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Hi everyone,

I’ve been penalized for using a non sexist language. I translated the sentence “Stuck in a job that isn't you?” as “¿Estás atrapado/a en un trabajo que no es para ti?” I’m not saying that we should always use “o/a”, but in this sentence, someone is talking to a real person whose gender is unknown. This person could be a woman (atrapada) or a man (atrapado).

According to the senior translator, masculine gender in Spanish encompasses both genders. That is true just because a group of men of the Real Academia de la Lengua decided so a long time ago, but we can use an inclusive language anyway. I don’t really feel included when someone is talking to the reader (to me) using the masculine form all the time (I’m a woman).

La Real Academia de la Lengua does not like changes, but that is not a good reason for not using an inclusive language whenever we can. That may be difficult in Spanish, but I don’t see the problem with writing “atrapado/a”.

I’d like to know the position of Gengo. Should we use an inclusive language? If so, how should we do it?

Best

Ana

12 comments

  • 9
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    marcodnd

    This problem is also common in my language (Italian) and while sometimes it is hard, it is almost always possible to write in a gender-neutral way without recurring to a solution like "a/o", which a lot of people don't seem to like. Some examples (and I know that not all of these will work in Spanish or French, but hopefully some will!): 

    1. Turn the sentence into plural, when possible. In Italian, when referring to a mixed gender group, the masculine plural is always considered neutral and inclusive. Is it the same in Spanish, French and other Romance languages?

    2. Use the impersonal form, when possible?

    3. Find a synonym that works for both masculine and feminine. For ex. in Italian, adjectives ending in -e are both M and F and I think this is the same in Spanish, correct?

    4. Sometimes turning a part of speech into another might work. In Italian I could turn the adjective 'I feel *trapped*' (mi sento intrappolato/a) into a noun phrase, "I feel *in a trap*" (mi sento in trappola), which doesn't reveal the speaker's gender. 

    5. This is not a perfect solution, but sometimes the target audience of a text might be predominantly men or women, and you can simply base your choice on that. 

    And I'm sure there's other solutions.

  • 7
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    Facundo Martin Pallero

    Hi everyone,
    This is a really interesting topic and I thought I'd chip in my two cents as well. I agree with Ana that the RAE is very slow to catch up with the times, but also with the Quality Team that deferring to their guidelines is generally the most pragmatic solution. That being said, human communication is about a lot more than grammatical rules (which themselves can vary between communities and change over time). I believe quality assurance should ideally take into consideration the ultimate effect of the translation rather than only check the text against a style guide. For example, if a source has marks of inclusive language, as LB mentioned, it's obvious the customer (and their intended audience) won't be happy if we get rid of them. Similarly, imagine our client is an organization that fights for gender equality but has left no instructions because the source language is already gender-neutral and they don't have any knowledge of the target language. It seems common sense that helping our customer convey the message that they want should trump any considerations of normative grammaticality.

    Outside Gengo, I specialize in legal documents and this is one area where eliminating ambiguity always comes before RAE's rules (e.g., capitalization of defined terms: http://www.lalinternadeltraductor.org/n9/contratos-ingles-espanol.html). While in contracts the masculine is generally understood to include women (especially in the second person), it is also common to write out alternatives for the third person (e.g., "employee(s)" -> "empleado/a(s)"). 

     

  • 5
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    bj01

    But then again, it all depends on what you call inclusive; not everyone agrees that using "o/a" or similar forms is more inclusive than using the traditional masculine as neutral form. If anything, the differential form is exluding people with dyspraxia, who have trouble reading it and non-binary people; some women are just as offended by it as you are by the traditional form. So how would you give a choice to clients about that? "Here are two forms of writing that both sides think is more inclusive than the other one" wouldn't help them much to make a choice.

    Furthermore, the RAE, or the Académie Française or the Accademia della Crusca (or any other type of similar institution) already work the way you describe, in a sense: they are linguistics experts and therefore know they can not bend a language in any way, but merely recommend a set of rules so as to ensure consistency in the way it is taught and used. That means that they will follow any natural evolution of the language, but tend to resist political ones. I wouldn't blame them for that.

  • 4
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    Katrina Paterson

    Hello again, Ana, thanks for your suggestions (and thanks to B. for chipping in).

    Ana, I think what you say about making a guide with more information on translating into gendered languages sounds like a great idea. In fact, we're trying really hard at the moment to create new resources that we think will benefit translators (if any of you follow the newsletter you'll see that we have a 'Quality Corner' now where we've been trying to share such resources). I'll check whether we could create an article like this and if so then I'll make sure we publish it here or elsewhere. I couldn't really comment too much on what those guidelines would be, firstly because I'm not on the Quality team and secondly because I don't have experience of translating into a language that inflects gender in the way that Spanish and other Romance languages do. However, it's clear from this discussion that other people have similar questions and we would like to be able to help address these as much as we can. 

    What you say about everyday language changing faster than the language of institutions is interesting and something that I think would resonate with a lot of us. At the same time, though, my understanding (speaking as a member of the Community/Experience team rather than the Quality team) is that the style guidelines say to refer to the RAE because it's the most pragmatic way of making sure that everyone is following the same standards. I would say that unless the customer gives any specific instructions with regard to the use of gendered language, it is probably better to find the best compromise that you can between using language that you feel is the most appropriate without actually adding or omitting any details from the source text, and in this case I think marcodnd's suggestions (and any others that people can suggest - it would be great to hear them) seem to be a good way of achieving this.

    B. - I think your ideas are interesting as well. It sometimes feels like the world changes so rapidly - not just thinking in terms of social attitudes, but also travel (when that used to happen), technology, and so much else. Sometimes it's difficult to know how to appeal to the most people while still maintaining some kind of a common standard, and I suppose there's also an argument that no standard that we apply, no matter who created it, will ever really account for every eventuality since language by nature seems so complex, subjective, and open to interpretation.

    In any case, I'll follow up on everything I mentioned above. To everyone that's reading - please don't hesitate to keep the discussion going, and if you have any suggestions like marcodnd's then feel free to throw those in, too!

  • 3
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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi Ana, thanks for starting this thread up, and thanks to everyone else who's left their thoughts on this very interesting discussion. 

    Ana, I've checked with the Quality team and they have told me that in the event of any doubts, translators should follow what is set out by the Real Academia, unless the customer instructions say otherwise. I believe this is mentioned in the Spanish style guide, which you can take a look at here. One of the reasons for deferring to the RAE is that this should help maintain consistency by giving translators a common standard to work within, particularly in the event that there are questions about how best to use language.

    That said, I completely understand your concern about language being interpreted as non-inclusive, and I would say that in this sense finding alternative ways of wording a phrase (while still remaining faithful to the source text in tone and overall meaning) is a good way of getting around this, as marcodnd described above.

    Referring to the GoCheck review in particular - if you'd like to query this, you are of course welcome to submit a re-review request, which you can read more about here.

    I hope that the above points have helped, but please let us know if you have any further questions. 

    This is a really good topic for discussion and it's great to see that some people have picked up on this and shared their insights already. It would be great to read many more!

  • 2
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    bj01

    I don't know what the position of Gengo is, but I'd like to offer my point of view.

    The issue is similar in French with some people pushing to use "inclusive" language. For many reasons, I find it to be a very bad idea from a linguistic and educational pespective, but more importantly in this case, I feel that deciding wether a form of language is more inclusive than another one is inherently political. I'm not sure that many people think the traditional way of expressing inclusivity (encompassing it in the masculine form, which in this case becomes neutral) is sexist, whereas using the "inclusive" form is a strong political statement, something I find preferable to stay away from in a professional context. 

    If you want to be an activist for changes in your language, it is one thing, but that should not impact you work in my opinion, or at the very least you should ask the client about it rather than assuming they agree with your political views.

  • 2
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    Ana

    Hi Katrina,

    You’re right, I think we need to talk about the position of the RAE because they are very rigid. In fact, things work the other way around: people make the changes first and the RAE has to accept them when they are consolidated. If we always do what the RAE says, nothing will change. That is why it is important to skip some "rules" from time to time.

    I think it would be great if Gengo could make a guide about inclusive language and encourage translators to use it. Regarding the use of “o/a”, I think it is okay to try to avoid it, but we should be allowed to use it sometimes if necessary without been penalized.

    I also think that Gengo could give clients some information about Spanish language and let them choose if they want translators to use inclusive language.

  • 2
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    Katrina Paterson

    These are very interesting thoughts, Facundo, and it's true that context is so important when translating, particularly in legal documents such as the ones you describe. I also like how you mentioned that some languages are gender-neutral and that this raises even more questions when translating into a language that does mark gender. It's actually surprising to learn how many languages don't have any gender indicators at all - not even for pronouns - and that surely raises a lot of questions about how to best translate such a language into one which DOES use gender. 

    It would be really interesting to know how many language 'families', as it were, have some way or another of marking gender, and to what extent. I see we've talked here about how Romance languages use gender, but there are other language groups that do too, such as Slavic languages, for instance. Does anyone have any examples of working with other gender-inflected languages that they could share? (Or even more thoughts about working with Romance languages?)

    As I say, we'd love to take these ideas into consideration when preparing our resources, so everyone's ideas are more than welcome. Thanks also to everyone who's contributed so far!

  • 2
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    Alexander

    While the details in Dutch are different from those in Romance languages, it's considered good practice in the Netherlands to strive for gender neutrality. On a different platform, I work as editor, and customers appreciate my habit of replacing "he" by "he or she" (though "she or he" feels weird - we still have a long way to go).

  • 1
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    LeaTranslations

    This is very timely! Just today I edited a translation in which the source had used a gender-inclusive term that the translator swapped out for a non-gender inclusive one in their translation. I of course changed it back. I have to say that I was taken aback by the fact that the translator deliberately chose to change a gender inclusive term the client had used for another one.

  • 1
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    Katrina Paterson

    Very interesting thoughts, Alexander!

  • 0
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    Katrina Paterson

    As a follow-up - Ana, I think you raise a really interesting point about the position of the RAE in general, and when I say that we use them as our ultimate standard when translating, I mean this in the sense that it is a practical way to make sure everyone has the same resource to refer to in the event of any doubts. I think the question of regulatory bodies in languages and how these change (or sometimes don't) over time is also very relevant in this day and age, and is a great topic to talk about. 

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