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The Power of Words: Considering Gender in Translations

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Nov 6, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Language is a powerful tool that shapes our perception of the world and the way we communicate with one another. Through language, we express our thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and it plays a crucial role in shaping our cultural norms and societal values. However, translating language from one culture to another is not as straightforward as it might seem. One particularly important aspect that often gets overlooked is the consideration of gender in translations.

The Gendered Nature of Language: A Cultural Perspective

Many languages around the world have gendered grammar and vocabulary, where words, pronouns, and even verb forms can vary based on the gender of the person being referred to. This gendered structure can reflect and reinforce societal norms and biases. For instance, certain languages might use different adjectives to describe men and women, or have different terms for occupations based on gender.

When translating from a gendered language to a language without gender distinctions, or vice versa, issues can arise. The translator faces the challenge of preserving the intended meaning while respecting the cultural nuances and sensitivities surrounding gender roles.

Lost in Translation: The Gender Dilemma

The decision of how to handle gender in translations is not a simple one. Translators must consider the context, the target audience, and the cultural implications of their choices. Should they preserve the gendered language even if it doesn't exist in the target language? Or should they adapt the text to be gender-neutral, potentially altering the original meaning?

One common example is the translation of titles or job roles. In languages with gendered forms, a job title might have a different word depending on the gender of the person performing the job. When translating to a language without gendered forms, should the translator choose the masculine form, the feminine form, or a gender-neutral term? Each choice carries its own implications and can influence how the translated work is perceived.

Inclusive Language and Social Progress

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of using inclusive language that respects all gender identities. This movement emphasizes the use of gender-neutral language that doesn't assume the gender of the person being referred to. It's important to consider this perspective when translating texts, as it reflects a broader commitment to inclusivity and social progress.

Translators and language professionals now face the challenge of striking a balance between preserving the original language's cultural richness and adhering to the principles of inclusivity. This might involve creative solutions, such as adapting sentence structures, using singular "they" pronouns, or even introducing footnotes to explain cultural gender nuances.

Navigating the Challenges: Best Practices

Cultural Sensitivity: Understanding the cultural context is crucial. Consult with native speakers and cultural experts to ensure that the translation respects the original intention while being sensitive to any gender implications.

Inclusivity: Whenever possible, opt for gender-neutral language to ensure inclusivity. This might mean using gender-neutral terms or adapting sentence structures to avoid assumptions about gender.

Footnotes and Explanations: In cases where gendered language is integral to the original text, consider including footnotes or explanations to provide context to readers from different cultures.

Collaboration: Engage in open communication with clients, authors, and readers to discuss how gender should be handled in the translation, taking their preferences and intentions into account.

Ongoing Learning: Language and societal norms are ever-evolving. Stay informed about the latest discussions on gender and language to make informed decisions in your translations.


Translations have the power to bridge cultures and bring people together, but they also carry the responsibility of accurately conveying meaning and respecting cultural nuances. Considering gender in translations is an essential step toward promoting inclusivity, breaking down stereotypes, and reflecting the progress of our ever-changing world. As language professionals, we have the privilege and responsibility to shape the discourse in a way that promotes understanding and respect for all individuals, regardless of gender.

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