How do we translate inclusively?

You may already be familiar with the concept of inclusive language, which seeks to actively include any and all listeners or readers, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, disability status, socioeconomic status, or any other characteristic. But what about translating inclusively?

According to Buffer, ‘inclusive language seeks to treat all people with respect, dignity, and impartiality’. The use of inclusive language has often been disparagingly branded by its detractors as ‘political correctness’ in the past. This is perhaps because it forces us to consider the entrenched, unconscious assumptions and biases in our day-to-day use of language – which is not always a comfortable experience.

A classic example: when someone talks about a doctor, most people (still!) initially assume that doctor must be male. A currently much-discussed facet of inclusive language is the use of gender-neutral pronouns they/them in the English language, even though their usage is in fact not so new at all.

At Sure Languages, we are more and more frequently asked to provide inclusive translations, especially for charities. This applies particularly to gendered languages such as French (see our article on the topic!) and Spanish, where the speaker is grammatically required to refer to the subject’s gender. Read on for a brief guide to inclusive translation:

Make your copy inclusive

Before we even get to inclusive translation, we need to consider whether the content for translation has been written in an inclusive style. There’s only so much inclusive translation can achieve if the original text is explicitly, or even implicitly, biased in nature.

Beth Dunn of HubSpot Product sums it up neatly; when writing content, ‘[t]ry not to present the privileged, tech-savvy, wealthy, able-bodied, white, cisgendered, anglo-centric male experience as “standard” and everything else as “other” or “diverse”. Seek ways to place the “other” in the center of things instead’. She’s referring specifically to content for the tech industry, but these guidelines apply across the board. If you want your translated material to be inclusive, make your copy inclusive.

Consider pronouns

Many communities and institutions around the world are adopting, or have already adopted, inclusive writing. For example, in 2015, the Swedish Academy took the step of officially recognising ‘hen’ as a gender-neutral pronoun, in place of the male pronoun ‘hon’ and the female pronoun ‘han’.

Language is constantly evolving, and the use of certain pronouns will vary from community to community, so a little bit of research into your target audience’s preferences will go a long way. If in doubt about any pronouns in your  copy, the key is always to ask the individual or the group how they would like to be referred to, rather than making assumptions or adhering to a particular style guide.

It’s best to ask a professional translation company who are well-versed in the use of inclusive writing and inclusive pronouns to carry out your inclusive translations for you.

Make plurals inclusive

In many languages, groups of individuals are referred to in the masculine by default, with the assumption that the plural implicitly includes women. The problem with this, as studies have shown, is that women frequently feel excluded by supposedly gender-neutral terms such as ‘guys’.

French has come up with a clever way to tackle its entrenched gender bias. For example, ‘les amis’ was historically understood to refer to both male and female friends, but as the French speakers among you will have noted, ‘ami’ is the masculine form. ‘Amie’, the female form, doesn’t even get a look in here. The answer? ‘Ami.e.s.’, which includes both the female and male forms, using ‘middots’, or median full stops. Their use has caused some controversy, however, to the extent that inclusive language and middots have been banned in French schools.

Nonetheless, middots are becoming commonplace, and professional translators will find the best ways of making your plurals inclusive for your target audience, no matter what the target language.

Inclusive translations improve your reach

If your foreign-language target audience or potential new overseas customers feel alienated by your translated copy, they’re much less likely to check out your website, read your blog, or order any of your products. HubSpot says, ‘inclusive language opens up and amplifies your message to more people’ – which, of course, is the goal of translating your content in the first place.

When you contact your chosen language service provider, be clear about the need for inclusive translations. Ask for examples of inclusive writing projects they’ve worked on, and discuss inclusive language use in your target cultures. You’ll probably all learn something!

Be ahead of the curve

It may take official language bodies years to recognise the use of inclusive language, especially in traditionally patriarchal cultures. However, in the meantime, a wealth of literature, film and other media is being produced which embraces gender-neutral language, an inclusive approach and non-binary characters.

If the translation world doesn’t respond and adapt to the use of inclusive language in popular culture, then we’re not doing our best to represent the breadth of the human experience. So go on, make your copy and your translations inclusive – everyone will benefit.

Interested in professional inclusive translation? Contact us about your project!

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