As the world becomes more aware of the wide spectrum of gender and sexual identities, it is exceeding clear that language and gender inclusivity go hand in hand. After all - words are extremely important indicators when it comes to a person’s gender.
While the idea of gender fluidity is nothing new, LGBTQ+ activists and linguists all over the globe have been championing for more inclusive terminologies in recent years. These linguists are making great strides in fostering gender inclusivity through words by creating new terms and modernizing existing words and grammar constructions with the world’s languages.
Translation and localization allow for people all over the world to communicate while adapting to local cultures and customs. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, it’s important to understand how your international audience views gender and sex. That’s because not every culture sees gender and sex the same way English speakers do. For example, some languages like Chinese don’t assign nouns to a specific gender. Or, just as it is common for English speakers to demonstrate gender through the pronouns of he, she, and they, the Turkish culture only has one word to represent he, she, and it.
Here are some examples of gender inclusivity within languages across the world.
Hen is an addition to the Swedish words han (he) and hon (she). Inspired by the Finnish word hän which is used to mean both he and she, hen started growing in popularity as a pronoun to represent Swedish gender nonbinary individuals. The word was first published in a children’s book back in 2012 and since then, hen was added to the Swedish dictionary in 2015 and has been widely adopted throughout the country.
The German language has gendered nouns and verbs, so Germany has come up with a system to use a * or a _ to include all genders in a written phrase. Traditionally, the suffixes -r or -rn are used for men, and -in or -innen are used for females. The word Nachbarn means a male neighbor, and Nachbarinnen is a female neighbor, so someone might write Nachbar_innen or Nachbar*innen to connotate a gender-neutral word.
Hungarian is a gender-neutral language, and when it comes to gender pronouns, Hungary can be considered as one of the most progressive languages in the world. The typical pronouns of he/she, her/his, him/her do not exist, so everyone, regardless of their sex or gender, is referred to with the same gender-neutral pronouns.
For example, the nominative case for a third person singular male or female is ő, the plural possessive word for all genders is övék, and the formal third person for all genders is ön or maga. With this in mind, the only open question a native speaker would have to ask themselves is whether or not they should address the person they are talking to in a formal or informal manner.
Like German, the French language is full of gendered nouns, verbs, and grammatical syntax. The word they is translated as either ils for males or elles for females and is used primarily when describing a group of people. Some French speakers have started using the pronoun iel, which is a mix of il and elle, to refer to a nonbinary person.
Additionally, masculine French words end in a consonant and feminine words end in an extra vowel, the French have started adding in a dot between the consonant and the vowel in a word to include all genders instead of having to choose. Instead of saying un voisin or une voisine for a male or female neighbor, one could write un.e voisin.e.
The Hebrew language assigns a gender to verbs, nouns, and adjectives based on the noun. LGBTQ and feminist activists have recently created several different ways to express a noun or a verb in a gender-neutral way. For example, The Nonbinary Hebrew Project has established words for a third gender by using non-binary and queer references in the Jewish texts Talmud and Torah.
Like the French, Israelis have also started putting a period in between the male and female cases on nouns and verbs to promote gender inclusivity. Some native speakers have even gone the extra mile and have added a new -ol singular ending and -imot plural ending to nouns and verbs. The -imot ending is extra meaningful, as it combines the -im ending of masculine plural nouns and the -ot ending of feminine ones.
Portuguese and Spanish
In both Portuguese and Spanish, masculine words end with o, and feminine words end with a. To be more gender-inclusive, these cultures have started removing the a and the o from words and using the non-binary suffixes of @, -x, and -e instead.
So this means that the words niño and niña, which are gender-specific words for a child would become niñ@, niñx, and/or niñe.
The need for gender-inclusive language is paramount in a world where there isn’t just one way to speak about gender and sex. Because of this, it is incredibly important to ensure your message is accessible and appropriate to speakers of all languages. Businesses looking to communicate properly with their customers and employees need to invest in translation and localization to create a world that is more inclusive and welcoming for all.
Language Intelligence offers localization services in over 150 languages, all over the world. Our adaptive translation solutions will help you cross-cultural divides in an effort to understand, communicate, and collaborate all across the world. Let us help you include gender-inclusive languages in your translations - so get in touch to talk about your project!