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Translating masculine nouns
Thread poster: Richardson Lisa

Richardson Lisa  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:05
Member (2009)
French to English
Jul 2, 2013

Hi all

I'm translating a research paper that uses the masculine noun 'le consultant' frequently replaced by 'il....'
What would be the best solution in this case? Sometimes it can be avoided by pluralising to 'consultants' 'they...' but I can't use that alll the way through. Is it acceptable to use 'he/she' 'his/her' 'himself/herself'? or is there a less clumsy way of dealing with this problem?

TIA Lisa


 

Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:05
German to English
list of techniques Jul 2, 2013

Hi Lisa,

I would agree that "he" as well as "he/she" are not very good solutions for English.

I found the following list of strategies very helpful:
https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pubs/bill_drafting_manual/Chapter%2010.htm

Section: "10.33 Gender-Neutral Language"

Plurals, repeating nouns to avoid pronouns, passive, relative sentences with "who", the occassional "he or she" - the list is very good, although there are a few techniques that aren't really applicable outside of legal language.

Michael


 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:05
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Plurals Jul 2, 2013

I always think that converting the noun into a plural is best when and where you can.
Otherwise, you can change the sentence around.

Example:
Direct translation: When a consultant begins work, he first talks to the client
Gender neutral: Upon beginning work, a consultant first talks to the client

If you really can't find any neat way of avoiding the issue, you could opt for "s/he" although my personal opinion is that this is best to be avoided if at all possible, not because it's incorrect, but because a text littered with options is a little messy.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:05
Russian to English
+ ...
I agree with Marie. Jul 2, 2013

"They" is usually used these days as a neutral pronoun. It may not be grammatically acceptable in academic writing sometimes, so the best thing might be to change the a word into plural, where it makes sense. He/she is not really considered a good style by many manuals these days.



[Edited at 2013-07-02 09:39 GMT]


 

Richardson Lisa  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 02:05
Member (2009)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
as I thought Jul 2, 2013

Thanks everyone

Looks pretty much as I thought - I'm going to have to pluralise the noun and use 'they'.
There are a couple of rather ambiguous bits where I'm not sure if 'il' refers to the male consultant previously cited or 'le consultant' en general? Maybe a re-read will make it all clearer - or yet another cup of tea!!!
regards

Lisa


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 02:05
English to Polish
+ ...
Plurals, relative clauses, altogether different structure etc. Jul 2, 2013

As per title, I transform those sentences to avoid the problem, but only as a concession to a modern sensibility which I deem to arise from a deficient understanding of language.

There is nothing wrong per se with the 'he', and the best solution is simply to understand that the masculine pronoun refers to objects of which the (or people whose) gender is not yet known. There is no reason whatsover for any sort of fuss here, and, sorry for a strong word, the overreaction to any sort of perceived sexism here is basically a form of hysteria. A little more willingness to understand how grammatical genders work would solve the problem.

In Polish, you frequently refer to people, including yourself, as a 'person', which is a feminine noun. If your sentence follows the pattern of, 'I am a person who(se) (...),' then you're going to keep referring to yourself in the feminine gender even though you might be a man, which I've done so many times myself. There are more such words, for example 'base', 'mainstay', 'rock' (including the Matt 16:18 rock, i.e. Apostle Peter) etc. And, somehow, nobody makes a fuss, nobody considers it emasculating. It just might have felt a little odd when I was in primary school, but many things felt odd then about language.

Actually, if a woman wanted to stress the humanity that we have in common rather than the genders which make us different, she very well could say, 'I'm a (hu)man who (...),' just like the Latin homo or Greek anthropos, which could be claimed regardless of the speaker's sex, while being a masculine noun. I've seen it used in this fashion recently.

(For the record, neuter nouns aren't necessarily a good compromise. Female and male humans have more in common with each other (e.g. the fact of having a sex) than with genderless objects. Latin has multiple instances of the same form being used by both feminine and masculine adjectives but not neuter adjectives, resulting in a total of two forms: masculine/feminine and neuter.)

Hence, I don't despair. If I have to use the 'he', I will. I often do. Just like I refer to myself in the feminine gender after using a feminine noun in Polish (which might produce a similar effect in Italian or French or German etc.).


 

xxxnrichy
France
Local time: 02:05
French to Dutch
+ ...
What do you think of... Jul 2, 2013

Richardson Lisa wrote:

Thanks everyone

Looks pretty much as I thought - I'm going to have to pluralise the noun and use 'they'.
There are a couple of rather ambiguous bits where I'm not sure if 'il' refers to the male consultant previously cited or 'le consultant' en general? Maybe a re-read will make it all clearer - or yet another cup of tea!!!
regards

Lisa
..."John" (first string, name of the person taken in the database) "has filled in their profile" (second string)? Is this tolerated, or modern English?


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 02:05
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Man has embraced woman since time immemorial... Jul 2, 2013

As one law lecturer explained it.

In legal texts in English, his policy was simply to write 'he' except in references to particular individuals known to be women.

The wife icon_wink.gif in anything to do with marriage, any female relative in family law, wills and so on, and any named party to a contract or other clearly female person would obviously be referred to as 'she' when appropriate.

In other texts too, where re-phrasing and plurals are comfortable options, these are fine, but otherwise just use 'he' and don't trample about in it too much!


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:05
Russian to English
+ ...
Of sure -- it is always he or she when the sex of the person is known Jul 2, 2013

It is only when we do not know if the clerk, the lawyer, the president of a certain company, is a man or a woman that we have to replace it with a gender-neutral form.

 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 05:35
English to Hindi
+ ...
Very difficult to do this Jul 2, 2013

Even more so in languages like Hindi, where gender is actually indicated by the form the verb takes, that is, every verb can take two forms, a masculine form and a feminine form. Because of this, it is even more difficult to make Hindi gender-neutral than say English.

I constantly face this problem and have even written a knowledgebase article on this issue, which you can look up for what it is worth. Some of the ruses mentioned there might work for other languages too:

http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/709/


 

Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:05
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
nrichy Jul 2, 2013

The short answer to your question is "no".

Plenty of people use "they" as a gender-neutral term in speech but I don't think anybody would expect a translator (who is supposed to be a careful writer) to do the same.


It would jar considerably in a text and I would correct it if I were proofreading because "they" is not to be used with a noun in the singular.

The problem doesn't lie in whether or not it is sexist to use "he" or "she" in certain circumstances. The simple fact of the matter is that only people have genders in English (OK dogs and cats and other such living things too). All other nouns are neutral. Therefore if you give a gender to a thing in English, you are implying that you know the gender of this thing and if you don't, you are wrong in doing so.

This is all fine if you're referring to an inanimate object. In French you might literally say "the table is brown and she is made of wood" but in English this would be "the table is brown and it is made of wood".

The problem occurs in English when you're not referring to inanimate objects. You can't exactly refer to "a manager" as "it" can you?

This doesn't happen in other languages so whereas it's fine to refer to "a manager" in the masculine in Dutch if you don't know whether the manager is a male or female because, say "beheerder" is a masculine noun, if you did the same in English and referred to a manager as "he" when it isn't clear from the text whether the manager is a "he" or a "she", the implication is that you're assuming that the manager is of the male gender which is wrong, regardless of whether your assumption is in the masculine or feminine.

I certainly don't agree with the opinion that "he" is OK where there is uncertainty as to whether a male or female is being referred to, nor am I a fan of writers who use "he" and "she" interchangeably just to give both genders their piece of the limelight.

This is not a feminist/masculist (does that exist?) issue, it's a grammatical one and I think that translators, as careful writers, should be creative enough to get around this in a stylish and creative way.

I don't think that references to other languages are helpful in this case, especially if those other languages assign genders to nouns when English doesn't.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 02:05
English to Polish
+ ...
I've actually said that once Jul 2, 2013

Christine Andersen wrote:

As one law lecturer explained it.


... to someone who probably had the authority to fire me on the spot. And that was on the first day of my work there.

nrichy wrote:

..."John" (first string, name of the person taken in the database) "has filled in their profile" (second string)? Is this tolerated, or modern English?


Absolutely not. Not even tolerated, actually. Very respectable sources are already using 'they' with regard to e.g. Catholic priests or some other categories of people that can possibly only be of one sex. However, if you have a John or Alice or Tim or Mary, then you just can't use 'they' no matter what.

Marie-Helene Dubois wrote:

It would jar considerably in a text and I would correct it if I were proofreading because "they" is not to be used with a noun in the singular.


Wow. I'm one of those last people who still respond, 'it is I!,' but I'd never mark a singular 'they' as wrong or even change it in somebody else's text. Have I grown lax?

[Edited at 2013-07-02 14:49 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:05
Russian to English
+ ...
I agree with Lukasz. Many US sources use "they" -- as a pronoun referring to a person Jul 2, 2013

I don't think it is allowed in most academic writing yet -- only if you change the noun to the plural perhaps. With children for example -- babies, some articles use "she" for half of the article and then "he", which is quite ridiculous in my opinion. Gender neutral speech and writing is really required here in many contexts.

[Edited at 2013-07-02 21:23 GMT]


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 02:05
English to Polish
+ ...
The he and she switching is something I really don't like Jul 2, 2013

I can really live with the slash or 'or', but changing back and forth between the masculine and the feminine personal pronoun really taxes my nerves. I mean, I'm not even annoyed or anything of the sort, it just weighs down on me heavily whenever I see it. It's like having my entire world negated. Heck, I hadn't thought I care about grammar this much, actually.

[Edited at 2013-07-02 22:15 GMT]


 

Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
Exchanging one form of clumsiness for another Jul 4, 2013

1) If it's possible and the end result is not too awkward, then yes, by all means rearrange the sentence.

2) Plural forms are also a perfectly acceptable rearrangement to avoid the problem, as long as the sentence retains its original meaning.

For instance, if you are working on a contract that will ultimately govern an arrangement with *one particular consultant* (e.g. this will later be filled in by the client with "Mr. John Doe" or "Ms. Jane Doe"), then changing "consultant" to "consultants" will not reflect the original meaning of the text.

3) I would NEVER use "they" as a pronoun after a subject in the singular in a formal translation!!

It might be acceptable if the material you are translating is someone's personal correspondence, an e-mail, a blog, a tweet, or something of a similar, more casual or personal nature, but IMHO, it is simply not acceptable when translating any kind of business, financial, scientific, or medical material and the like, especially anything remotely legal.

4) Personally, I don't mind "s/he", "he or she" "himself or herself" at all (although I have been tending away from writing "him/herself"). I think these options can be a lot less clumsy than a sentence that does not lend itself to being rearranged.

5) I am over the all-encompassing "he". It is passé and I'm not personally fond of it either. I'm a card-carrying member of the movement to get rid of "he" as a supposed "neutral" pronoun, especially in legal documents. icon_razz.gif

In the end, in addition to the meaning of the source text being reflected accurately, the target text simply needs to be as natural-sounding as possible - which sometimes means all you can do is choose the least clumsy of your options.

My 2¢
icon_smile.gif


 
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Translating masculine nouns

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