Gender is a big topic these days and the use of gender-neutral language is a much-debated subject right now in the translation industry.
Translators and the people who work with them have long been debating how and when to use gender-neutral language. If conference topics and online articles are any indication, the overall global conversation about gender is bringing the topic of gender neutrality to the forefront again within the translation profession. As a Spanish to English translator, I work with two fairly “patriarchal” languages: the default pronoun still tends to be “he” in English and “‘él” in Spanish. However, this is changing as people question the default use of the masculine and come up with new ways to write and speak. Thinking about gender neutrality in translation presents the opportunity to re-think my own approach to language as I work.
Depending on the type of document I’m translating, I may choose to state “he or she” instead of just “he.” Take for example a statement by a student who writes, “Siempre me presento a un profesor nuevo para que pueda saber mi nombre de inmediato.” I could translate this to, “I always introduce myself to a new teacher so that he or she may know my name right away.” Notice that, even though the Spanish sentence uses the default masculine indefinite article “un,” I chose to use the pronouns “he” and “she” in the English sentence to open it up to both genders. It’s important to point out that this still leaves out the option of completely gender-neutral pronouns such as the use of “they” as a singular pronoun, which some folks are doing. More on all that here.
Translation companies Transpanish and Ulatus have thoughtful articles on this topic:
Translating with gender-inclusive language: https://transpanish.biz/translation_blog/guide-to-translating-with-inclusive-gender-neutral-language-in-english/
Gender issues in translation: https://www.ulatus.com/translation-blog/gender-issues-in-translation/
What is your stance? Do you have a definite preference? Does it depend on the context and purpose? What do you think of the new use of the “@” symbol for Spanish words like “tod@s” or Latin@s,” or the English use of neutral pronouns like “Ey/em/eir/eirs?”
Image thanks to The New Republic.
2 thoughts on “Gender Neutrality in Translation”
This is an extremely relevant topic nowadays, Alison, and we have to keep up with the demands of society. I work from English to Portuguese and, just like Spanish, Portuguese is a very sexist language: we use masculine nouns when referring to both men and women. However, unlike English, we don’t have a neutral “they” to solve the problem.
It’s quite a challenge to write in a more neutral way without making the text too long or awkward. However, I do hope we can create and consolidate some gender-neutral pronoun in the long run.
Thanks for your thoughts. Interesting to hear that you face these challenges with Portuguese. I’d love to see a gender-neutral pronoun introduced in languages like Portuguese and Spanish…something that people would find easy and natural to use.
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