DEI Translation: Boosting Inclusivity with Translation

Published on May 3rd, 2023


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) describe three core values for developing fair environments for all people. The acronym DEI is commonly used by organisations striving for a greater diversity of race, gender, orientation, neurodiversity and a variety of other factors.

In a multicultural and multilingual world, translation plays a key role in building DEI environments. Of course, translation itself can improve inclusivity, but it is important to understand the power and implications of words. Otherwise, poorly executed translations can alienate people in entirely different ways.

What is DEI translation?

DEI translation broadly refers to translation approaches that incorporate principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI translation strives to use language that supports inclusivity and that overcomes any potential biases in language.

Before we explore some examples of this in action, let’s quickly define the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

  1. Diversity: Striving for staff diversity at every level of the company and understanding how it benefits business, staff and company culture on the whole.
  2. Equity: Instilling fairness as a cultural practice in pursuit of genuine equality (e.g. equal opportunities and promotions for all).
  3. Inclusion: Ensuring everyone plays a meaningful role and has the same chance to excel in the workplace.

It is important to understand all three of these values because they each play an important role. For example, an organisation can improve the diversity of its workplace, but the end result is compromised if people within the organisation don’t all benefit from the same opportunities. Even if people receive the same opportunities but are judged differently, true equality hasn’t been reached.

What does DEI have to do with translation?

We have covered this point before in an article looking at how to make localisation processes more inclusive.

Here is a quick summary of some of the key roles DEI can play in translation and other language services:

  • Language inclusivity: Languages can have inherent biases that have real-world implications and so our language choice(s) may work against inclusivity.
  • Accessibility: DEI helps to make text and audiovisual content accessible to those with vision and hearing difficulties.
  • Comprehension: Language comprehension can vary among audiences as a result of learning difficulties, cognitive impairments, language skills and a variety of other factors.
  • Language proficiency: Target language audiences may not be completely native, therefore DEI works to ensure that language content is as accessible as possible (e.g. by using simplified language, avoiding the use of idioms, etc.).
  • Cultural influence: An individual’s cultural background can have a profound impact on how language content is interpreted. DEI works to pre-assess language content before publication and tailor it to meet target audience expectations.
  • Ambiguity: Language and symbolism are subject to interpretation by nature and their ambiguity can be exaggerated by the translation or a lack of localisation (e.g. colour symbolism across diverse cultures).

Each of these issues raises challenges, many of which don’t have simple answers. For example, the usage of gendered nouns in many European languages results in a variety of bias issues – but it also makes translation more difficult.

Some linguists are pushing to remove such biases from languages, but this also raises issues of its own.

Making such fundamental changes to complex languages is one thing. Encouraging real change among a language’s speakers while protecting the traditional and cultural identity of the language is something else entirely.

These challenges mean long-term change may take time, but DEI frameworks can help us and all companies get there faster.

Inclusive language examples

To illustrate some of the changes we can make to be more inclusive with language, let’s look at some common examples. These examples apply to everyday life, but professional translators can also consider using more inclusive alternatives to direct translations in projects.

  • Saying “everyone” instead of “guys” when referring to groups of people.
  • Replacing gendered nouns like “postman” with non-gendered phrases like “postal worker”.
  • Asking individuals “are you seeing someone?” rather than “do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
  • Switching to non-gendered pronouns like “they” and “them”.
  • Referring to people living with disabilities – e.g.: “a person with hearing difficulties” instead of “a deaf person”.
  • Updating medical references, such as using the phrase “autism spectrum” rather than “Asperger’s”.
  • Revising brand names potentially exploiting or insulting groups – e.g. renaming the Washington Redskins to the Washington Commanders.
  • Renaming streets, landmarks and other locations named after colonisers or other culturally insensitive references.

Some of these changes have to come from the source. For example, translators can’t change the name of sports teams and road names at will – this has to happen at the official level first.

However, translators, transcreators and linguist specialists can choose to use gender-neutral nouns and other inclusive phrases. For example, even if the source material specifically uses the phrase “postman”, translators can choose to use the phrase “postal worker” without harming the accuracy or clarity of the content.

Need help developing a more inclusive translation process?

If you need support in developing a more inclusive translation process, our team can help. Contact our DEI translation experts today by submitting your request via our contact page and we will provide you with advice on how to implement your DEI framework into your translation workflow.

Posted on: May 3rd, 2023