I've been asked a question I feel like I should know the answer to but I don't!

I feel I should because it's about language, gender and screenreaders. If I wasn't me, I'd ask me too!

But I don't know the answer partly because I only speak English and this is much less of an issue in English than it is for languages that are more gendered.


My friend says:

"This mostly to write in Spanish and German, where almost everything is gendered. I used to use *, so "profesor*s" for teachers. Some people use _, as in "profesor_s".

But these things, I am told, make it hard for people who use software that reads them the documents. Do you have any tips here?"

I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who use screenreaders in gendered languages. Are underscores or asterisks a problem? Are you aware of better options? :boost_ok:

My uninformed approach is to think about how these words would be pronounced by a human if they had to read them out, and to try to write them accordingly. Like, I'm aware of the lenguaje inclusivo "e" for Spanish (and my friend is too, but says that doesn't work for all words because the "e" is sometimes masculine and sometimes there's no vowel-gendered ending) which has the virtue of being pronounable (unlike the "x" as in Latinx, which doesn't work for the rules of Spanish or screenreaders).

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So maybe another question, for anyone who speaks these languages, could be How do you pronounce inclusive language, like an asterisk, if you come across it?

My friend says she's been part of discussions about this, where the conclusion seemed to be "make it a longer pause" but no one seemed sure if that was good.

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I've been so impressed with the answers to this, thanks to everyone who shared or replied. I've sent some feedback off to my friend now.

If anyone is interested, I learned that using ":" or "•" seems to be better than "_" or "*" for screenreader-readability, but it's also worth keeping in mind that at least some screenreaders are configurable and that if someone uses accessibility as a means to attack inclusive language, they might just not like inclusive language and be looking for excuses.

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@bright_helpings i do the pause, but try to circumvent it in spoken language tbh because a lot of people seem to ignore/not notice the pause or don't understand the concept. i try to circumvent it by using more neutral words, where available. it's not always possible though.

@crowlad It's interesting/useful if a bit of a shame that you can't expect people to ignore inclusive language. And a few people mentioned circumventing it but that does sound tricky! And tiring. Thank you so much for your feedback. 💚

@bright_helpings to be fair, part of why i do it is also me not liking words and thus sentences becoming longer than necessary, which is what happens in german by appending feminine endings after a "placeholder" such as an asterisk or similar characters. i have been asked all my life to repeat what i've said and generally have issues speaking with/to others, so i am in favour of something i expect to be more easily understood while still being inclusive.

@bright_helpings When I see an '-x' or even an '-@' ending in Spanish text I pronounce it like an 'e', and that's what I've heard other people do, too. My first thought with things like asterisks is to not pronounce them at all, but the truth is I haven't had to read any of those out loud.

@bright_helpings German words like Arbeiter*innen, Dozent:innen, Bürger_innen are generally pronounced with a glottal stop sound in place of the special character

@schratze Good to know, and thanks for including : as one of the special characters, that seems to be especially screenreader-friendly. Thanks!

@bright_helpings that's a point of contention, but yeah. It's still my favorite way to indicate neutrality short of finding a phrasing that's completely free of gender.

@schratze Yep, many people suggested rephrasing things to take out gendered words, but since that's not always possible it's good to know what's most manageable for when they do occur.

@bright_helpings In german the * or _ are pronounced as little pauses. I’ve been told using · instead works well with screenreaders. In an interview with a trainer for accessibility (german), he said that screen-reading software can be configured to pronounce * as pauses, but I’m not sure how many people do that.

@tastytea @bright_helpings I have only tried the first open source screen reader I found and only tested it very shortly for german language.
Without configuration * was realy annoying. The · sounds good but it is not in a practical position on my keyboard. The : produced the same output (just a little pause) but is much more accessible while writing so this is what I am using right now. (Also I think that it looks quite good :)

@VonBirne This is perfect, it's really good to hear from someone who has tried a screenreader in German, thanks so much.

@bright_helpings In German, I usually pronounce it as a simple ellipsis.

@bright_helpings Either that or a glottal stop, depends a bit. With folk more used to gender-neutral language I tend to go with the glottal stop, when I want to make sure to be understood it turns into an ellipsis

@anarchiv Ooh this is interesting, that you change it a little based on your audience. Thank you for this excellent insight!

@bright_helpings i don't like the *, _ or other symbols, because almost all the screen readers I tried read ""Latin_s" like "latin, barra baja, ese"
I use to try to find some generic non gendered words like "la gente latina" because it refers to all genders, but sometimes is hard to find it

@bright_helpings Slovenian is extremely gendered, to the point where writing gender-neutrally (or well, always including both the binary genders; there's no nonbinary option) would sometimes mean adding two endings to most adjectives, nouns and verbs.
In official documents trying to be gender-neutral, I've mostly seen /. Like "igralec/ka" (actor/ress).
Elsewhere however, _ seems to be becoming more common.
I tend to go for / just because that's what I was raised up with, but since the symbols are about as long for my screen reader ("slash" and "line"), I have no preference for what others should use.

@Mayana @bright_helpings same goes for russian, everything defaults to male and it's very hard to write neutrally

@charlag @Mayana It's a struggle for so many languages, I really admire people who are inventing new grammar to make them more gender inclusive. Maybe that is happening or will happen in Russian too!

@bright_helpings @Mayana aye, it's a struggle to even introduce female forms right now

@Mayana This is great, it's so valuable to hear from someone who uses a screenreader and speaks a language where this sort of character has to be common. I must admit you were the first person I thought of when I got asked this question, I thought you'd have useful things to say, and you did! Thanks 💚

@bright_helpings It's a mess in Spanish. If you don't want to go with the lenguaje inclusivo with the "e" terminations, you can change the nouns for others that aren't gendered, like "personal docente" instead of "profesores(as)," "estudiantado" instead of "alumnas(os)," "gente" instead of "chicas(os)." And it always is a possibility to say "profesoras y profesores" every time.

@hurtado @bright_helpings you can always use a "les" or "le" to remark that the word "docente" is not being gendered "les docentes". Using "profesoras y profesores" you risk excluding non-binary people but you are right in looking for other nouns instead of using heavily gendered

@furtivo @bright_helpings Yeah, it surely is a tough feat, specially if you don't want to use a genderneutral universal ("e" terminations). I like to use a feminine universal (just "las profesoras" instead of "las profesoras y los profesores") like some people do in English, but it is an incredibly marginal practice in Spanish; so I tend to go with the genderneutral option.

@bright_helpings (i do not use a screenreader)

When talking in plural in german, there's always the option to use the "substantiviertes Partizip"

For example "Studierende" instead of "Studenten" (students)

@ijyx Thanks for the specific advice and the clarity about not using a screenreader!

@bright_helpings you could use x as in profesorx, or anarquistx. I see that a lot. Not sure if that affects software the same way, but maybe it's better since its a letter.

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