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Linguistic Confusion?: Possible Implications of Googles Gender-Bias Announcement on Spanish Translations

1/11/2019 by Sara Leonhartsberger

Last month, Google announced a development within Google Translate concerning potential translation gender-bias. When the gender of professional terms such as “doctor” or “nurse” are unknown, Google Translate will now offer both masculine and feminine translations instead of only masculine; this applies in particular to many Romance (Latin-derived) languages, such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese. The Google development aligns with the movement to eliminate perceived gender-bias within language, most often argued concerning English pronoun-usage. However, when considering the Romance languages, concerns of what this movement may entail on a linguistic level emerge, preeminently the standardized, grammatical structure of these languages.

 

Although masculine and feminine components permeate Romance languages in the form of articles, nouns, and adjectives, gender inclusivity is already accounted for within the grammatical standardization of the language. Focusing on Spanish, the masculine plural article of “los” (the) has been determined as the gender neutral. When reading the term “los humanos” (the humans), a Spanish-speaker intuitively assumes that all humans are included, not only males, even if “los” is considered masculine. In a similar vein, the term “la persona” (the person) is understood to refer to any person, although “la” is a feminine article. Both of these terms are examples of standardization in the Spanish language, a linguistic determination to avoid confusion in a language spoken by millions.

 

While the movement to eliminate potential gender-bias is easily rectified in English which only has one gendered component, the pronoun, it is not that simple for Romance languages. For languages that have gendered articles, nouns, and adjectives, the entire sentence structure would be affected, causing drastic change throughout the languages. Millions of speakers would be affected, the foundation of these languages contested. Within languages that already have grammatical standardization that accounts for inclusivity, would adherence this movement cause more linguistic confusion than social benefit?

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