Inclusive language and multilingual communication
Is there an effective yet inclusive language to speak to one’s audience?
When we communicate, a message can take on slightly different meanings depending on how it is conveyed.
For this reason, translating content using inclusive language is a prerogative of an increasing number of companies. For us at interlanguage,inclusiveness and gender equality have a particular relevance, which is realised both in the implementation of the main universally shared guidelines and (most importantly) in the development of specific strategies for our clients.
Translating content using inclusive language depends on a number of factors: in fact, it is not enough to apply general rules but it is necessary to consider contextual elements such as the target language, channels used, communication objectives, message recipients, corporate image, and much more.
What is inclusive language
Inclusive communication means using language free of words, expressions and tones that reflect any kind of discrimination, bias or stereotype. One of the topics that causes the most discussion is related to the gender disparity of certain terms: often, in Italian as well as in other languages, we still refer to masculine expressions to indicate, for example, a person’s role. Do you say il Sindaco (masculine form for Mayor) or la Sindaca (female form for Mayor)? Il Presidente (masculine form for President) or la Presidente (feminine form for President)? From a point of view of linguistic inclusiveness, it is correct to use the feminine when the person referred to identifies with this gender and appreciates that it is indicated in reference to the profession, but in reality this expedient is not always respected.
The inclusiveness of language: let’s give some examples
Unlike other languages, in Italian there are no universally shared and accepted linguistic stratagems for indicating neuter gender. While some countries are considering changes in their vocabulary to fill this gap (such as Sweden, which recently introduced the pronoun hen – that person – to indicate an undefined gender), in Italy we must find ways to use inclusive language by having only male and female genders.
Discrimination related to a health condition is called ableism (the tendency to elevate as more positive an able-bodied over a disabled one). Expressions such as una persona con disabilità (a person with a disability) are preferable to portatore/portatrice di handicap (handicapped). It is best to avoid emphasising that a person suffers from a disease, has been the victim of an accident, or generalising pathologies. At the same time, euphemisms with denial of abilities are also to be avoided. For example, preferring the use of “sordo” (“deaf”), instead of “non udente” (“nonhearing”), which has the effect of emphasising the person’s lack of ability.
The solution we offer at interlanguage
To address some of the linguistic “gaps,” we at interlanguage propose a series of expedients aimed at reducing or zeroing out discrimination of any kind. Let’s have some clarity. In our language the extended masculine plural is widely used to refer to both genders: we often say “i dottori” (“the doctors”, as a masculine plural) even when there are female components or “gli italiani” (“the Italians”, again as a masculine plural) to refer to the entire population of the boot. In these situations, we prefer, whenever possible, to put the feminine before the masculine in a sentence (“dottoresse e dottori”, meaning “female doctors and doctors”) or, even better, to avoid stereotypical expressions, it is preferable to speak of “personale sanitario” instead of “medici e infermieri”, that is “healthcare personnel” instead of “doctors and nurses”.
We prefer to say, “Grazie per esserti registrato” (“Thank you for subscribing to the newsletter”, gender neutral) instead of “Grazie per esserti registrato” (“Thank you for registering”, defaulting to masculine singular) but also “l’App è stata scaricata da un gran numero di utenti” instead of “l’App è stata scaricata da moltissimi utenti”, both meaning that the App has been downloaded by a large number of users, but is more gender neutral in the first example.
Recently in Italy the use of the schwa (ǝ) has been proposed to express an indefinite gender (or in some cases also the asterisk or the @) but this letter has several limitations especially in speech because it is a sound that exists only in some Italian Romance dialects such as Neapolitan and Piedmontese and the phonetic difference between the singular and plural is minimal and difficult to distinguish.
Translating texts using inclusive language is an added value: we also offer our expertise to our clients, contributing to awareness of language use as an act of social responsibility. The inclusiveness of language is like language itself: constantly evolving, as well as a reflection of the society in which we live and an agent of change within it. Thanks to the training and continuing education activities in which we participate, we are able to find the most suitable language solutions depending on the client’s objectives, cultural background, the target audience they want to reach, and the type of text and different communication channels.
If you are looking for a competent partner to take care of your translations by adopting inclusive language in different world languages, contact us here!