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On Translating Gender: Empowering Equality through Language

Updated: Feb 7

Ioanna Chatzidavidou  is the author of the article titled on translating gender: empowering equality through language

Publication date: 09.08.2023

What Is Sexist Language?

Sexism is deeply ingrained in society, often hidden in our perceptions and everyday language. Gender stereotypes reinforce biased beliefs, favoring certain traits for women and men. This sexist language, with male-centric terms overshadowing female counterparts, permeates our daily conversations. Words hold the power to shape our reality and attitudes, influencing how we perceive ourselves and others. To promote diversity and equality, it's crucial to recognize and consciously choose inclusive language. By doing so, we can use words as a potent tool to shape perceptions of gender and foster a respectful and inclusive environment.

The 3 Types of Languages

Gender plays a significant role in various languages. According to linguists, languages can be categorized into three groups, depending on how they handle gender. These include grammatical gender, natural gender, and genderless languages.

Grammatical gender languages

In these languages, every noun is assigned a grammatical gender (masculine or feminine) and accompanying adjectives must match this gender. For instance, "большая кухня" (a big kitchen) is feminine in Russian because "кухня" (kitchen) is feminine, and "большая" (big) must also be feminine.

For example, languages like Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Hindi, and most Slavic languages fall into this category. Gendered languages pose the greatest challenge for using gender-inclusive language since they rigidly assign gender to nouns. So, being mindful of these language differences and striving for gender-inclusive communication is crucial for challenging traditional gender norms.

Genderless languages

On the other hand, genderless languages do not assign gender to pronouns. As an illustration, the pronoun "siya" (she/her, he/him, they/them) is applicable to individuals of any gender. Correspondingly, the word "anak" (child) can also be used for both sons and daughters. In particular, genderless languages include Japanese, Armenian, Georgian, Turkish, Hungarian, Tagalog, and Finnish.

Moreover, it is important to understand that genderless languages are not necessarily gender-neutral or gender-inclusive. Though, they do present an easier opportunity for using gender-inclusive language. This is because genderless languages offer fewer chances to perpetuate gender-related stereotypes.

Natural gender languages

Natural gender languages like English, pronouns like "she/her" and "he/him" refer to the gender of the actual individual. On the contrary, most other nouns are not categorized for gender. However, certain English nouns, such as actor/actress, are related to natural gender.

gender equality

Gender equality issues in language translation

Gender Translation Dilemmas: Balancing Sensitivity and Accuracy

Navigating gendered language and the intricacies of gender translation can be quite challenging. How do you express gender-specific nouns in a language that lacks them? Or how do you manage languages that have more than three genders? Without a doubt, translating between genderless or gender-neutral languages and gendered languages presents significant challenges. For this reason, the translator must carefully consider linguistic and cultural nuances to ensure the translation is not offensive in the target language.

Language of Respect: Advancing Gender-Inclusive Communication

Embracing gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to make diverse groups feel welcome and acknowledged. Furthermore, using gender-neutral terms demonstrates respect for all genders. For instance, instead of saying "ladies and gentlemen" in a speech, opt for "everybody" to encompass people of all genders, including transgender individuals.

Breaking Down Male Dominance: Uncovering Androcentric Linguistic Patterns

When examining different languages, we can easily observe their androcentric nature, which tends to focus on males and marginalize women. Specific genders are often assigned to particular roles, exemplified by the biased use of language favoring one sex for gender-neutral concepts. For instance, in the example of a gender-neutral subject like "a doctor," a masculine pronoun ("his patients") is often employed. An illustration of this bias can be seen in sentences like "Mothers should accompany the child" rather than using the gender-neutral "Parents should accompany the child."

Gender Bias in Word Order: Androcentrism and its Impact on Language

It's not solely individual words that generate gender bias. Word order also contributes significantly to the issue. In cultures with an androcentric focus, men are habitually mentioned before women, evident in phrases like "husband and wife," or "boys and girls." This can be discouraging for women and perpetuates the notion of male superiority or priority.

The Advantages of English and Challenges in Gendered Languages

Translating technical documentation poses an additional challenge, especially when it comes to gender-inclusive language. Translators must be mindful that not every language readily accommodates a gender-inclusive version. Beyond a doubt, it requires proper information, awareness of the issue, talent, and inventiveness to find appropriate solutions.

Indeed, English, being a genderless language without grammatical genders, offers an advantage. As an example, the word ''teacher'' can apply to any gender. In contrast, in gendered languages like German, nouns carry distinct gender markings, evident in terms like "Lehrer/Lehrerin" in German. In such cases, translators may need to rephrase sentences creatively to avoid using gender-specific terms altogether and ensure a smooth and inclusive translation.

The Influence of Grammatical Gender on Our Perception

Various languages assign different genders to the same nouns, and this grammatical gendering can subtly influence our thinking. For instance, in German, "bridge" is feminine, while in Spanish, it is masculine. Studies reveal that German speakers describe bridges with elegant and beautiful attributes, while Spanish speakers focus on their physical qualities like strength and length. In literature, an author may use feminine nouns to convey motherly, or feminine themes, but such nuances can be lost in translation into English.

Navigating Gendered Language Transitions for equa: The Importance of Context

Transitioning from genderless or natural gender language to gendered language may also require the translator to seek more context. For instance, should "the child" in English become "la niña" or "el niño" in Spanish? Translators must be vigilant about their assumptions and attuned to the context throughlityout the translation process.

The Power of Words: Translating Gender with Sensitivity

Generally, it’s a fundamental skill for a translator to understand how to approach the translation of gender. Mistakes in this area can result in inaccuracies, confusion in the translation, and in certain cases, even offense. Therefore, the use of gender in translations can perpetuate the notion that a particular gender is the norm, potentially excluding others. This is because gender is a sensitive subject, deeply intertwined with our identities. Whether we identify as transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, cisgender, or anything else.

Moreover, it’s essential to remember that the goal is not to avoid acknowledging someone's gender when certain of it. Yet to be inclusive when speaking in hypothetical scenarios or about mixed-gender groups or individuals who may identify as transgender or non-binary. In addition, using language that is offensive to half of your audience will hinder your message from being well-received.

To effectively connect with your audience, it is vital to be mindful of the pronouns and language choices employed and strive for inclusion and sensitivity. Translators and linguists should use non-binary language and embrace feminist translation. What's more, the utmost priority is conscientiously considering how to eschew the use of sexist language. Our mission is to harness the power of language equality to contribute to a more progressive world.

How To Use Gender-Inclusive Language

Attaining gender neutrality in most languages necessitates moving away from traditional grammar and linguistic norms and embracing innovative approaches instead. Here are some good practices to achieve this:

Gender-Neutral Sentence Structures

Discover gender-neutral sentence structures and explore various alternatives. For instance, instead of using the gendered masculine form "bienvenidos" in Spanish, a suitable option could be "les damos la bienvenida" (we welcome you).

Gender-Neutral Suffixes

Utilize gender-neutral suffixes like -x, -@, and -e as alternatives ("niñ@," "buen@", "todes," and "lxs amigxs"). Some writers incorporate dots to encompass all possible variants and avoid specific gender references. In Italian, speakers may also opt for an asterisk to convey gender-neutral language in both the singular and plural forms. Notably, -@ is favored in Spain, while -x and -e are more prevalent in Argentina.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them, one, and who, which avoid specifying an individual's gender. These linguistic choices exemplify inclusivity and embrace diversity.

Reshape Abstract Nouns with "Man"

Be mindful when handling abstract nouns containing the word "man.'' Some of these words may not have direct equivalents, but when faced with terms like "mankind," opt for "humankind." Similarly, instead of "man-made," consider using "artificial."

Inclusivity in Noun Selection

Refrain from using nouns that display favoritism towards a specific gender. Instead, opt for gender-neutral alternatives such as "humanité" or "les êtres humains" rather than "les hommes."

Professions without Gender Bias

Be careful when using words that define the profession. Opt for gender-neutral alternatives like "firefighter" instead of "fireman," and "server" instead of "waitress." Similarly, use "cleaner" rather than "cleaning woman," "fisher" instead of "fisherman" and so on.

Equality in Word Order

Rearrange word placement, granting equal importance to both women and men.


Relationship Terminology: Avoid Stereotypes

Employ inclusive language when referring to relationships. Unless discussing a specific relationship, steer clear of stereotypes: Use "parent and child" instead of "mother and child" and "doctors and their spouses" instead of "doctors and their wives."

Direct Address and Passive Voice

Addressing the reader directly represents another method to avoid gendered words, while the passive voice can also serve the same purpose.

Use Plural Form

Prefer the plural form over the singular. Instead of saying "The student must pass all courses to complete his studies," use "Students must pass all courses to complete their studies."

Addressing Sexist Language and Translation Considerations

Stay away from expressions like "to wear the trousers in the relationship," "to be a sissy," "to man up," and similar phrases. Such language is not only problematic but also offensive. Moreover, it raises a significant question about whether these expressions should be translated and consequently perpetuate sexism.

However, in certain contexts, such as literature translation, such expressions may be deliberately used by a character to indicate their personality and character traits. In these cases, the translator must exercise thoughtful judgment, considering cultural nuances and implications. At the same time, the translator must remain sensitive to the potential reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes. Striking a balance between preserving the authenticity of the character's portrayal and promoting inclusivity is a task that requires linguistic finesse.


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