How does gender-inclusive writing work around the world?

Gender-inclusive writing refers to all the grammatical and syntactical attention paid to ensure equal representation of men and women when writing. In practice, the concept is fraught with controversy and it’s not always easy to know how to use it. Here’s a quick overview of inclusive writing practices around the world.

Gender-inclusive writing in French

Inclusive writing in France often gives rise to debate, notably about the use of the midpoint (·) or the gender-neutral pronoun ‘iel’, which was recently included in the Le Robert dictionary. However, there are plenty of ways to write inclusively in French.

Of all the French-speaking territories, Quebec stands out for its forward-thinking approach to the matter, with discussions about inclusive writing emerging as early as the 1980s. The issue took longer to come to light in France, but one shared point is the lack of unanimity regarding the rules to be applied.

Consequently, there are different ways to write inclusively in French, including:

The doublet: ‘toutes et tous’, ‘les travailleurs et les travailleuses’ which allows the writer to include both the feminine and masculine forms of the terms (‘all’ and ‘workers’ in this example). You can also classify gendered terms in alphabetical order so that the masculine form is not necessarily the first listed: ‘elles et ils’ or ‘les femmes et les hommes’, meaning ‘they’ and ‘women and men’ in English.

A variant of this is the shorthand doublet: ‘le joueur/la joueuse’, ‘l’expert(e) comptable’, ‘les adjoint[e]s’, indicating in different shortened styles both the masculine and feminine forms of ‘player’, ‘accountant’ and ‘deputy’.

Gender-neutral expressions and periphrases: ‘le personnel’, ‘le corps enseignant’ and ‘la direction’, encompassing as single bodies the concepts of ‘personnel’, ‘teaching staff’ and ‘management’.

Use of the midpoint: ‘les traducteur·trices’, ‘les salarié·es’ include all agreements required to designate both male and female ‘translators’ and ‘employees’. To add a midpoint, just press and hold ‘Alt’ and type in 0183 on a PC or ⌥ (option) + ⇧ (shift) + f on a Mac. (You get the hang of it quickly, honestly!).

Inclusive writing in other languages

The challenges about how to write inclusively vary depending on the language.

In English, language is naturally more neutral and nouns do not have a gender. English speakers can also use ‘they’ as a gender-neutral singular personal pronoun instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’, as well as its variants ‘their’ and ‘them’ in inclusive phrasing.

In German, there are several ways to write gender neutrally. Neutral expressions can be used, such as ‘Elternteil’ for ‘parent’ instead of ‘vater’ or ‘mutter’ (‘father’ or ‘mother’). You can also use a semi-colon or a capital letter to form a word that includes both the male and female genders, e.g. ‘Schüler:innen’ or ‘SchülerInnen’ (‘students’, in English).

Inclusive writing in Spanish uses similar methods to French. The Madrid City Council has published a guide on inclusive writing which encourages the use of periphrases and gender-neutral expressions, doublets and the passive voice to avoid gendered expressions. In less formal settings, we also see the use of the ‘x’ or ‘@’ sign, for example in the expression ‘latinxs’/’latin@s‘. This spelling is not one of the Madrid City Council’s recommendations, however, particularly because it raises several questions about pronunciation.

In Italian, beyond the gender-neutral expressions already mentioned, the asterisk (*) is generally used to avoid gendered word endings. To address the problem of pronunciation, the use of the schwa symbol (ə), a middle vowel in the international phonetic alphabet, is also emerging.

In several languages, gender-neutral pronouns are also emerging and entering the dictionary, such as ‘iel’ in French and ‘hen’ in Swedish (entered the Swedish Academy’s dictionary in 2015). ‘Hen’ is a gender-neutral pronoun contrary to ‘han’ (he) and ‘hon’ (she).

Case-by-case application

Of course, inclusive writing is not always suited to all content, especially software interfaces and technical documentation, since it can make phrases difficult to read. Using doublets or gender-neutral expressions can make sentences longer and potentially incompatible with character limitations. Plus, the midpoint is not recognised by all interfaces and may not display correctly. It is therefore essential to take account of your technical constraints before choosing the right approach for you.

We hope this article has helped you to have a clearer view of the topic. If you want to use inclusive writing in the translation of your documents, do not hesitate to contact Version Internationale. We will be happy to assist and advise you on the most suitable approach.



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