A really interesting article interviewing five different translators of a book that does interesting things with gender, and how each of them dealt with that:
In Ann Leckie’s novel Ancillary Justice (Orbit Books: 2013), the imperial Radch rules over much of human-inhabited space. Its culture – and its language – does not identify people on the basis of their gender: it is irrelevant to them. In the novel, written in English, Leckie represents this linguistic reality by using the female pronoun ‘she’ throughout, regardless of any information supplied about a Radchaai (and, often, a non-Radchaai) person’s perceived gender. This pronoun choice has two effects. Firstly, it successfully erases grammatical difference in the novel and makes moot the question of the characters’ genders. But secondly, it exists in a context of continuing discussions around the gendering of science fiction, the place of men and women and people of other genders within the genre, as characters in fiction and as professional/fans, and beyond the pages of the book it is profoundly political. It is a female pronoun.
When translating Ancillary Justice into other languages, the relationship between those two effects is vital to the work.
After reading a comment by the Hungarian translator, Csilla Kleinheincz, posted on Cheryl Morgan’s blog, we wanted to know more about this. We invited the translators of the novel into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Hungarian and Japanese to discuss the process, with particular interest in the translation of gender. What emerges is an insight into the work of translators and the rigidity and versatility of grammatical gender in the face of non-standard demands. Where necessary, translators turned to innovative and even inventive ways to write their languages.
This is SUPER COOL! I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately about the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns (and speech more generally) in languages like French or German which are just crammed with grammatical gender, and this addresses the issue in a way I never even considered. I wish my German was up to the task of reading this book in more than one language (actually, I wish I could read Bulgarian, because of all the approaches, that one seems the most exciting to me)!