Today’s blog on gender-neutral writing in business and legal texts is written by Julie Barber, the owner of Translation & Secretarial Services.
Can removing outdated gender pronouns create clarity and added value in legal and business translations?
Simply put, I say “Yes!”.
“The law has used the male pronoun to refer to either gender for around 900 years”
Several years ago, I was looking to buy a contract template online. I came across one that seemed interesting but it referred to all of the parties as ‘he’. I contacted the law firm in question to ask if it had a template for modern times. It responded by saying that it’s been done this way for 900 years.
I decided to check out what was happening circa 900 years ago! Google tells us:
– The Vikings were carrying out daring raids on the UK,
– The period was known as the ‘Dark Ages’ because many suggest that it saw little scientific and cultural
– The Norman Conquest took place with an invasion of England by an army that included French troops, ending the Anglo-Saxon’ era.
– FUN FACT: the French still refer to the English as ‘Anglo-Saxons’….some 900 years after their own invasion.
Back to the law firm, the lawyer added: “I agree that one day soon that will change, but as yet it has not happened”. It is noteworthy that the UK Government adopted gender-neutral language in its legislation back in 2007, some 16 or so years ago. I declined to buy the law firm’s contracts because I felt that they were not relevant to me, my colleagues and clients. To be honest, I think that such texts look unsophisticated for established businesses. I wanted shiny new contracts that represented my business, not something that a Viking might have got out of their back pocket 900 years ago.
In terms of translations, namely from Romance languages such as French, there are some notorious gender pitfalls to look out for. French-language contracts often use il/he to refer to various parties. But, ‘Attention!’ as the French would say: elle/she is frequently used to refer to ‘The Company’ as the first party to the contract!
How can you replace the hot mess of he and she? Try using simple replacements by naming each party’s role:
Naming the parties provides clarity as well as appealing relevance.
REMINDER: it is perfectly acceptable in UK English to refer to a business as ‘it’:
“The Supplier agrees to perform the works and it agrees to…”.
It is important for businesses using translation services to reflect on the image they want to convey to their clients and partners. Well-presented websites and marketing materials are also essential for attracting new customers. I often see translated websites using “he does this, he does that” in reference to, for example, lawyers and notaries.
TOP TIP: rather than describing the work of Notaries or Lawyers in general, describe the value of your own staff.
CONFUSING TRANSLATION: He provides important services for private clients and businesses.
REPLACEMENT 1: Notaries provide important services for private clients and businesses.
REPLACEMENT 2: Our experienced Notaries provide invaluable services for private clients and businesses.
Would you like to add clarity and value to your business and legal translations?
We are happy to review your existing translations and to chat about new projects.
Translation & Secretarial Services works for businesses, institutions and individuals.
Please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: +44 (0)7954 693 561
BLOG THEME: Gender-neutral writing in legal and business translations
PHOTO: ‘The Funeral of a Viking’ (1893) by Frank Dicksee, in the wonderful Manchester Art Gallery