Gender and translations

(Quim Gil) #1

English is a pretty equal gender when it comes to gender. The software can say “You’re now fully licensed!” and nobody feels excluded.

Translate that string (and many others) into the majority of languages out there, and you are likely to encounter a gender problem, basically treating women as men. i18n practices have solved this problem a long time ago, by introducing gender variables in strings and by allowing users to define how they want be addressed gender-wise in their user preferences.

Unless I am missing something, this gender-friendly i18n hasn’t been implemented in Discourse. Has this problem been discussed? Are there any plans to solve it?

:de: Geschlechtergerechte Sprache in der Deutschen Übersetzung
(Joseph Coates) #2

This is kind of a thorny problem to solve. There are only two ways the software can learn the user’s gender: (1) adding a field to the sign up page and (2) adding a field to the profile.

If the solution is (1)… I’d be totally against this just on the conviction that sign up pages should have as few fields as possible. Even if you don’t care about the length of the signup page, asking gender to new members seems kinda weird. You are likely to offend more people through asking their gender at signup than through using a masculine grammatical form in some languages.

If the solution is (2)… The ship has probably already sailed on using the correct gender. Here on Meta, less than 5% have filled out any profile information. I would guess most people who take time to fill out the profile page have used the service long enough to receive most of the system messages such as “You’re now certified.”

I agree that gender neutrality is a great idea, but I doubt there is presently any good way to implement it in discourse at present. There simply isn’t a good method to learn a significant percentage of the users’ genders early enough.

You could, however, translate around this problem. You could ask translators to use gender inclusive language in their translations through means such as avoiding the second person in languages that mark second person personal pronouns with gender.

Replace Name with X People in Notifications for Multiple Likes
(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #3

We definitely take these issues into consideration, but I think this problem is indeed a translation problem and not an engineering problem. Unless otherwise specified, you have the right not to disclose your gender.

There’s usually an acceptable workaround for this in human language. For example, in English when you don’t know if you’re referring to him/her/other, a common convention is to use “they”. Is there an equivalent workaround for “you” in Catalan? If you’re in doubt, get in touch with some Catalan gender equality groups and ask them for advice!

(Joseph Coates) #4

Translators also need only to provide functional rather than formal translations. For example, say the phrase “You’re now fully licensed!” is difficult to translate in a gender neutral way in a given language. Participles/gerunds are often easier to work with in this regard, so translating something like “Congratulations on becoming fully licensed!” may avoid the issue entirely.

As long as the basic meaning is the same, there is no need to match the specific nuance of each phrase in a software translation. This isn’t Shakespeare. :wink:

(Sam Saffron) #5

I speak fluent Hebrew so I had a look at our existing translation to see what is done and had a look at facebook to see what it does.

It is a bit odd to hear reactions here from people who are not fluent speakers of a gender based language to be honest.

Our story is … not ideal in Hebrew.

  • When you are “tracking” a topic you are “tracking male” a topic.
  • Reply is loosely translated to reaction, cause you have to avoid verbs so they use a noun there which is odd. Facebook uses “write male reaction” or “write female reaction”
  • A bunch of other stuff is in male tense like “expand ‘male’”
  • A bunch of stuff uses plural to avoid dealing with gender, cause when you are talking to groups in hebrew you usually use male.
  • Changing locale requires guesswork (which is a PR welcome) cause user profile uses “he” instead of “ivrit” <- in Hebrew
  • Some stuff uses magic postfix that is not really a word but indicates it could be male or female. Loosely it is like seeing “Open m/f” which is odd for a logged in user. But fine for anonymous.

Stuff is not DISASTA PASTA, but it can be much improved. When I just checked on facebook it is smooth as silk in Hebrew including all the verbs.

A VERY important note is that you can choose your gender but keep it private, so its basically a hidden user pref if you wish.

I would like to see us solve this problem but its a reasonably big piece of work.

Selecting upfront gender (and if you want to expose it) should be an option we provide, but we need to figure out the translation story first both in JavaScript and Rails.


Hi there! As Polish is as well gendered language, I’m making small changes to the translation on our instance. We don’t use Discobot at all (finally found a way do disable it :stuck_out_tongue: ), but for an example I’ve changed “Did you forgot your password?” to “Remind me my password!” and so on :wink: You know, to convey rather the meaning than the form. I wonder how did you manage to solve it in Catalan!

(Joseph Coates) #7

Just curious… Could you use infinitive absolutes in Modern Hebrew to label stuff? or would that sound weird? These are unmarked and I see quite a few requests/commands using this form… but I readily admit I am hardly a fluent speaker and I only read ancient texts. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

(Sam Saffron) #8

You can hack it so it kind of works but it just does not feel right unless you introduce gender. The facebook localization in Hebrew feels delightful in comparison with our OK.

(Jeff Atwood) #9

How does Facebook work if you provide no gender or specify not traditional male / female gender? What does it do then for translations that are gender specific?

(Sam Saffron) #10

Facebook allows you to pick


  • Male
  • Female
  • Other, which then allows you to dig in to another checkbox that lets you pick what others will target you with, including forcing neutral language on others when talking about you and liking your stuff.

When you pick other you can select a sex between male and female if you wish, loosely translated the word they use is “category of people” you belong to and you can be in many.

The Other option means the UI in Hebrew is in kind of robot speak.

The most similar example in English would be: “1 car/s” and “2 person/people”, it technically works but is Robot Speak ™


What are you (male/female) thinking about (male/female)?

@Falco does portuguese on Facebook do the same?

(an aside, pluralization in hebrew is mega annoying cause it can be “many male”, “many female” and “many male” if the group contains both male and female members)

(Jeff Atwood) #11

So much of this is predicated on knowing gender and I’ve never, ever seen a forum that explicitly asks your gender. Like… ever.

The more comparable … comparables… might be other forum software. How do they do it? I’m not convinced a social network where “I’m in a relationship” is a standard built-in feature since forever (2004?), is really comparable to what forum software does.

(Sam Saffron) #12

Absolutely, in English this never happens, in Hebrew software it is very common and is a huge factor in Facebook’s appeal. I doubt any software implements this as smoothly as Facebook, but it definitely wants to know early on so it can remove Robot Speak and feel more personal.

This is an example of a sign up page from that is supposedly the largest forum in Israel.

That is the signup page and it asks for gender and it is required!

The software they are using for discussing stuff is terribad and I find that in general with software used in Israel, however the gender stuff is solved cause you are forced to deal with that.

You kind of give your gender away anyway first time you ask a question cause you would say “Can you tell me (I am female) how to do XYZ?”. This stuff is embedded deep into the language.

Arguing this does not matter in Hebrew forums is kind of like arguing the pluralization does not matter. And it really does not, you can get away with 2 car/s everywhere, but it definitely makes the software feel worse.

(Jeff Atwood) #13

Couldn’t this be solved for now if there were two localizations that the user could select on their profile page, which they can already do?


  • English
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Hebrew (male)
  • Hebrew (female)

Then select the one that matches you?

(Joseph Coates) #14

With Hebrew, you could just add an extra check mark on “Do you accept the TOS?”

  • I (male) do
  • I (female) do

Problem solved :grinning:

(Sam Saffron) #15

Yes, we can definitely do something like that, all we are missing is a bit of workflow and internal convention.

We only support 1 hebrew translation at the moment.

Also not 100% of the translations require gender so you want to keep overlap for stuff that is gender neutral so variants do not drift.

I am not sure what transifex offer here, but it is worth investigating if anyone wants to solve this. Solving this is not a giant problem afaik, only very minor changes would be needed to Discourse to support this.

In fact, dealing with this heavily simplifies the process of translation cause the rules are clear about what is male, what is female and what is neutral.

(Quim Gil) #16

Thank you for contributing to this discussion. I think we can split the problem in relatively autonomous modules and then find agreement and solutions for each module.

Agreeing that gender in translations is a problem

Without consensus about the root problem, the discussion about implementation will be unnecessarily complicated. It seems that all participants in this discussion have been men using software primarily in English (not just Discourse, in general). Experiences of fluent English speaking men cannot be taken as a reference for how is the user experience for non-male users using software in languages with gender differentiation.

About half of the World population would like to be addressed as a female if possible. I didn’t count speakers, but languages with grammatical gender are more frequent than not. This seems to be true for the current list of languages available for Discourse, a clear indication of which speakers are using Discourse today.

Agreeing that it is not an urgent problem

Indeed, I am not suggesting that we should stop everything to solve this problem. Discourse probably doesn’t have that many strings subject to grammatical gender in other languages, and in the meantime translators can find workarounds (as they have probably done in the meantime). Recognizing the problem and a willingness to solve it would be a big progress in itself.

One suggestion is to accept reports of problems related with grammatical gender as bugs, while the implementation of a technical solution is agreed and implemented. Suggestions for workarounds would be welcome (i.e. adapting a translation whenever possible) but they would be considered just that, workarounds in the interim. Welcoming these reports would help understand better the problem.

Gender information and privacy

I bet we can agree that preferred gender identification would be a user preference only, used for the purpose of providing a better user interface. That information would remain private, not visible in user profile, user lists, or any public page.

Defining gender preference

Our goal is not to identify people’s gender orientation (a rather complex topic) but to simply offer a language that corresponds to the gender preference of the user. The question is not “what is your gender” but “How do you prefer to be described?” (MediaWiki), “Choose the pronoun you prefer” (Phabricator) or something along these lines.

This setting could be disabled by default, since English is the default locale and (as far as we are aware) it doesn’t have this problem in Discourse. Then specific languages could have it enabled out of the box (Hebrew, Spanish…)

This would be a preference in the user settings. I would personally :heart: love :heart: if @discobot (gender neutral by design) would politely say something like “By the way, how should I refer to you…” and the answer would define the user setting. Most users will meet discobot before looking at the user preferences, and wouldn’t it be nice that one of the first reactions of non-male Discourse users would be to see that Discobot and the forum they are just joining “gets it”?

How to fix buttons and other text strings in the UI

I believe the solution is not to have separate locales for male and female (a probable nightmare for translators) but to introduce variables in strings where gender variation happens. However, I am not a software developer, so it is easy for me to talk. :wink:

The good news is that Discourse is not the first project dealing with this problem, and recyclable solutions probably exist. MediaWiki (probably the free software product translated to more languages, supporting grammatical gender since 2010) has developer documentation for PHP and JavaScript. If you are interested, I can put you in touch with their developers specializing in internationalization.

How to fix discobot

I hit the problem of grammatical gender when translating narrative-bot/server.en.yml aka discobot’s conversation. That is probably the file where grammatical gender problems appear in a highest density in Discourse, because it reflects a conversation between two individuals. As said, it is also important because it is a key component of Discourse’s out of the box experience.


So yes, fixing the entire problem is not simple, but I have no doubt that it is worthy. Discourse is a very user friendly software for civilized communities. In the past, non-male participants in web forums were hard to find (and non-male software developers too, who might have a special incentive to work on this), but things are luckily changing. As @sam mentions, very successful “forum” (aka “social network”) products are very good at handling gender diversity and (surprise surprise) their communities excel at gender diversity among their membership. Discourse would benefit from taking the contemporary products and the contemporary trends as reference, not the products and trends that were designed and thriving in the so-male-centric Internet of 10-15 years ago.

(cpradio) #18

Just remember that some of the language data gets written to other places, such as RSS feeds. So if a filename format changes, it could impact those places and not be easily recognized.

Here is the relevant discussion

(Michael Howell) #19

In Spanish, “I agree to the the terms and conditions” always translates to “Acepto los términos y condiciones,” regardless of the speaker (“acepto” is the first-person form of “aceptar”, which I guess in Hebrew differs depending on gender).

However, the Spanish first-person is impacted by gender if it included any adjectives. “Estoy estúpida” and “Estoy estúpido,” for example, are “I’m stupid” in female and male form, respectively.

Not saying we can’t use this solution for Hebrew, but we’re going to need to plan a fallback for languages that are gendered but happen to not gender the first-person pronoun).

(Jeff Atwood) #20

Still not super convinced this is really a forum thing across all cultures? Here’s what Google+ nags me about when I try to comment…

Asking gender and birthday immediately is crazy bizarre for a forum, but de rigueur for a social network

(Sam Saffron) #21

In this case you are not really asking for gender though, you are asking for a user pref about how to render the site so it is sans robot speak, you may be male and prefer woman speak, you may be female and prefer male speak, or robot speak may be your thing

Clearly this stuff is optional and a feature for gendered langauages