Gender and translations

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)


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.


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.


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?


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:


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.


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.


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

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).

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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

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


I will… I was just joking with the TOS idea while pointing out that this issue occurs very early.

Perhaps discobot to the rescue? Whenever there is a new user using a language that needs gender localization, send them a message saying something like

"Hey, you’re using Hebrew… Would you mind telling us if you are [Male] or [Female] so we can address you properly? We won’t disclose your gender unless you change your privacy settings.

Then all you need to add is a private profile setting for gender and an extra feminized localization for several languages.


I did a bit of reading about this topic at:

You are all kind of lucky I speak Hebrew:

which has a high degree of grammatical gender, virtually every noun (as well as most verbs and pronouns of the second and third person) is either grammatically masculine or feminine.

Or as they say in Hebrew, עברית שפה קשה .

This is spelled “AVRIT SFA KSHA” cause you drop vowels in modern Hebrew, but pronounced “ivrit safa kasha” cause everyone knows that “ivrit” is pronounce “Ivrit” and not “Avrit”, they also know it is female, so the verb “is hard” is going to be the feminine version “KASHA” and not the masculine “KASHE”. But … I digress.

As with some other localization issues we have there is also a very strong order of operations here so I would like to lay out the policy.

  1. Our default translation is always gender neutral. You use all the tricks at your disposal to make it so. Including Hebrew tricks like “same spelling multiple meaning”, introducing / to denote that a word can be either male or female and so on.

  2. Gendered languages may introduce 2 extra partial translations for “interface targeting masculine” and “interface targeting feminine”, which covers terms in the translation that can not be cleanly expressed in a gender neutral way. This is not a must, some gendered languages get away just fine with neutral form.

  3. We will add an interface gender user preference for languages that provide the extra translations. By default you will not expose your gender but will have the option to if you want (which can make it simpler for people to talk to you). user_preference.interface_gender and user_preference.gender <- nullable.

  4. We will amend our localization to introduce the “gender” layer on signup and in preferences. By default all languages that do not have both (1) and (2) will not expose interface_gender or gender anywhere.

@eyalev @Pad_Pors thoughts on this?

@zogstrip @trash is French and Italian easy enough to get away with only (1: gender neutral translation) or is there a current hole in our translation system for French and Italian that require (2).


French can easily get away with 1). We have gender neutral singular pronoun and can easily do ils/elles for plurals.


Let me give an example.
This is discobot welcome message:

Thanks for joining %{title}, and welcome!

Our official translation is:

Grazie per esserti unito a %{title}, e benvenuto! (male gender)

In my local installation I add:

Grazie per esserti unito/a a %{title}, e benvenuto/a! (male and female gender)

So I’m for the 1st solution (gender neutral translation adding / if necessary). BTW often I have already changed the strings in translation to make them as neutral as possible. Adding /a for few strings is not a problem :wink:

PS: I always read “Welcome” (male gender) as “Welcome - human gender”


Persian (fa_IR locale) is gender-free, and 1 is ok for Persian.

in Arabic (ar locale), gender is important (specially in verbs). using infinitive (instead of verbs) as well as plurals is the solution at the moment for this locale.

I guess the suggested workflow (2-4) is better than the above solution for gender-based languages like Arabic. because then texts are easier to follow then + you feel the software is respecting you if it talks the same way that you used to.


Very glad that this topic is picked up! Unfortunately the German translation is not gender neutral at all (e.g. “Benutzer” = male user), so I will try to dig into and discuss with @gerhard and other German collaborators how we could make it so.

(Removed by author.)

I would heavily argue against two locales for male and female, for two reasons:

  1. It would discriminate people who don’t identify with either gender.
  2. It would incur a lot of extra effort to maintain these and keep them consistent.

P.S.: A workaround is to just use the female form (e.g. “Benutzerin” = female user).

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Opening this can of worms is going to be … painful. Until large enterprise customers are begging us for it, I doubt I want to apply any of our engineering budget toward it because the risk and cost are very high.

I thought I was clear here, our #1 rule is that default locale is gender neutral

2-4 is only applicable in very exceptional cases, Hebrew and Arabic are probably the only place where I would consider this