If there is one thing that all of us who work with languages are aware of, it is the following: language is constantly changing and evolving. The use that speakers make of it modifies the rules and customs, since these are the result of neither more nor less than social convention. So much so, that we as professional translators must constantly update ourselves in terms of the current lexicon and idioms in order to be able to deal with the translation of all kinds of texts and make them intelligible in another language in the most faithful way possible.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the use of inclusive language has spread among speakers, mainly young people and teenagers, and is today “on everyone’s lips”. With adherents and opponents in all languages, this inclusive language (also called “non-sexist” or “inclusive”) is now widespread in various countries around the world. Therefore, we believe that it is a subject that deserves to be analysed from a serious, broad and neutral perspective.
What is inclusive language?
Inclusive language is a linguistic practice that questions the generic use of masculine in formal language since it considers that it places man and his position in the world at the center of everything that exists. According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), this “vision of the world and social relations centered on the male point of view” is called androcentrism.
Starting from the basis that language constructs realities, inclusive language conflicts with this “masculine approach” as hegemonic and dominant in the world, since it not only makes the feminine position invisible, but also that of other gender identities. Thus, the main drivers of this linguistic practice are the feminist and LGBTIQ + movements that do not feel represented by formal language. What is the objective of this claim? Propagate the use of a language that truly represents all people regardless of gender.
In what languages is inclusive language used?
Today, inclusive language is spreading around the world. However, it must be taken into account that unlike the Spanish language there are many other languages that are already inclusive per se because they do not make differences between genders or use neutral genders.
Among the languages that use an inclusive language are Spanish, English, German and Russian, among others.
Differences between inclusive language in Spanish and English
In the Spanish language there are different mechanisms to accentuate the grammatical gender and biological sex of people: endings (hijo/a – meaning son or daughter in English), word opposition (father / mother) and the determinant with common nouns regarding gender (el / la estudiante – the student in English, , este/esta docente – this teacher in English). Likewise, there are also specific words – called epicene nouns – that have a single grammatical gender and designate all people regardless of biological sex (the person).
On the other hand, in the English language nouns do not have gender as well as the first, second and third person of the plural (we / you / they). However, it is in third-person pronouns that the differences between genders appear: he / his / him / himself for the masculine and she / her / herself / hers for the feminine.
Therefore, the discussion about inclusive language in English focused on these pronouns. Why is this happening? Because, as in the Spanish language, in English there is also the custom of using the masculine as generic.
Example: “A scientist must stick to his evidence” (“A scientist must stick to his evidence”). This example clearly shows that although the noun “scientist” is genderless, introducing the pronoun “his” assumes that the scientist is male.
Strategies for speaking or writing more inclusively
The United Nations (UN) has published a series of strategies to use gender-inclusive language that can be very useful for those who do not feel comfortable incorporating the rules of this new linguistic practice but still wish to communicate in a more inclusive way.
To do this, the UN suggests using the appropriate forms of treatment through the courtesy title, personal pronoun and adjectives that match your gender.
Likewise, they encourage the avoidance of expressions with negative connotations (“You cry like a girl”) and those that perpetuate gender stereotypes (for example, choosing to refer to “health personnel” instead of “nurses and doctors”).
To do so, simply choose to use pairs of feminine and masculine (for example, “boys and girls”) instead of the masculine plural to make both men and women visible.
In addition, there are other typographic tools and strategies, such as the slash [/] or parentheses [()] that are useful to make the feminine explicit when it is not sure who holds or will hold a position in the future (for example, “The Director will be in charge of signing the institution’s reports, once he / she is appointed”).
To avoid making gender visible, try: