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Inclusive language: What is it and how can it promote your action sports brand?

TAST Team

November 7, 2023

The days of male-dominated action sports and gruff, “manly” outdoor living are over. People from all walks of life enjoy getting out there and testing their mettle on the mountains, waves and snowy slopes. Your prospects don’t have time for products that are made and sold without them in mind.

That’s why brands can’t afford to leave inclusive language as an afterthought. Gender-inclusive (or genderless) language is a must to maximize your relevance and integrity in the outdoor and action sports world.

In English, the trend started simple. No way were all those BMX riders, windsurfers and mountaineers men. So, “he” gave way to “he/she”s and “him/her”s.

These days, he/she has been swapped for “they”. It cuts down on visual clutter and is even more inclusive. Gender is a spectrum, not a full-stop binary. And translations that reflect that affirm that athletes and enthusiasts matter regardless of gender identity. Inclusive translations acknowledge their existence and show you care.

Road cyclist having a conversation while riding

But how does gender inclusivity work in other languages and – more importantly – how can inclusive translations boost your brand?

In this blog post, we’ll share:

    • why inclusive translations are a must for outdoor and action sports brands
    • which languages present more challenges for a gender-neutral approach
    • how some languages are evolving toward gender-inclusive language in translation
    • best practices for making your copy and translations more inclusive

Want to make sure anyone from any background can vibe with your brand? Then keep reading.

We all want to be seen, so inclusivity is a must

It’s really that simple. We all want to be seen and heard. That includes your consumers. That paragliding champ? She wants the world to know she can wingover with the best of them. And that sandboarding hero? He wants bindings to help him surf sand like a pro (i.e., preferably upright). And all the maverick surfing, climbing, mountain biking folx making waves on the waves, walls and mountains? They want to know your gear is for them.

You can make it happen with gender-inclusive language in content and translation. That’s your ticket to hitting consumers outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds right in the feels.

Snowboarder carrying his board on the slopes

Tricky, trickier, trickiest: gender and language

But before diving into the world of inclusive multilingual branding, you should gear up so you know what you’re in for. What are the norms of the language you’re translating into? What kind of linguistic know-how will you need to land safely?

There are three main types of languages to contend with when it comes to gender.

Genderless languages

Genderless languages have no gendered nouns, verbs, or adjectives or sometimes even pronouns. Which languages are genderless? Japanese, Armenian, Georgian, Turkish, Hungarian, and Finnish are just a few. Of the three types, this one is the easiest to make inclusive. The only thing really tricky about these languages is, well… they’re still pretty tricky languages. For example, Finnish does not use gendered personal pronouns, but there are 200 possible verb endings, so it still requires a lot of effort to translate into.

Even in genderless languages, we have to make sure to steer clear of stereotypes and connotations that may undermine an inclusive message, so translating into them is still an exciting challenge”.

-Martina Russo, CEO & founder at The Action Sports Translator

Natural gender languages

Natural gender languages fall under trickier because most grammar isn’t gendered (i.e. nouns or adjectives), but… pronouns are. English, Tamil, and Afrikaans are natural gender languages.

Inclusive branding in natural gender languages is significantly simpler than in gendered languages. But pronouns still trip translators up. Even when you remove gender from the equation, we have to respect the translation’s meaning and tone along with the client’s tone of voice”.

-Martina Russo, CEO & founder at The Action Sports Translator

Gendered languages

Nearly half the world’s language systems are gendered. That includes the Romance languages, most Slavonic languages, German, Dutch, Arabic, Russian, Hebrew and Tuareg.  They all have grammatical and pronominal gender (i.e., a fancy way for saying gendered nouns, adjectives and pronouns). There’s a good chance the person looking to buy your wetsuit, grappling hook or a replacement crank arm speaks a gendered language.

Gendered languages are the trickiest because all or most nouns, verbs, adjectives, articles, etc., always have to agree. Change one part of a sentence, and you’ve got to change it all”.

-Martina Russo, CEO & founder at The Action Sports Translator

How well do languages adapt?

Aside from grammatical gender and pronouns, a lot depends on culture and tradition, too. As the BBC’s Nayantara Dutta put it, “The world has historically prescribed the male gender as default, a construct that is reinforced through language”.

Within English, some people still have trouble grasping how “they” functions as a genderless pronoun. The same goes for Russian’s neutral оно (it). Some argue that оно is only to be used for inanimate objects.

Languages like Spanish, French, English and Swedish have had to come up with some clever, inclusive fixes. Spanish-speaking countries are moving towards ending gender-neutral pronouns and adjectives with an E instead of the masculine O or feminine A. Still, the job is far from over.

Best practices for more inclusive translations

As you can see, gender-inclusive translation can be a contentious or tricky issue, and there’s no one right or wrong way. If you’re feeling stuck, we can work with you to find the solution that best fits your brand. But here are a few strategies we recommends to get started.

Shuffle sentences around

Language is ever evolving, which means it’s pretty adaptable. That means a simple rephrase can be a handy solution. For example, you want to welcome Spanish speakers to your outdoor gear brand’s landing page: Bienvenidos only addresses men — there’s that O ending we mentioned. Instead, say les damos la bienvenida (We welcome you).

The caveat: rephrasing is great, but you still want to keep your copy simple, accessible and impactful. For example, passive voice can help you avoid gendered pronouns, but overusing it can get a bit awkward. Your target audience is all about action sports, adventure and the great outdoors. That means your brand’s tone of voice should be as smooth  as skis gliding on fresh pow.

Athlete powder skiing in the trees

Use gender-neutral terms

“Man” may have been the default in the past, but that’s more than a little passé now. In English, that means using “athletes” instead of “sportsmen” and “sportswomen”. Even better? You could reference the specific sport with “climbers”, “surfers”, “riders”, etc.

Gendered languages make that a bit trickier, but that’s also the perfect opportunity for creativity. For instance, German uses special characters or the letter “x” to go gender neutral.

English SourceGendered TranslationGender-neutral version(s)
best friendGerman:
bester Freund (m)
or
beste Freundin (f)
beste*r Freund:in
or
bestx Freundx
athleteFrench:
sportif (m)
or
sportive (f)
sportif.ve
climberSpanish:
escalador (m)
or
escaladora (f)
alpinista

 

The caveat: some of these only really work in writing, so it’s not quite as handy as #1.

Check gendered pronouns at the door

This might be the most popular fix. Want to welcome someone whose gender you don’t know to your action sports or outdoor lifestyle website? Here are two great ways to do it:

    • Address prospects directly. Use you, du/Sie, tu/vous, je/U, tu/lei, etc. Or, even better, if you’re sending an email marketing campaign about your latest pathfinding gear: just use their name.
    • Use a neutral alternative if available. English now defaults to “they”, while Swedish favors dropping the masculine “han” and feminine “hon” for the gender-neutral “hen”.

Get creative: go plural

Natural gender languages and some gendered languages can cast a wider net by speaking to groups instead of just one person. We’ve already mentioned how “they” is a good substitute for “he” or “she”, both as a plural and singular pronoun. But “y’all”, a plural form of “you”, has also gained traction. Originally a feature of Southern US dialect, it’s now trending as a great alternative to phrases like “you guys”, which make women and non-binary people feel excluded, according to studies.

In English, you can easily extend this plural concept across the board, from buyers, swimmers, mountaineers and divers to skateboarders, snowboarders and kite surfers.

Caveat: this option remains tricky for gendered languages. Clever use of middots, or median full stops, is one option for French, but it remains controversial (enough to have been banned by schools).

We can help you speak to anyone in any language

Non-binary people exist all around the world, even if their native language is still working to accommodate them. By using inclusive language, you’ll show them that you see and respect their identity. And that will win you loyal fans anywhere you take your brand.  

Our goal is to help you speak to everyone. We want you to reach outdoor enthusiasts and action sports lovers by speaking a language that they not only understand, but that resonates and makes them feel like they matter.

Effective translation goes beyond the literal. We help define your tone of voice, audit and translate your content and create new copy from scratch, considering the culture of your target market. And we always stay true to your brand’s vision and mission. We’ll work with you to find an inclusive translation strategy that fits your vibe and gets everyone talking.

Athlete powder skiing in the trees

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