Gender, Language, and Localization: A Three-Way Street
Gendered languages, natural gender languages, genderless languages … these are just a few of the terms you might stumble across whilst exploring the labyrinth of language and gender. Historically, the conversation around this topic remained rather closed, and so the approach to localization was, too, little talked about. Today, linguists find themselves sitting at a crucial crossroads between language and society, as the discussions around gender and language become increasingly intertwined.
Words Make Waves
The language we speak shapes the way we think. Traditionally, the world prescribes the male gender as default, and so we see this idea echoed and reinforced in all corners of culture. And perhaps most potently, through language. Even everyday constructs come with a backstory that is deep-rooted in gender – for example, “husband and wife”, “his and hers”, with the male subject at the forefront.
This extends to how we view the world around us, and is true on a global scale. Take the word “bridge”, classed as a feminine noun in German, but a masculine one in Spanish. When asked to describe a “bridge”, we find that German speakers will instinctively choose words such as “elegant” and “beautiful” – words typically associated with the feminine. Whereas Spanish speakers label a “bridge” as “sturdy” and “strong” – stereotypically male-associated words.
The Move to Neutral
In recent years, we’ve seen some countries and cultures step towards a more gender-neutral approach to language. In particular, languages that naturally lack genderless nouns – such as Spanish and French. This advocacy around language reform has given rise to the creation of new, more inclusive terms which free speakers from the boundaries of the gender binary. In Spanish, it’s now commonplace to see endings such as -@, -x and -e, in place of conventional, gender-focused forms.
Now more than ever, the modern linguist carries an increasing responsibility; to consider the ever-evolving conversations and complexities around gender, unique to the audience they are writing for. And in order to align with the brand they are writing for, this focus needs to be reflected throughout the localization process – from concept to campaign. So, alongside a sturdy style guide, brands should look to supplement their briefing materials with gender guidelines, and preferences around their approach to this topic.
Need a hand getting to grips with a gender-neutral brand voice? Get in touch with us to start the conversation.