Specialists in oral translation services

Friday, December 29, 2023

Learning about inclusive language

 By Michelle Hof, AIB

As an interpreter, I have been taught to think about the words that I use and the meaning they convey. A new layer has been added to this exercise in recent years, as I have been made aware of the role that inclusive language plays in the way we communicate.

Let’s start with a definition. Inclusive language refers to a form of communication that respects and includes all people, regardless of their differences such as gender, race, age, ability, or background. It involves using words and expressions that avoid excluding or stereotyping particular groups, aiming to create an environment where everyone feels valued, represented, and respected.

Here are some examples that illustrate the difference between inclusive and non-inclusive language:

1. "Hey guys, listen up!"
   Inclusive alternative: "Hey everyone, listen up!"

2. "Fireman" or "Policeman"
   Inclusive alternatives: "Firefighter" or "Police officer"

3. "He's so articulate for a person of color."
   Inclusive alternative: "He's articulate."

4. "That's so lame/retarded."
   Inclusive alternative: "That's not cool/unacceptable."

5. "Mankind"
   Inclusive alternative: "Humanity" or "People"

6. "She's a businesswoman."
   Inclusive alternative: "She works in business."

7. "He's a wheelchair-bound person."
   Inclusive alternative: "He uses a wheelchair."

These examples highlight how inclusive language focuses on using words and phrases that don't exclude or stereotype individuals based on their characteristics, ensuring that communication respects and acknowledges everyone equally.

To better understand how I can use inclusive language both as an interpreter and in my everyday life, I consulted some resources. Here are a few that I found:

Inclusive Language Guide, 2nd edition (American Psychological Association, 2023)

Guia para el uso de un lenguaje más igualitario e inclusivo (Ministerio de Justicia, Gobierno de España, 2023)

Of course, every language will have its own issues to face, and different linguistic communities will have found different ways to tackle them. This is one reason why the conversation is such an interesting one for interpreters, who are constantly negotiating the pathways between different languages. I would urge you to explore what resources are available for the languages that you use regularly. For those who want to do a compare-and-contrast exercise, UN Women has published a guide specifically for gender-inclusive language in several languages. This guide includes its own list of useful links and resources at the end:

To be clear: inclusive language isn't just about changing words; it's a big step toward making things fairer for everyone. It helps break down barriers, challenges unfair ideas, and makes sure all voices are heard and appreciated. It's not just about how we talk; it's about building a kinder world that embraces everyone's unique experiences. Understanding and using inclusive language isn't just about words—it's about making the world a better place for everyone.