Word nerds and gender benders

Translating Clue's gender-inclusive language

Illustration by Marta Pucci
by Jen Bell, Writer

This article is also available in: português

Some women don’t have periods, and some people who menstruate are not women. They might be trans men, intersex, genderqueer or use another term like nonbinary.

Using gender-inclusive language is an integral part of what we do at Clue, and not only in English. The Clue app is available in 15 languages: Danish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, and Turkish—and we hope to add more soon.

We asked our team of talented translators: How do you express gender-inclusivity in your language?

Spanish

Translators: Carolina Tafur and Lorena Juan

Lorena and I have implemented the use of @ for specific gendered nouns in Spanish, when there are no other alternatives, e.g. single → solter@. We also often use "gente" or "personas" as all-inclusive terms. The Clue style guide has been very helpful when in doubt. Even though most people still use heavily gendered terms and ideas on a daily basis in Spanish-speaking Latin America, the use of a gender-neutral language is accepted and now more and more people are embracing it.

Lorena adds, “We always try to go ‘around’ the phrases to not have to use gendered expressions. For example:

  • Tired → Con cansancio (or just "cansancio", related to the context)
  • Pregnant → En fase de embarazo (or just "embarazo", related to the context)”

When talking about healthcare, Carolina says, “I’d rather use ‘profesional de la salud’ instead of ‘médico,’ as a proper alternative to transmit Clue’s ideas, because it not only relates to all doctors, but also to nursing professionals, who are sometimes the first point of contact with patients and a source of information about sexual and reproductive health.”

Chinese

Translator: Wing Yip

“TA,”, the Chinese phonetic of 他 (he) and 她 (she) , is widely used in China (Simplified Chinese) when people want to write in a non-gendered way. In Hong Kong, sometimes people use X as well, but it's still not a common term that everyone understands. Other examples are 有月經者 (Traditional Chinese) or 有生理周期者 (Simplified Chinese) for “people with menstrual period” and 有子宮的人 for “people with uterus”.

Portuguese

Translators: Bruna Leôncio and Raissa Duboc

Bruna says: “Portuguese is a bit different from English in terms of gender neutrality. We have two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. This means that most of our words (articles, adjectives, pronouns) can vary gender-wise. Regarding two or more genders, the traditional use of masculine is still the norm in Brazilian Portuguese—but not at Clue. :) What we do is try to avoid articles as much as possible and, instead of the vowels "o" and "a" in our nouns, we use "@" — which is a common symbol for "o" and "a" combined.”

Raissa explains more about how they came to this decision: “In order to find a more inclusive approach, the Brazilian Portuguese translation team discussed possible solutions with Clue, and we decided to use @ instead of vowels ‘o’ and ‘a,’ which usually indicate masculine and feminine, respectively. Some linguists use ‘x’ instead of said vowels, which is just as good. But since ‘x’ is also a letter from the alphabet, we figured the @ symbol would be best for readability and fluency. Some terms don't vary, though. These remain as they are, since they can refer to masculine and feminine nouns.”

Hindi

Translator: Paarul Siddhu

Hindi is a verb final language. This means that a verb’s ending or form changes to show grammatical function for gender, number, person etc. starting with genders:

He/She is eating: veh khaata/khaaathi hai.
I do (for masculine): करता हूँ (Karta hun)
I do (for feminine): करती हूँ (Karti hun)
Do: करते हैं

Changes can be made in text to keep the tone neutral. In Clue, slight changes can be easily made, and doing this doesn’t change the context and meaning for the audience. Translating this way retains the actual meaning of the text.

How can I use Clue if I get pregnant?

गर्भवती हो जाने पर मैं Clue का प्रयोग कैसे कर सकती हूँ ? is the female-specific translation, while गर्भधारण हो जाने पर आप Clue का प्रयोग कैसे कर सकते हैं ? is neutral and doesn’t refer to any specific gender.

Can you get pregnant from that?

क्या आप इससे गर्भधारण कर सकती हैं — सकती is usually used because that is the female form. However this can also be translated to “क्या आप इससे गर्भधारण कर सकते हैं?” By translating it this way, the text is correct and does not refer to any particular gender.

This shows that although Hindi has two genders, minor changes can be made during translation to show phrases in a gender-neutral way.

Japanese

Translator: Akiko Grabein

Official statements or office documents in Japanese are very gender-free. This is not a recent trend, but it has been always like that in our culture and it's one of the interesting features or characters of our language.

We usually avoid using “he, him, ... (彼)” or “she, her, ... (彼女)” in such documents. Instead, we try to use “the person” (その人 or その方).” On top of that, we do not have to write subjects (I, we, you, he, she, it, etc.) all the time. Lots of Japanese sentences are without subjects, but we don't get confused. So when I had my first job interview at Clue, and Ada told me to translate as neutral as possible, I told her we have no problems about that.

Italian

Translator: Rocco Schenkel

In Italian, as in all Latin languages, adjectives are gendered. This means that addressing a user of Clue directly is a lot trickier than it would be in English and often requires a work-around.

An example would be when using passive forms or imperatives referred to the users, such as “be prepared”. It would require the past participle (prepared) to be gendered. The exact translation would be “Sii preparata/o”—but to avoid gendering the phrase it had to be translated as “Preparati". This was a good compromise but it changed slightly the meaning of the sentence. “Preparati” is closer to “get prepared” rather than “be prepared” (“Sii preparata/preparato”) and has a different temporal and logical nuance.

Similarly, “Are you new to Clue?” had to be translated as “Prima volta su Clue?”, which means “First time at Clue?”, to avoid the use of a necessarily gendered adjective. “New” in this case, referred to the user.

Unfortunately, the debate regarding the use of gender-neutral language in Italy and in the Italian language has not progressed as much as in other countries. In more informal platforms such as social media, the use of the “*” has started to be seen. This “*” is used to omit the last vowel of words that usually determines the gender (referring to the example above, “Sii preparat*” “Nuov* a Clue?” could have been options). But this technique is not widespread outside the LGBTQI+ community and has not been adopted outside of colloquial written language.

Danish

Translator: Mathilde Lind

Danish isn't gendered in the same way as Spanish or Portuguese, so it's easy to replace “woman/women” with “person/people” and “female health” with “reproductive health.”

Polish

Translator: Jan Szelągiewicz

The Polish language does not exactly lend itself to novelty, while Poles, as a society, are generally traditionalist and resistant to the zeitgeist. In light of that, we cannot exactly expect the language to quickly embrace the recent shift towards inclusivity and diversity that languages across the globe have been experimenting with. Clue prides itself on its efforts to be as inclusive as possible and empower all menstruating folks (not just cis women using she/her pronouns) to take better care of their reproductive health. As a result, translating Clue’s words into Polish may be somewhat challenging.

Polish is relentless about grammatical gender, called ‘rodzaj,’ as it applies to nouns, adjectives, personal and possessive pronouns, numerals and quantifiers, and even verb forms in the past tense which have to match the gender of the noun. Grammatical gender, however, does not align with gender in the sociological sense, but it does, to an extent, carry an implication of the latter.

Remaining gender neutral when writing or translating for Clue in Polish may be a struggle, primarily because of the aforementioned verbs. Given that there are no official plans to introduce any means that would help make the language more gender neutral, we’re left with half-measures.

“Człowiek w ciąży,” literally “pregnant human,” is something a robot or alien would say.

When translating content or in-app strings, we most often assume a familiar tone, scientific-yet-informal—but that tone soon has to be reconciled with the natural flows of the Polish language. The fundamental noun of gender neutral language, “person,” is of great use to us, as it easily replaces most instances of “women” and “females,” while the adjective “female” can in most cases be replaced with “reproductive,” particularly given the focus of the app itself. Their usage, however, has to be precise because the Polish word for “person,” “osoba,” and its attendant declensions (various forms), can make any informal sentence sound stiff, overly medical, and disturbingly impersonal. Curiously enough, although a staple of gender neutrality, the word “osoba” is itself of the feminine rodzaj (grammatical gender). This somewhat smoothens the transition for people otherwise unaccustomed to gender neutral language, particularly given the fact that other possible translations of the word “person,” including “człowiek,” “osobnik” or “indywiduum,” would be much more groan-inducing. “Człowiek w ciąży,” literally “pregnant human,” is something a robot or alien would say.

Curiously, when the English string contains e.g. “some people,” it’s still better to translate it as “some persons” because “niektórzy ludzie,” the literal translation of “some people”, although gender neutral, might seem flippant at times and often necessitates the use of adjectival participles to make the sentence work—or at least fit in the character limit. “Osoba” also works well in plural form, “osoby,” which is also of the feminine rodzaj. Stripping Polish of its hardwired grammatical gender can also be pursued by using demonstratives—“Ci, którzy…,” “U tych…” or “Tych…” All of these are a variation of the English “Those who…”

Gender neutrality is fairly easy to use when using present tense, but unfortunately not all content we translate deals with the present—after all, periods are as much about past and future cycles as they are about the present ones. So when dealing with past and future tenses, we need to work a little magic. Where we would normally use active voice and conjugated verbs, we use passive voice with infinitive verb forms that remain neutral while still retaining their informative quality—at the cost of informality, however, as it can be quite trying to achieve it using rather detached, impersonal language. One additional measure that can be used to avoid grammatical gender in translating is swapping out the person experiencing one symptom or another and using the body part that is doing the experiencing instead—for example, when dealing with “In some people, uterine contractions…,” we translate it, to the extent permitted by the sentence itself of course, as “The uterus contracts…” and then mould it to fit the desired meaning.

Read more about Clue’s decision to use gender-inclusive language and talk about periods beyond gender.

Are you a gender-inclusive translator? We are always looking to translate Clue into more languages, and we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us via support@helloclue.com

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