The Gender-specific concerns in Translation

20th Jul 2018

Can you answer when do you commit most number of mistakes while learning a new language? Well! Naturally majority of the mistakes are committed when referring to the gender. Now every translator knows about the grammatical gender and most languages are trammeled with classification, personification, and symbolism.It is noteworthy that every language has a different set of predefined rules when it comes to gender identification. At Waterstone Translation, today we lay down three important aspects in order to overcome the challenge of gendered translation, when deciphering any literary, academic or marketing translation work that needs proper gender identification.

Confirming the gender orientation from the source and target languages

You can be translating from a language that is not heavily gendered, for instance, English to a more gender-oriented one- Italian or vice versa.

In "The Joys of Gendered Language" by Ernesto Pavan, the much sequence says that the awareness of the language can make the translator more sensible to the differences and hence he/she can catch discrepancies much faster and learn from mistakes much easier.

In one of the essays, Pavan anecdotes that while he was translating a novel from English to Italian he faced this predicament. The novel included "cook" as one of the minor characters and the gendered Italian demanded, "Cuoco" or "Cuoca". So in such cases, Pavan suggests it is only best to check with the author or the editor of the text for accurate translation.

The expectation of the Editor or Author


There are different dots that need to be met with the clients while translating. Most translation experts believe that writing is a form of active engagement with socio-cultural linguistic norms of the reader.

Now if we scrutinize English, on which pronoun is preferred in a singular sterile approach, it remains unclear.  The conventional usage says that "he" in English is referred to a single anonymous individual when the gender is unknown. For example- “Before the translator begins the work, he should review what all clients told”.

The debatable spark comes here- if "he" is masculine classification why it is employed when the gender is unknown. Here it is important to get the context of subtleties in the original source and represent according to the requirement of the client.

Ignorant bias in Gender

Many languages can be quite obscure when representing genders and it is pertinent to recognize and evaluate any bias that the translator might bring to the work. For example, the cook in the novel translation of Pavan. When we further cross on English, we know that many professional names similar to "cook" are gender neutral.


One perfect example of gender vagueness is displayed in this popular puzzle.

A father and son encounter a car crash that kills the dad. The son is hurried to the hospital; just as he’s about to get operated, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate, the boy is my son!"

Now if someone would ask you why did the surgeon say so? The answer is, "The Surgeon is the boy's mother." Living in a more patriarchal world, the question confuses people because the surgeon is expected to be male.

Imagine if the translator is assigned the task to choose the right word for it in Spanish, one stereotypical assumption would follow that surgeon is a “cirujano” and not a “cirujana.”

Nevertheless, it depends on the unconscious inclination or depending upon the background of the translator that he/she might play with the possibilities. Hence it is significant that translators understand the linguistic and cultural conjectures and approach the text accordingly.

Finding the right Translator

As elaborated above there are mindful of things that need to be kept in mind to make a more accurate and faithful translation.

  • The gendered attributes of the source text and the language
  • The editor's preferences regarding the work
  • More importantly, get rid of the unconscious bias

Following these guidelines are sure to deliver success to the translation work. For a more socio-cultural approach to your translation work and a better understanding of the source language, you can contact the translation experts at Waterstone Translations today. Call +86 21 6224 3798 today.