This translation tool creates gender-neutral terms in multiple languages

'Policeman,' 'sage-femme' and thousands of other words get an update for International Women's Day

Published On
Mar 08, 2019

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Many words in many languages are inherently gendered. Waiter and waitress, actor and actress, spokesman, mailman, mankind.

It takes practice to use inclusive, gender-neutral language when speaking, but it becomes much more difficult--sometimes impossible--when trying to translate words into another language. Translation services reference a database, which can obscure gendered etymology or sexist connotations. French has no neutral grammatical gender, for example, and many nouns can only be written in the masculine, including many professions, like a minister (“ministre.”)

So Elan Languages, a Belgium-based translation service, updated its database to include gender-neutral terms for thousands of words that might otherwise default to male versions. Using the Unbias Button on its website, “fireman” is translated as “firefighter,” and the German word “kameramann” becomes “camera operator.”

Common terms were also culled for discrimination against men, too. “Midwife” is gendered in both English and French (“sage-femme”), so now both terms translate to “birth assistant.”

The tool was created by J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, and the release is timed for this year’s International Women’s Day. The new database is also being made available to other translation services, like Google Translate, iTranslate and Yandex Translate.

Fox Networks recently made a move in this vein when it translated all the subtitles in its broadcasts of the show "Pose" to feature non-gendered terms.


Mar 08, 2019
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