What about political correctness?

  Thomas   Aug 12, 2014   Uncategorized   0 Comment

If you’re a translator then you have surely been confronted with the issue of political correctness in your translations. Gender neutrality, addressing disadvantaged categories appropriately, choosing formal/informal tone for your texts, all of these can pose problems while translating. And I bet many of you translators out there have cursed at least once these awkward rules of political correctness. For professionals translating into English, things are fairly easy. English is a straightforward, flexible language which easily allows the drafting of gender-neutral sentences. But for linguists translating into, say, Romanian, French, Italian (and many others), things might get trickier. First of all because these languages are not gender neutral and make a distinction between the formal and informal registers. Secondly, because they are inflectional and in the case of Romanian, inflexions are irregular.

Over the years I have translated many texts aimed for both males and females. Take questionnaires, for instance. Surveys are more often than not targeted at both men and women, which means that you have to somehow squeeze in both the masculine and feminine forms of nouns and adjectives into your questions. Sometimes this is easy, you only have to add an extra vowel between brackets, like in this example: Sunteți fericit(ă) cu situația dvs. actuală? (Are you happy with your current condition?). But what if the feminine form is substantially different from the masculine like in the case of adjectives such as ‘curios’ (m), ‘curioasă’ (f). Well, you might say, in this case you would have to use both forms like here: Sunteți curios/curioasă să aflați…? (Are you curious to find out…?). Right, no big deal. Now consider the following sentence: Was the colleague you replaced  happy with your activity while s/he was away? In order to maintain the standards of political correctness, the Romanian should read: A fost colegul/colega pe care l-ați înlocuit/ați înlocuit-o mulțumit(ă) de activitatea dvs. cât timp a fost absent(ă)? (Or should the sentence actually be: A fost colega/colegul pe care ați înlocuit-o/l-ați înlocuit mulțumit(ă) de activitatea dvs. cât timp a fost absent(ă)?…) Something tells me the reader won’t be too happy with the coherence of this sentence… From a grammatical point of view, the solution to this problem is very simple, you just need to use the generic form of the noun, i.e. the masculine. It’s just that in today’s world, clients are very sensitive (and sometimes rightly so!) when it comes to gender neutrality. Another solution to this problem? Well, there is one, but I don’t think the IT or printing department would agree with it. In case of questionnaires, you can always find out the gender of the responder and you can use two versions of the same survey, one for male respondents and another one for female responders.

Another issue in case of Romanian is the generic form of nouns designating professions, professional titles and circumstantial status. Some nouns, such as ‘președinte’ (president), ‘ministru’ (minister), ‘senator’ always take the masculine form, so the translation of the expression ‘Madam President’, for instance, is ‘Doamna Președinte’.  Other nouns have a rather ambiguous status, meaning that while the masculine is generally accepted as the generic form, the use of the feminine form has become quite common in everyday language: ‘profesor/profesoară’ (teacher), ‘avocat/avocată’ (lawyer), ‘director/directoare’ (manager), ‘pacient/pacientă’ (patient).

So, dear fellow translators, what peculiarities relating to political correctness are there in your languages? What are your solutions to these problems? Leave a comment :).

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Freelance translator and intercultural consultant working from English, French into Romanian.

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