On the back of International Women’s Day on March 8, we want to look at one of the many principles that feminism advocates and that is closely related to our work as translators: inclusive language.
At Tatutrad, we’re proud to say that we work with institutions such as UN Women, a United Nations organisation that fights to promote gender equality and female empowerment. We believe that the translation industry contributes by using words to achieve a more inclusive language and society.
One of the methods used by UN Women to achieve their goals in terms of equality is the promotion of inclusive language; a language that puts women and men on a level playing field and does not reflect gender stereotypes. But what role do translators play? Here are some examples given by UN Women so that our Spanish translations promote inclusive language:
- Use gender neutral expression. For example: “el profesorado” (teaching staff) instead of “los profesores”(masc. pl.), or “seres humanos” (human beings) instead of “los hombres” (masc. pl.).
- Change the structure of the phrase to avoid the use of masculine generics. For example: “la juventud y las personas inmigrantes son quienes más sufren” (the youth and immigrants suffer the most) as opposed to the masculine nouns and adjective in the following phrase, “los jóvenes y los inmigrantes son los más afectados”.
- Use both feminine and masculine forms. For example “electoras y electores” (voters) instead of “los electores”(masc. pl), or “las y los trabajadores” (workers) as opposed to “los trabajadores” (masc. pl.).
- Include a forward slash to reflect both masculine and feminine gender. For example, “señor/a” (man/woman) or “enfermero/a” (nurse).
Regardless of our opinion on these guidelines, our Spanish translators must follow our client’s instructions. If our client considers the use of masculine generics to be exclusive and suggests alternatives to avoid them, we must comply with their indications, despite the recommendations of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) regarding the use of both masculine and feminine forms (for example, “los ciudadanos y las ciudadanas” (the male citizens and the female citizens):
“For nouns that designate living beings, the masculine grammatical gender is not only used to refer to male individuals, but also to designate the classification, in other words, all those individuals of the species, without distinguishing between sex […]. Despite this, due to political and not linguistic correctness, the custom of making the reference to both sexes explicit has started to become more common in recent years […]. It is forgotten that language provides for the possibility of referring to mixed collectives through the masculine grammatical gender, whereby no discriminatory intent should be seen, but rather the application of the linguistic principles of the economy of expression.”
These reasons put forward by the RAE not only oppose the use of both masculine and feminine forms in Spanish, but also the use of formulas such as the symbol “@” or the letters “e” and “x” which take both genders into account.
As professional translators, we’re not going to offer our thoughts on the use of “tod@s”, “todes” or “todxs” (all) to designate groups made up of both men and women; we merely recognise that language is a living thing that is shaped by its speakers and acquires different meanings with the passage of time, such that we cannot ignore these new formulas that arise in response to changes in society.
However, neither can we forget that the RAE is the institution responsible for creating a common standard for all speakers, as well as reflecting all the changes that Spanish undergoes.
At our translation agency, based in Seville, Spain, many of our clients send us English-Spanish translation projects, among other language combinations, of texts such as surveys in which we come across situations such as the following.
A user must complete an online survey about a specific product or service (for example, telephone, car, multimedia product, etc.) and one of the questions asks about employment status. In the English text, it’s not uncommon for roles such as ‘housewife’ or ‘cleaning lady’ to appear among the possible options, assuming that, historically, these were female jobs and the terms used in English refer exclusively to women.
In these instances, we would opt for translations such as “amo/a de casa”, “personal de limpieza” or “empleado/a de hogar” which consider that both men and women can have this job and, therefore, select this option in the survey.
We want to think that through our words and translations, we work to create a more egalitarian world in which language ultimately gives our thoughts form.
Diana Lindo Cuéllar