Spokesperson – Translation Corner: Gender Neutral Style
Posted 3. Oktober 2009on:
hey folks! Another day another translation corner.
This time I thought I’d take a look at all those PC words, especially the gender neutral ones, such as spokesperson!
There are of course so many more, but I can’t think of one that is as widely accepted as spokesperson. The origin of politically correct versions of previously gender-specific words is apparent – the exclusion of the other gender from said group of words, which mainly describe a job, or some form of status within a job or social field. For instance, a fireman could be renamed a firewoman, or to keep it fully neutral, even a firefighter. the same works with policeman (policewoman, police officer), and so on. The whole movement went so far as to change the job names wholly devoid of a male or female suffix (-man, -woman) and who only had a gender denomination due to connotation, such as maid into care person, or champion into championess (the whole process of adding -(n)ess onto words to make them the female version, although in many cases the original word was gender neutral enough).
Let me take a few of the named examples and see what we would do to translate them into PC German expressions:
spokesperson, which comes directly from spokes(wo)man. In German, spokesman would just be translated into „Der Sprecher“ – due to the different Gender structure in German (nouns have genders which define their articles, etc), this is seen less as a gender-exclusive word – Germans would not see political incorrectness with this expression. However, let’s for the sake of the argument humor American PC zealousness and see what happens if we try to translate spokesperson. We would like to keep the sprech- of Sprecher alive, since that is the closest translation of to speak, and a gender neutral term should not lose any of its accuracy. Gender suffixes in German (in this specific context, there are way too many exceptions ;)) are either -er for male, -e/-in for female, or -um for neutral. However, neutral in this case refers to inanimate objects, if we were to change Sprecher into Sprechum, people would assume I build a device that could give speeches.
Lacking a proper gender suffix for our needs, we could go the same route as the original word – just add another word that is already neutral in its connotation – luckily, the word person exists in German as well. Our new expression would be Die Sprecherperson. Die because person itself has a female article to it, but as I said, Germans care less about the gender of a specific word. I tried to come up with another word that was neutral in German as well and could replace person, but I could not think of one. But my main problem with Sprecherperson is that is extremely long and clumsy – for something that could have just stayed Der Sprecher/Die Sprecherin, depending on the gender of the actual speaker.
And that’s how I see every other example on this list – gender neutral examples are deviating from the origin of the word, and since there is always the possibility of loss of meaning in translating an expression, I would stick to working German expressions – as it is, we here do not have the same political issues with what I conceive to be harmless words.