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26 August, 2022

How the IQA uses inclusive language

Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey

By Joke Daems, IQA translation manager

Research has shown that the language we use can influence the way we see the world. As 'inclusivity' is one of the core values of the IQA, we try to ensure the language we use is inclusive as well. While inclusive-language strategies are relatively straightforward for languages like English, they get more complicated for some of the other IQA languages. In this article, we briefly explain what makes gender-inclusive language so tricky (yet absolutely necessary) and how we as the IQA try to be at the forefront of language-powered social change. What is presented here are the strategies as they are currently in place in our different language teams. We understand that gender-inclusive language is a very complex topic and that not all solutions are equally satisfactory to everyone. We would love to work more closely with the different NGBs to decide how we tackle these issues going forward, especially considering that language is continuously evolving.

Gender in the IQA languages

Different languages express grammatical gender to different degrees. So-called 'genderless languages' like Turkish have no grammatical gender. This means that nouns and pronouns have one form that is used for people of all genders (for example, Turkish has only one third person singular pronoun 'o' and makes no grammatical distinction between 'he' and 'she' like English does). English is a 'natural gender language', making it almost genderless (for example, a 'doctor' can be a person of any gender), although it does express gender in pronouns and some nouns. In order to be inclusive, genderless languages like Turkish usually do not need additional strategies. For English, the IQA uses 'they/them' as pronouns whenever we refer to people of unknown or multiple genders, as this is the gender-neutral pronoun accepted by the majority of (non-binary) language users and it has a historic origin in the language itself. 

However, it becomes much harder to use inclusive language for languages with grammatical gender like Catalan, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. These languages assign grammatical gender to most words. When saying someone is 'the best player on the team', for example, the adjective 'best', the article 'the' and the noun 'player' can all change depending on the player's gender: 

  • English: She is the best player on the team. / He is the best player on the team. (In Turkish, these two statements can be translated by the same "O takımdaki en iyi oyuncudur")
  • Catalan: És la millor jugadora de l'equip. / És el millor jugador de l'equip.
  • French: Elle est la meilleure joueuse de l'équipe. / Il est le meilleur joueur de l'équipe. 
  • German: Sie ist die beste Spielerin im Team. / Er ist der beste Spieler im Team. 
  • Italian: È la migliore giocatrice della squadra. / È il miglior giocatore della squadra.
  • Portuguese: É a melhor jogadora da equipe. / É o melhor jogador da equipe.
  • Spanish: Es la mejor jugadora del equipo. / Es el mejor jugador del equipo. 

With (binary) gender so explicitly encoded in these languages, it becomes really hard to come up with gender-inclusive ways of writing. Historically, most of these languages have used the masculine forms of words when referring to a general audience or writing about people of unknown genders. In Spanish, for example, you would say 'los jugadores' (the masculine plural of the word 'player') when talking about a group of players, even when only one person in the group is male. While this 'masculine generic' is still used (and often even prescribed by the official guidelines of a language), research has shown that the use of such language can make women and non-binary individuals invisible in our minds, leading to a male bias and thus discrimination of people of other genders. 

Towards gender-neutral language

"Gender-neutral language is a generic term covering the use of non-sexist language, inclusive language or gender-fair language. The purpose of gender-neutral language is to avoid word choices which may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory or demeaning by implying that one sex or social gender is the norm. Using gender-fair and inclusive language also helps reduce gender stereotyping, promotes social change and contributes to achieving gender equality."

Quote taken from the guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language in the European Parliament

Different strategies have been proposed for replacing the masculine generic, although these strategies are often still motivated by a binary view of gender in language. One such strategy is to make other (pro)nouns explicit in writing, either by writing them in full or by adding the ending for the feminine version of a word: 

  • English: When a player receives a card, he or she needs to move to the penalty box.
  • Spanish: Cuando un(a) jugador(a) recibe una tarjeta, debe moverse al área de penalización.
  • German: Wenn ein Spieler oder eine Spielerin eine Karte erhält, muss er oder sie sich auf die Strafbank bewegen.

While such explicit 'feminization' indeed leads to less discrimination against women, these solutions still exclude non-binary individuals and they can become quite complex for longer sentences or sentences with adjectives. 

Another strategy is to try and avoid structures with explicitly gendered nouns altogether. For example, instead of using the word ‘player’, you could refer to ‘people/those who play’ (‘Spielende’ in German). While this does lead to a more neutral way of describing people, it is not possible for all verbs, and sentences can start to sound quite artificial if this strategy is used throughout. Additionally, it can have a similar effect as the ‘masculine generic’, in that it does not consciously remind the reader that there are people of diverse (including non-binary) genders. Depending on the goal of the text (do we want to explicitly highlight the different genders or do we want to show that all genders are equal by using one neutral term that includes everyone), this can actually be the preferred strategy. 

The final solution is the use of gender-neutral language, where only one (newly coined) form of a word is used. This is the strategy currently recommended by major LGBTQIA+ organisations and supported by recent language and gender research, and is also the strategy the IQA tries to adopt in its translations as much as possible. 

How the IQA uses inclusive language in translation

Currently, our translators actively use gender-inclusive language for French, German, Italian, and Spanish, to different degrees. Gender-neutral language is evolving differently for different languages, and there is not usually one publicly accepted solution. For each language, we therefore allow our translators to determine to what extent they feel comfortable adopting the gender-inclusive writing strategies, given their knowledge of their language and the current attitude towards gender-inclusive language in their NGB. We understand that these solutions are not always perfect, and we’re open to input from the NGBs on how to improve this in the future. At the same time, we try to inform everyone about the importance of gender-inclusive language and we hope to be able to provide more gender-inclusive translations into more languages as these strategies become more commonly accepted. For large documents, such as the rulebook, you can usually find a 'translator statement' at the start, clarifying the specific choices (such as gender-inclusive writing) the translation team made for that text. 

French

In French, gender-inclusive writing is achieved by introducing an interpunct (also known as interpoint, middle dot, middot or ‘point médian’ in French) in the middle of a word, between the standard masculine version of a word and its feminine ending. While parentheses have sometimes been used in a similar way, those seem to imply that the feminine is a secondary derivative of the masculine, and not really equal. It also excludes non-binary people, whereas the interpunct is believed to indicate that there is more than just the binary feminine and masculine. In addition, the gendered pronouns 'il' (he) and 'elle' (her) have been replaced by the newly-introduced gender-neutral pronoun 'iel'. 

  • From the English rulebook: If the entering player interacts with play before the call, or before correcting the substitution violation, they must be penalized for an illegal substitution.
  • Masculine generic French: Si le joueur entrant intéragit avec le jeu avant le signalement du corps arbitral, ou avant d'avoir corrigé la violation de la procédure, il doit être pénalisé pour remplacement illégal.
  • Feminization/doubling up: Si le joueur ou la joueuse entrant(e) intéragit avec le jeu avant le signalement du corps arbitral, ou avant d'avoir corrigé la violation de la procédure, il ou elle doit être pénalisé(e) pour remplacement illégal.
  • Gender-inclusive IQA translation: Si le·a joueur·euse entrant·e intéragit avec le jeu avant le signalement du corps arbitral, ou avant d'avoir corrigé la violation de la procédure, iel doit être pénalisé·e pour remplacement illégal.

German

The strategy for German is somewhat similar to that for French. Here as well, a 'neutral' typographical symbol is used to separate the masculine and feminine version of articles, pronouns, adjectives, and nouns. In this case it is an asterisk, also known as a 'gender star' or 'Gendersternchen' in German. The idea is that the star captures the existence of identities beyond the gender binary. The same strategy is used for the pronouns, where the masculine 'er' (he) and feminine 'sie' (she) are combined into 'sie*er'. While some neopronouns exist in German (such as 'xier' and 'sier'), there currently doesn't seem to be one with a similar status and level of acceptance (in non-binary communities) as the 'iel' for French. For readability purposes, the German translation team uses a variation of this writing form in the rulebook translation. Rather than writing ‘Ein*e auswechselnde*r Spieler*in’, for example, articles and adjectives are maintained in the form of the longest ending, turning this into (the more readable) ‘Eine auswechselnde Spieler*in’. In rare cases where there is a truly a gender neutral noun, the asterisk is used in the adjective instead.

  • From the English rulebook: A beater may not attempt to deceive an opponent by contacting them using a held bludger.
  • Masculine generic German: Ein Treiber darf nicht versuchen, einen Gegner zu täuschen, indem er jenen mit einem gehaltenen Klatscher berührt.
  • Gender-inclusive IQA translation: Eine Treiber*in darf nicht versuchen, eine Gegner*in zu täuschen, indem sie*er jene mit einem gehaltenen Klatscher berührt.

Italian

The use of typographical symbols like the middot and asterisk has been explored for gender-inclusive Italian as well, but in 2021, another solution was proposed by two linguists and picked up by a national newsletter: the use of the 'schwa' or 'ə' phonetic symbol as a gender-neutral alternative to binary gendered endings of Italian words. The main suggested benefits are the fact that it can easily be pronounced (for the typographical symbols, users suggest leaving a short pause in a word when pronouncing them) and that the sound and look of the symbol itself are 'neutral' as well. Our translators have therefore adopted this form of inclusive writing for most (short) IQA texts, although the content chapters in the rulebook are still written with alternated masculine and feminine forms. The main argument is that it is not clear at this point how inclusive language forms influence the reading of a text (particularly people with dyslexia might struggle with such forms) and that the readability of the rulebook is key.

  • From the English proposed rule changes document: Joint possession - When two or more players have a grip on, or otherwise share control of the same ball, leaving neither player with possession. 
  • Masculine generic Italian: Possesso condiviso - Quando due o più giocatori hanno presa su o condividono in altro modo il controllo della stessa palla, in modo che nessuno dei due ne abbia il pieno possesso.
  • Gender-inclusive IQA translation: Possesso condiviso - Quando due o più giocatorə hanno presa su o condividono in altro modo il controllo della stessa palla, in modo che nessunə dellə due ne abbia il pieno possesso.

Spanish

In Spanish, there are currently two dominant gender-inclusive writing strategies: replacing the gender-marked endings of words by either the letter 'x' or the letter 'e'. For readability, the IQA translators opted for this second solution. A player of unspecified or non-binary gender then becomes 'une jugadore' rather than 'un jugador' (male) or 'una jugadora' (female). A similar strategy is used for pronouns: rather than using 'él' (he) or 'ella' (she), the gender-neutral 'elle' is used.

  • From the English rulebook: Players must not use any equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to themselves or other players.
  • Masculine generic Spanish: Los jugadores no pueden usar ningún equipamiento ni llevar nada que sea peligroso para ellos mismos o para otros jugadores.
  • Gender-inclusive IQA translation: Les jugadores no pueden usar ningún equipamiento ni llevar nada que sea peligroso para elles mismes o para otres jugadores.

The future

As hopefully became evident from this article, using gender-inclusive language strategies is not always as straightforward as you might think. While, for some languages, there is a lot of existing research and a relatively high public level of acceptance of such 'artificial' language changes, the introduction of neopronouns and gender-inclusive symbols is quite controversial or even actively resisted in other languages. There is also a tension between offering truly gender-inclusive texts and ensuring that our texts are easily readable to everyone in our community. 

The IQA is aware that these linguistic choices might feel unnatural at first, but new language will only become more natural as we use it more frequently. Our translation teams are closely following the ongoing research and attitude towards gender-inclusive language and we will continue to educate our translators and update our translation strategies accordingly. Given that language is constantly evolving, we greatly appreciate input from our players and NGBs to ensure that we stay up to date in the future. We firmly believe that changing language can change society, and we will always strive for a more inclusive society by using inclusive language whenever we can.

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