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Re: Neutral language in W3C specifications

From: Ivan Herman <ivan@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2020 09:20:23 +0200
Cc: lwatson@tetralogical.com, Gregg Kellogg <gregg@greggkellogg.net>, Denis Ah-Kang <denis@w3.org>, Spec-prod <spec-prod@w3.org>, chairs@w3.org
Message-Id: <DCD5AA15-F77E-479B-A311-F2EE003C8C04@w3.org>
To: "Martin J. Dürst" <duerst@it.aoyama.ac.jp>

I am obviously aware that languages evolve. And that is healthy. I am also witnessing similar discussions in other languages where the issue is actually much more complicated: think about languages where gender is much more part of the core grammar than in modern English (like in Germanic or Latin languages).

But my original point seems to have been lost in the thread. Martin and I, though not native English speakers, have been working with English for many years, and have acquired a reasonable proficiency as a result. I am sure we can cope with those changes. But I do not believe we represent the typical audience of our specifications in this respect.

We know that in a number of countries the very fact that almost all our documents are in English represents a challenge. Our readers may have difficulties understanding our specifications. Certain aspects of the problem are intangible, like the fact that the various vocabulary terms, API entries, or our terminologies are all in English: that is a characteristics of our profession overall. But the specification text itself is under our control. And just like speakers of the BBC World, for example, do not use a really strong Scottish accent (much as I'd love the sound of it!), we are supposed to use a relatively simple English that we can reasonably expect our experts all over the world understand. That is where my comment on average English training comes in: we should not use linguistic constructs that are, still, unknown to many.

But I also believe we are going down a rathole for no good reasons. Gregg's original question related to documents like Use Cases, which unavoidably have more "human" stories where *some* kinds of pronoun usage are necessary. I think most of those documents are what Leonie characterized as "collections". In which case 

> ... having a balance of gender identities (and other characteristics) is likely to mean more people find the user stories relevant.

is a perfectly valid option. (I actually remember when we edited [1]: we had great fun trying to find a diverse set of person names, not only in terms of gender but also finding names coming from around the globe...). This is what we should promote.

The only technical issue we have is that our pubrules' checker should not make this approach difficult. 



[1] https://w3c.github.io/dpub-pwp-ucr/

> On 30 Jul 2020, at 03:23, Martin J. Dürst <duerst@it.aoyama.ac.jp> wrote:
> On 30/07/2020 05:03, Ivan Herman wrote:
>>> Doesn't lose anything if it becomes:
>>> "Alex is a developer who uses SVG as part of their job..."
> I wasn't explicitly aware of the idea of using a given name that is widely used for both genders; nice idea! When translated, it may be difficult to do the same in all languages, though. But then, neutral language has other problems in other languages, too.
>>> There are times when the gender of the person in a user story is important, but in the context of W3C I can't think of one that applies to technical standards!
>> i must admit that for a non-native English speaker the usage of the plural form as a gender-neutral pronoun sounds extremely strange in this case. I know it is coming to the fore but I am worried it would create lots of confusion. (It is certainly a usage that goes against my own English training.)
> As another non-native English speaker, I must admit that a few years ago, I was also quite surprised to see such usages. For non-native speakers, it doesn't help that there is centuries-old practice, because we learn (moderately) modern English with (moderately) modern grammars. Also, it doesn't help that this is the result of prescriptive grammars, because as non-natives, we essentially have to rely on prescriptive grammars to learn the language.
> In the meantime, I have read enough examples with singular they/them to not feel strange anymore. The occurrence of these examples is frequent enough for me to understand that it's not a spelling/grammar mistake, but a practice that's active in the language. And as a non-native speaker, I know that I always may meet phenomena that I'm not yet familiar with.
> Also, I guess I'm at a point where I'd feel okay to use it in my own writing. So I can confirm that it's something one can get used to. Also, I have seen proposals for other gender neutral pronouns, but all of them are way more artificial and rarer by far.
> Regards,   Martin.
>> Ivan
>>> Léonie.
>>>> [1] https://www.w3.org/TR/vc-use-cases/
>>> [2] https://github.com/w3c/idcg/issues/17
>>>>> Denis
>>>>> On 7/22/20 1:21 PM, Léonie Watson wrote:
>>>>>> Denis, this is a really positive step, thank you to you and the team.
>>>>>> One suggestion - is it possible for PubRules to check for gender specific pronouns (he/she, him/her etc.) too?
>>>>>> They are rare in specifications, but do sometimes feature as part of use cases or examples.
>>>>>> Léonie.
>>>>>> On 22/07/2020 09:40, Denis Ah-Kang wrote:
>>>>>>> Dear editors and chairs,
>>>>>>> In order to offer the best environment possible to its
>>>>>>> community, W3C is supporting the push for a more inclusive and
>>>>>>> neutral language, especially in our specifications.
>>>>>>> In the upcoming weeks, pubrules [1] will show a warning if
>>>>>>> terms like "master", "slave", "grandfather", "sanity" or
>>>>>>> "dummy" are detected in a specification and this will also
>>>>>>> be reflected in the Manual of style [2] with a list of
>>>>>>> alternatives.
>>>>>>> Note, since it may take time for the editors to change the
>>>>>>> branch name "master" to something else, we will not flag the
>>>>>>> URLs containing that word in the first place.
>>>>>>> Going forward, we will audit all the specification repositories
>>>>>>> and open issues if they contain problematic terms.
>>>>>>> Let me know if you have any comments/suggestions.
>>>>>>> Denis
>>>>>>> W3C Systems team
>>>>>>> [1] https://www.w3.org/pubrules/
>>>>>>> [2] https://w3c.github.io/manual-of-style/
>>> -- 
>>> Director @TetraLogical
>>> https://tetralogical.com
>> .
> -- 
> Prof. Dr.sc. Martin J. Dürst
> Department of Intelligent Information Technology
> College of Science and Engineering
> Aoyama Gakuin University
> Fuchinobe 5-1-10, Chuo-ku, Sagamihara
> 252-5258 Japan

Ivan Herman, W3C 
Home: http://www.w3.org/People/Ivan/
mobile: +33 6 52 46 00 43
ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0782-2704

Received on Thursday, 30 July 2020 07:20:31 UTC

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