For two decades the United Nations has been working towards the goal of gender parity throughout the organisation. It readily admits, however, that it is “seventeen years behind on its due date.” Other organisations are following suit. As part of the UN’s own internal mission, guidelines for promoting gender-inclusive language have been published across the organisation’s six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. These guidelines (see link, below) cover three key areas: 1) using non-discriminatory language, 2) making gender visible when it is relevant for communication and 3) not making gender visible when it is not relevant for communication.
How to avoid discriminatory language in corporate communications: a suggestion from the UN
Word choice can be challenging when delivering internal or external communications. For English, many writers automatically default to male pronouns and possessives:
If the employee is unsatisfied with the outcome, he should submit a complaint in writing.
Although we understand that the ‘he’ could also be a ‘she’ many of us opt to use the masculine form for speed and simplicity. But is it just a matter of speed and simplicity? Or are we actually just allowing the status quo to continue?
Here, specifically, the UN suggests a different approach called ‘pairing’:
“’Pairing’ is the use of both feminine and masculine forms (he or she; her or his). It is a strategy that may be used when the author/speaker wants to explicitly make both women and men visible. It is advisable not to overuse this strategy in English, however, as it may be distracting to the reader, in particular in narrative texts. It may also create inconsistencies or render the text less accurate — for example, in legal texts.”
Corporate communications translation: A German perspective
We spoke with our translator, Rob, about this topic because he frequently translates corporate communications into German. He explains:
“I’ve just realised I never use the masculine form by default. I always use ‘they’ or an appropriate variation of that in translations. Sometimes that results in a bit of a stretch – ‘themselves’ for third-person singular is correct but sometimes sounds quite weird. I do appreciate the simplicity of English mostly – German-speakers tie themselves up with all manner of things in order to cover males and females. Just as one example, I’ve seen the English words ‘translator’ and ‘translators’ as Übersetzer und Übersetzerin or Übersetzer/in. It gets even more unwieldy as a plural – Übersetzer/innen. It might be an oversimplification, but I feel like English makes it easier to include everybody.”
Gender diversity in German
In addition to the topic of gender inclusivity and use of masculine and feminine forms, is the issue of appropriately representing diverse genders. In Germany, laws and policies have been firmly put in place. As of 2018, a person can change the gender they were assigned at birth to ‘diverse’ if they don’t feel it’s an accurate representation of who they are.
So, as an example within the scope of human resources this time, job adverts now specify the job role in the masculine form (e.g. ‘Übersetzer’ or ‘translator’) and add ‘m’, ‘f’ and ‘d’ (‘diverse’) to ensure inclusivity (‘Übersetzer (m/f/d)’). Sometimes it’s the seemingly small details in writing which really count.
Establishing terminology and style for multilingual corporate communications
For translations of corporate communications, how should your team approach the issues highlighted in this blog? Are the guidelines set out by the UN helpful to corporate communications departments? When it comes to translating this type of corporate content, companies may have specific terminology or style guides, which can be accessed by translators during the translation process. Your choices can be reflected, as far as possible, in the languages of your overseas audiences. A translation services provider can support your team to implement the most suitable linguistic terms in each target language and ensure consistent implementation across all projects.
If your business requires consultation on terminology management and translation of its corporate communications, contact our team today. We can advise you on approaches and timeframes.
You can read the UN’s guidelines here: https://www.un.org/en/gender-inclusive-language/guidelines.shtml
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