Currently, the German translation uses the masculine form to refer to users. This is common in German speaking countries and often defended as being neutral, but psycholinguistic studies say otherwise. So what we need are changes to include women and nonbinary people as well.
I’ve been thinking about this and would happily try my paws at it, but there are some issues that need further discussion, and I’ll probably need some help with the “how do I do that” part.
tl;dr: We to make the translation gender neutral/inclusive, but we also need to make it as accessible for text to speech users and various neurodivergent people as we can.
The issues that I’ve come across are: “Benutzer” (which is masculine) for “user”, and, on profile pages, “du kannst ihm folgen oder mit ihm interagieren” (you can follow him or interact with him).
The most popular solutions to make these inclusive of both women and nonbinary people are
ihm*ihr. These aren’t bad at all, but they do have accessibility issues, so we need to look at solutions for these at well.
Screen reader accessibility
To my knowledge, * and _ will be read by many (most? all?) screen readers as Stern and Unterstrich, that would mean “Benutzer Unterstrich innen” which makes the text longer and is probably quite annoying.
- There are some fixes that only use letters. They involve replacing anything that could be seen as a gendered ending, for example with -lon or -x: Benutzlon, Benutzx
In this case, the pronoun on the profile page could be “ihrihm”, “ihmihr” or a neopronoun like “xiem” or “nim”.
- Some characters might work better than others (making a pause instead of being read as “Unterstrich”/“Stern”), we’d need the input of regular text to speech users for this.
As an example example, according to this,
' : - •(and a few others that I think are unsuitable for the purpose) are all read as a pause rather than by name by Google Talkback. This has not been tested by a regular user, and different software might do things differently.
If we find out that, for example, : tends to be ok, we could use Benutzer:innen and ihr:ihm. These forms are already used by some people, and the meaning will be clear from context for most German speakers.
Accessibility for neurodivergent people
Both _ or * (or any other symbol) and unfamiliar word endings can make text harder to read for people with various neurodivergencies for various reasons. There is no rule on what is fine and what isn’t, because, well, people’s brains don’t all work the same way.
Possible solution for part of the problem:
Inspired by this issue that suggest adding a Basic English translation: It would be possible to have two different German translations that focus different accessibility needs.
In German, there are two concepts for basic/simple language, Leichte Sprache and Einfache Sprache (both translate to “easy language”, sorry).
Leichte Sprache has rules and needs to be proof-read by people with learning difficulties. Einfache Sprache is basically what you do when you don’t follow the rules of Leichte Sprache, but still want to make something easier than usual, or when you do follow the rules, but didn’t let people with learning difficulties look over it to see if it actually works for them. In Leichte Sprache, the solution seems to be to use masculine and feminine forms, as in “Benutzer und Benutzerinnen” (which includes women, but not nonbinary people, and is fairly long).
So. A language called “Deutsch (Einfach)” that uses (among possibly other changes) “Benutzer und Benutzerinnen” and “ihr oder ihm” could exist next to a version that uses another solution that is both nonbinary-inclusive and as screenreader-friendly as possible.
However, choosing simple language doesn’t work for people who actually want to use the hard version of German, except that the current solutions for un-gendering language don’t work for them. That’s not great. It’s as far as I’ve come with my thoughts though, and I’m interested in other ideas.
So, what are everybody’s thoughts, but especially the thoughts of people affected by the accessibility issues?
edit: One suggestion that was made on Mastodon was using generic femininum, that would be the feminine “Benutzerinnen” rather than the masculine form that is currently used.
Personally, I would prefer this over the masculine.
There is also the option of Binnen-I (BenutzerInnen), which has a binary connotation sadly, but is also an option that I personally would rank about as desirable as the generic femininum.