language, so that no gender is privileged, and prejudices against any gender are not perpetuated.

Our clients are no strangers to the impact gender has on their agendas. As Localization providers, we want to collaborate and align with their needs, but most importantly, with the growing demand of information and training for our internal and external teams as well as our clients.

Akorbi’s role will always be to advise and recommend what is, in our experience, the best course of action based on client needs and expectations but most importantly, clients’ end users.

Language types according to gender

A distinction can be made between three language types and the accompanying strategies to achieve gender neutrality:

  • Natural gender languages 
  • Grammatical gender languages 
  • Genderless languages 

Natural gender languages: Personal nouns are mostly gender‑neutral and there are personal pronouns specific for each gender. The general trend is to reduce as much as possible the use of gender-specific terms. In these languages, the linguistic strategy most usually used is neutralization.

Grammatical gender languages: Every noun has a grammatical gender and the gender of personal pronouns usually matches the reference noun. As it is almost impossible, from a lexical point of view, to create widely accepted gender-neutral forms from existing words in those languages, alternative approaches have been sought and recommended in administrative and political language.

Genderless languages: There is no grammatical gender and no pronominal gender. Those languages do not generally need a particular strategy to be gender-inclusive.

Gender-inclusive English

Being the most usual source language, English naturally allows for more gender flexibility. In order to avoid gender references, one can use gender-neutral terms, i.e. words that are not gender-specific and refer to people in general, with no reference to women or men (‘chairman’ is replaced by ‘Chair’ or ‘chairperson’, ‘policeman’ or ‘policewoman’ by ‘police officer’, ‘spokesman’ by ‘spokesperson’, ‘stewardess’ by ‘flight attendant’, ‘headmaster’ or ‘headmistress’ by ‘director’ or ‘principal’, etc.). This gender-neutral trend has led to the disappearance of the older female forms, with the previous male form becoming unisex (e.g. ‘actor’ instead of ‘actress’).

In the U.S., the use of the singular “they” has become so common that Merriam-Webster adopted its use as a pronoun for non-binary people in 2019, declaring it may be used to refer to a “single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”  In addition to the non-binary pronoun “they/them”, there are other non-binary pronouns used in English such as “ze/zir”.
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State and city governments, including California and New York, have begun offering a gender option of “X” on identification cards. Airlines, school districts and colleges nationwide are also allowing alternative gender markers.

In recent years, several journalism style guides have allowed the gender-neutral pronouns. The Associated Press in 2017 announced it would permit journalists to use the singular “they” in limited cases, and The Washington Post has formally recognized the new pronouns since 2015.

Gender inclusive terms

To have in mind…

While linguists are required to render their source texts faithfully and accurately, they also have a responsibility when it comes to gender:

  • Avoid introducing gender-biased language into their target texts when their source is gender neutral.
  • Opt for gender-neutral alternatives where gender-specific language is not used intentionally by the author.
  • Understand client needs and locale guidelines.

We have plenty of options without having to resort to words or expressions that may discriminate, do harm and encourage prejudice. We should always prioritize inclusion in all spheres, and language is no exception.

Check below some general procedures to make your translation more gender-inclusive:

  • Epicene nouns or adjectives to refer to any individual regardless of sex
  • Neutral adjectives that don’t change to agree with the noun
  • Colective or generic nouns
  • Paraphrasing to avoid gendered expressions
  • Metonymy
  • Imperative verbal mode, if applicable
  • Genderless determiners
Written by Karina Dean, Quality Manager at Akorbi
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Here’s what Akorbi is doing in response to COVID-19. Learn More »