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Gender-sensitive writing in your language
Thread poster: Balasubramaniam L.

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 15:03
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
May 18, 2006

Most languages have a subtle male bias in their internal structure and one of the sore points with those advocating equality of men and women has been how to correct this.

Can we discuss in this thread how the gender-bias situation is in your language and how you get around it?


[Edited at 2006-05-18 03:57]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:33
English to French
+ ...
This is a subject with huge potential ;) May 18, 2006

Hello,

I have my personal opinions on this subject and realize that not everyone shares it. However, here is how I view the role of gender in writing.

Gender always needs to be taken into account when writing, therefore also when translating. However, it is the never-ending pain in the butt we constantly have to deal with. I personally prefer to simply put a disclaimer right at the beginning of a document to the effect that the masculine form will be used for both genders in order to uncomplicate things. However, many women get goosebumps from this. They feel left out. And I know what it means to be left out as a woman, since I am one of them.

However, I don't agree with feminists on this issue. I don't find it necessary to differentiate women and man, especially not when the text involves both genders equally and is not gender-specific (i.e. it's not about women's rights or child support). I don't feel insulted when only masculine is used to designate both - in fact, I feel relieved that my reading pleasure won't be bothered by unnecessary words that I find redundant. I find it much more relaxing to read about people than to read about men and women (sorry, feminist peers, I forgot to put women before men, I swear it's an accident). Specifying genders where it is irrelevant may actually hurt us. This is just the practical aspect of the question.

Now, for the deeper, philosophical part. If we keep distinguishing genders and make everything gender-specific, then we keep reminding ourselves and the opposite sex about what's different about them and therefore, what we hate about them. It has bugged people since time immemorial. It is something that bothers us, and a large part of society is based on these persistent gender-specific ideas. Ever wondered why women always get the custody? Why men are always the ones who get to play manager? Well, we keep on giving them those respective roles. If we didn't feel the constant necessity to specify genders, wouldn't we somehow ease some of that pressure? There are men who are great cooks and can do amazing macramé (my dad was one of those and I swear he was straight), and there are women who are amazing at soccer and fix their own cars. I suspect those are the ones that broke free of the mold... Put this in perpective. Replace sexism by racism. If we didn't care whether a person is black, white or purple, would we still all respectively hate each other? Or, think about the opposite, homosexuals. Many of them feel such an immense need to prove to the rest of society that they have the right to be different that even if they wouldn't bug people with their sexual orientation, they - well, many of them, especially here in Montreal - bug the hell out of them with their constant wanting to show us that it's OK to be gay. Now, far from me the intention to say anything mean, I have actually no problem whatsoever with homosexuality, I just don't go to any gay pride parades, just as I don't invite anybody to my straight pride parades My point is, if we stopped making irrelevent distinctions between genders, sexual orientations, races, and whatever else is considered as grounds for discrimination in the human rights charters of our respective countries, at the end - or so I personally believe - we would all be better off.

So, here's the bottom line. I find that mentioning gender where it's irrelevant - when we are talking about citizens, employees, patients, soldiers, clients, etc. - is completely useless - sometimes even harmful. However, when a client prefers to keep the gender pointers, I gladly obey their instructions - the client always has the last say about these things and my job is to make that client happy. But if it was up to me, I would only specify gender where necessary - same goes for nationality, religion, political convictions, etc. In the meantime, I will use the usual conventions, most of which are, in my humble opinion, very dated.

Now, I can't wait to see what the rest of us have to say...



[Edited at 2006-05-18 06:44]


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 10:33
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
Gender sensitive writing May 18, 2006

Interesting... but does it work? I learnt Gender Sensitive Vocabulary while working in an NGO in 1994... and have rarely used it.
Why? Simply because people think it wrong... and who wants to give in a wrong translation... so I still use Chairman instead of Chairperson
And let's admit that a chair does not say anything ? Or does it?


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:33
English to French
+ ...
I have an example like Ritu's :D May 18, 2006

Something that is getting immensely popular - too much for my liking - is adding a feminine suffix to professions in French. I don't know if the French have the same fashion, but Quebecers definitely do.

Examples:

professeur (teacher) = professeure (she-teacher)
auteur (author) = auteure (she-author)

Not only are these attracting attention to differences, thereby encouraging discrimination, these words also sound very bad in their feminine versions.

By the way, the word "mademoiselle" has been officially banned. Why? It supposedly is discriminatory, because it means unmarried woman. However, the only word left now to designate women is "madame" - which means married woman! I am not married, so why should they call me a married woman? The point is, people are making so much useless effort for these things, they actually end up making matters worse.

[Edited at 2006-05-18 06:52]


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Rahi Moosavi  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 04:33
Member (2004)
Farsi (Persian) to English
+ ...
Farsi (Persian) May 18, 2006

Well, my native language Farsi (or Persian as you may call it) is not gender sensitive at all. We don't have different shapes of words, verbs, pronouns, etc. depending on gender. Same words are used for both sexes.

So, I figure that makes our job a lot easier!


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Francesca Pesce  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:33
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
Feminist reply: if you don't speak about it, it doesn't exist? May 18, 2006

More than about gender- sensitive writing, I feel I have to comment Viktoria's position.
Are you so sure that if we don't point out/specify/deal with/etc a specificity - being gender, race, class, etc. - discrimination magically disappears?

As if gender, racial or class discrimination is due to its being underlined as a problem, or noticed.

I rather feel - and not only I - but pratically at a global level - that openly tackling discrimination is the only way to overcome it.

My language - Italian - is not gender-sensitive at all. How could it be when Italy is one of the most male chauvinist countries in the world?

The masculin gender of words (Italian doesn't have the "neutral" gender) generally includes femminine. But not vice versa.
I personally don't feel included in the masculine gender: why should I? I am not a man. I consider it a heritage of past centuries.

Concerning the "not vice versa", meaning that the feminine gender doesn't include the masculine (and men certainly don't feel included in the feminine), about a month ago an outsourcer (female) posted a job offer on proz.com. She was probably in a hurry and on instinct asked for a translator (female: "traduttrice" instead of the masculine "traduttore").

Good heavens! This "mistake" gave way to a forum, in which more than one asked if this wasn't discrimination, pointing out that on proz.com gender discrimination wasn't allowed, etc. So many translators had noticed the gender of the job offer. While, in this case, I hadn't noticed anything wrong until I read the forum. For me it was normal.

I feel that "updating" our languages, a duty we translators all have (think of technical translators who often have to "invent" new words) also means gradually including women. Using common sense of course. Not rendering a sentence more complicated to read or understand, but where possible including the other half of the universe.


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Harry Hermawan  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 16:33
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
No worries on that issue in Bahasa Indonesia May 18, 2006

Hmmm...

Indonesian never have the problem of gender when it comes to gender issue in writings. The problem is of different level, it's on politeness/strata.

Like, she/he: simple translation: 'dia'.

On the other hand 'you' translated to Indonesian...you've got to fit it into a context. Let's say you're talking to someone older, someone of a certain strata in society, then this gets complicated.

Interesting topic this, gender issue. In English especially. The word GOD for example. Why in English, it's always 'Masculine', and regarding a country/ship usually it's 'Feminine' or 'Neutral'.

Wonder why?



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Harry Hermawan  Identity Verified
Indonesia
Local time: 16:33
Member (2005)
English to Indonesian
Progress May 18, 2006

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

By the way, the word "mademoiselle" has been officially banned. Why? It supposedly is discriminatory, because it means unmarried woman. However, the only word left now to designate women is "madame" - which means married woman!



But "madame" can also have a negative impact, doesn't it?

I guess this is what some would say 'progress'.

Quote: "Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity."

- Thor-Heyerdahl. Norwegian ethnologist, 1914-2002

There you go again "man"....instead of...

"Dasar...isu seperti ini akan membawa kita pada debat kusir kuda" translates: "..."


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 11:33
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Funny (?) case May 18, 2006

A few weeks ago I got an English text about a study on breast cancer. The original always read: "the patients". I translated into German "die Patientinnen", though it is self-evident that the study does not involve men at all.

Regards
Heinrich


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:33
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Tagalog offers no problems May 18, 2006

The words used are the same, unless specific ("the women") or self-evident ("the mother").

However, the biggest decision occurs just before you start, when you set the tone of the text. Are you going to be general/relatively formal (2nd person plural) or informal (2nd person singular)? Are you going to request or command? Is your reader a peer, or should you presume superior age (and hence, more status)? Or do you want to come across as exquisite as far as manners are concerned (3rd person plural)?

Here the decisive factor is not gender, but the perception of age or status ingrained into the language (men and women being addressed equally, this constitutes the "real" difference), and it interferes with a lot of words.

In this sense, an XXX>Tagalog translation would pose no problem, once you have decided the client's position with respect to his/her/its audience.


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:33
French to English
+ ...
Colloquial English Solution (Partial) May 18, 2006

In colloquial English, at least as spoken in the United States, people almost always use plural pronouns following "every one" and similar words (much to the dismay of conservative prescriptivists) and thereby avoid gender-marked terms in some expressions. So people say "every one put their coat on" instead of the traditionally mandated "every one put his coat on." I expect that in time this usage will become the accepted standard even in writing.

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xxxPRen  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:33
French to English
+ ...
Really? May 18, 2006

Heinrich Pesch wrote:

A few weeks ago I got an English text about a study on breast cancer. The original always read: "the patients". I translated into German "die Patientinnen", though it is self-evident that the study does not involve men at all.

Regards
Heinrich


Are you saying that it is obvious from the study in question that no men were involved (meaning, it said so in that study)? Because men do get breast cancer.

Paula


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 06:33
Spanish to English
+ ...
If we're translating, gender-sensitivity is no real problem May 18, 2006

As a male, one of the few things I have sometimes found 'awkward' is when a French text refers to 'people', thus: 'il avait un groupe de vingt personnes et trois d'entre ELLES devaient aller à Paris' - when the text is actually talking about pupils at a boys-only school.

More-generally, as translators, we should leave our personal feelings to one side and follow the lead given by the source text. If I'm translating from French to English, I can see from the source text whether my client is bothered about gender (using words like 'professeure') and I can translate in a gender-sensitive manner to match. If the source text refers to all teachers as 'professeur', regardless of their actual gender, then I just have to do what's 'conventional' in English, too.

MediaMatrix

PS: It's somewhat off topic, but Heinrich might find this enlightening:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4720808.stm


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Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:33
English to Polish
+ ...
Polish May 18, 2006

Well, Polish grammar includes different verb and noun endings for both sexes, which becomes a nuisance while translating texts with unknown names in them. The most obvious example is "XYZ, representing the Botswana branch, said ..." The Polish form of "said" would be gender-dependent, and how on Earth am I to know if that was a man or a woman unless the next sentence starts with He/She? Google images are very helpful here
Another thing is occupations. Most of them have a masculine and feminine form, but the higher the position, the greater the problem as some feminine counterparts do not exist in Polish. So I often end up with Polish equivalents of Madame Professor / Minister, etc.
To make things worse, some apparent feminine equivalents refer to a position substantially lower than the male description. So a male form of "secretary" may mean anything, with the bias towards a Secretary of State, but a female form would unambiguously point out to a typist's workmate (hardly any men in the profession - how come?). Thus the person becomes a Madame Secretary of State ...
We'd better not vote any woman into the Presidential office, because half of the nation would talk about her as the President's wife by a sheer linguistic mistake ...


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