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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translating Gender from English to Persian

Translating Gender from English to Persian

By arezoo soltani | Published  01/12/2010 | Art of Translation and Interpreting | Recommendation:
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In translation process major concern of translators is rendering the meaning of SL to TL. In this regard, they encounter some problems which refer to some factors: linguistically and culturally.
This paper focuses on linguistic factors, in specific, on grammar. Grammatical differences in SL and TL cause some challenges in translation process because a translator needs to decode the meaning of SL and then reencode it to TL based on target language grammar.
Grammar has different aspects; one of them is gender and the effect of it on a sentence. Gender plays different roles among languages. In other words, some such as French and Arabic are more dependable on gender while some others such as English and Persian are less. Due to the various degrees of significance on gender among languages, translators need to manipulate the source text (ST) in order to provide a natural target text (TT).
At first, the present study has a general look at gender and its classifications then considers the effect of gender on translation process from English to Persian.
2- Categories of Gender
In linguistics, grammatical genders (or noun classes) refer to one of three classes: masculine, feminine and neuter. Masculine gender includes most words that refer to males. Feminine gender includes most words that refer to females. Neuter gender includes mostly words that do not refer to males or females. The gender of a noun more or less affects its pronoun (subjective, objective, reflective, demonstrative), possessive form, article, adjective and verb. Grammatically, gender divides into three categories: grammatical, biological (natural) and social (see figure 1):
1. In grammatical gender group, the words follow special rules. In other words, based on a grammatical pattern the gender of a noun is recognizable. In Spanish, for example, most masculine nouns and their modifiers end in the suffix –o or a consonant, such as abogado ( male lawyer) while most feminine nouns and their modifiers end in suffix –a, such as abogada (female lawyer), though there are many exceptions.
2. Biological (Natural) gender group refers to the existence of some biological differences between male and female. This category mostly includes animate nouns. To put it simply, animate nouns contain two sexes: female and male. So, there are mostly two different words for them. For example, in Turkish anne (mother) refers to a female and ata (father) to a male. Also, in English cock or rooster refers to a male animal and hen to a female.
3. Social gender group is based on the norm of the meaning of a noun in a society. The interpretation of this group is based on the society and culture. According to Shapiro (cited in McElinny, 2002), social gender refers to "the social, cultural, psychological constructs that are imposed upon the biological differences." This category depends on certain factors such as society, culture, time and context. Referring to the occupational title of secretary, for example, Nissen (2002) shows how gender role associated with this title has been reversed over time as society occurred: "It may surprise people today to learn that only one century ago this occupation was predominantly executed by men. In the 19th century, the social gender of secretary was 'male', i.e. the opposite of what it is today" (p.31).

However, there are some exceptions in the above categories. In Arabic a masculine and feminine relationship is not only between animate nouns but also inanimate nouns. The former relation is based on different sexes while the latter is conventional. According to this, شمس "" /shams/ (sun) is feminine and "" قمر/ghamar/ (moon) masculine. Moreover, all countries, towns and villages are generally treated as feminine. In addition, in Arabic when a word ends in Taa' Marbuta (ﺔ/ ﺓ) is feminine, however, some of the words end in Taa' Marbuta (ﺔ/ ﺓ) while they are masculine: طﻠﺣﺔ /talheh/, ﺣﻣﺯﺓ /hamzeh/.
2-1 Gender Agreement
Noun gender can have a determinant role in a sentence, depending on the grammatical system of a language. All pronouns (subjective, objective, demonstrative, reflective), their possessive forms, articles, adjectives and verbs need to be conformed to the gender of the noun. However, languages treat agreement differently. For instance, in French on the one hand, gender does not affect the verb. "Il est un grand acteur." which means he is a great actor, "elle est une grande actrice." which means she is a great actress. The same form of the verb has been used for both masculine and feminine subjects. On the other hand, different forms of pronoun articles and adjectives have been used for masculine and feminine subjects.
It is worth noting gender has a significant effect on the other elements of a sentence in some languages. For instance, Arabic is the most dependable language on gender. Though, there is an exception; gender does not influence making plural form of the demonstrative pronouns, so the plural forms are the same for both genders: ﮬﺅﻻﺀ /hāolāe/ (these), اولئك /olāeka/ (those)
However, gender does not have any impact on some languages such as Persian. This can be a problematic issue in translating from a more dependable language on gender to a less dependable language on gender. The following part is about translating gendered from English (dependent on gender) to Persian (independent on gender).

3- Gender in Persian and English
3-1 Gender in English
By definition, gender is a grammatical category in which a noun, pronoun, article, verb and adjective is masculine, feminine or neuter. Although grammatical gender was a completely inflectional category in Old English, Modern English has a much less pervasive gender system, mainly based on natural gender.

3-1-1 Natural Gender
In general, there is no distinction between masculine, feminine and neuter in English nouns. However, gender is sometimes shown by different words, such as man, boy and uncle for masculine and woman, girl and aunt for feminine. Morever it is shown by different forms that are based on grammatical patterns like actor, prince and widower for masculine and actress, princess and widow for feminine. The latter is not practical for all words.
In English, there are other nouns which can be used for either a masculine or a feminine: cousin, cook, student, etc. In this case, the gender of a noun is determined by the other elements in a sentence or text that refer to the noun: pronouns, possessive adjectives and even proper names. Jim is a student, in this example 'Jim' that is a proper name shows the gender of the student, masculine.
Sometimes a proper name can not be a good criterion because it is not possible to recognize the gender of a noun according to that proper name. Therefore, the other elements – pronouns and their possessive forms- indicate the gender. Look at this example, Nida is a great scholar in translation field. He has two approaches to translation. From 'he', we can conclude that 'Nida' is a masculine gender. If it were not for the pronoun 'he' it woukd be difficult to recognize gender of 'Nida'.
Also, it is possible to draw a distinction by adding the words 'male or female' before a noun such as this example: Although there were many teachers in my school, I liked the female ones.
3-1-2 Social Gender
a social gender refers to the meaning of a noun in a specific society and culture. According to Cameron (2003), ideologies of language and gender are specific to their time and place: "they vary across cultures and historical periods, and they are inflected by representations of other social characteristics" (p 452). In English, there is another type of nouns. The meaning of such nouns is based on the social and cultural norms. For instance, today nurse and secretary refer to females while secretary was interpreted as a male in 19th.

3-1-3 Gender of Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives
In English all the pronouns and possessive adjectives are neuters apart from the third person singular pronouns (and the possessive forms): 'he/his/him/ himself (masculine gender)', 'she/her(s)/ herself (feminine gender)'. However, there are some exceptions:
• Animals, which can go either way, can be referred to according to their sexes, or "it" can be used.
• The pronoun "she" is sometimes used to refer to thing such as countries, ships, and cars, or to refer to machines. This, however, is considered a stylistically marked, optional figure of speech.
3-2 Gender in Persian
In Persian, nouns are either natural or social. In this, Persian is somehow similar to English. However, gender has no effect on Persian grammatical elements. It should be mentioned that borrowed words are excluded from Persian in this generalization.
3-2-1 Natural Gender
This category is based on biological differences between two sexes. Therefore, in order to show the gender of a Persian noun, different words are used for a male and a female, as in English. For example, مادر /mādar/ ' mother' , خواهر/khāhar/ ' sister', عمه /amme/ / خاله /khāle/ 'aunt' for feminine and پدر /pedar/ ' father', برادر /barār/ ' brother' , عمو /amō/ / دايی /dāei/' uncle' for masculine. In other cases, in order to distinguish between male and female some modifiers need to be used as in English, such as 'زن/zan/ or دختر /dokhtar/ '( for human) , ' ماده /mādde/' ( for animal ) for female and 'مرد /mard/or پسر/pesar/' ( for human ), ' نر/nar/ '( for animal ) for male. For instance:
The male students entered the class.
Ān pesar dāneshāmōzān vāred shodand kelās.
Ān dāneshāmōzān-e pesar vāred-e kelās shodand . دانش آموزان پسر وارد كلاس شدند. آن
Another example:
The male birds are usually bigger than the female ones.
Nar parandegān hastand mamōlan bozorgtar az mādde parandegān.
Mamōlan parandegān-e nar az parandegān-e mādde bozorgtar hastand.
معمولاً پرندگان نر از پرندگان ماده بزرگتر هستند.
3-2-2 Social Gender
As in English certain nouns are socially gendered, i.e. the meaning which is interpreted based on passing time and the society. Some occupational titles such as ' ماما' /māmā/ (midwife) or ' پرستار بچه ' /parastār-e bache/ ( babysitter) are generally associated with a female sex.
4- Manifestation of Gender in Persian and English Translation
A text has some features which make the texture of a text. According to Lotfipour Saeid (1991), the textures of a text can be characterized by textual features of 1) thematization strategies, 2) schematic structure, 3) paralanguage and 4) cohesion. Halliday (1989) believes that cohesive relations may be grammatical or lexical. He classifies theses relations into 5 categories: 1) reference, 2) substitution, 3) ellipses, 4) conjunction and 5) lexical cohesion. The first four are grammatical and the last one lexical. Lexical cohesion is a relation that exists between or among specific elements of different sentences in a text and is achieved thorough vocabulary. Based on Halliday's classification, it can be said that reference, substitution, lexical cohesion and conjunction involve explicitness strategy while ellipsis involves implicitness strategy. Since in the former, the translator prefers not to omit any part and state everything explicitly while in the latter they prefer to omit some parts and state something implicitly.
According to Halliday ( 1989), if SL depends on some grammatical elements which TL does not, there is more explicitness strategy in translation. In this sense, it can be said there is more exploitation in translation from English to Persian. Since there is gap between English and Persian languages in respect of gender, therefore, translators have to use a special strategy to fill up the gaps.
4-2 Social Gender and Translation Problems
It may be worth pointing out that social gender assignment is not restricted to any specific occupational title. It depends on pragmatic and social consideration. In this case, the translators should be aware of the default presupposition of a noun in the society as well as the time that the noun is used. For example, in Persian the word مامايی /māmāei/ "midwifery" is associated with a female gender. As well, if a translator is translating an English text which is about a secretary's life that refers to 19th century, s/he should consider the social gender of this word at that time Nissen (2001). In 19th century, the word secretary referred to a male while, today, it is interpreted as a female one.
4-3 Translation of Gender from English to Persian
In English, only the third person singular pronouns and their possessive forms contain gender component. They include "he/his" (masculine gender) and "she/her(s)" (feminine gender) while the equivalents of these words are the neuter "او"/ō/ (as a pronoun) and the neuter " -َ ش " /ash/ (as a possessive adjective) in Persian. This is one of the problematic parts of a translator's job, because in order to transfer the gender component of a pronoun and its possessive form from the source text to the target text, s/he should consider an appropriate strategy such as explicitness and implicitness. Look at this English example and its equivalent:
Although John's girlfriend is pretty, her sister's not.
Bā ānke Jjān dōstdokhtar hast zibā, ash khāhar nist.
Bā ānke dōstdokhtar-e Jān zibā ast ammā khāharash ingōne nemibāshad.
با آنكه دوست دختر جان زيبا است اما خواهرش اينگونه نمی باشد.
The Persian equivalent is ambiguous, because the Persian reader does not know whose sister is not pretty. To avoid any ambiguity, the translator should add a word or words that help clarify the meaning, so:
Bā ānke dōstdokhtar-e Jān zibā ast ammā khāhar-e dōstdokhtarash ingōne nemibāshad.
با آنكه دوست دختر جان زيبا است اما خواهر دوست دخترش اينگونه نمی باشد.
Another example of misunderstanding gendered pronouns is the following:
A: Elizabeth's brother-in-law is a teacher.
Elīzābet barādar shohar ast yek moallem
Barādar shohar-e Eelīzābet moallem ast.
– برادر شوهر اليزابت معلم است.
B: Oh, great! His son is too.
Oh, che jaleb! Ash pesarham ast hamintor.
Oh, che jaleb! Pesarash ham hamintor.
– اوه، چه جالب! پسرش هم همينطور.
The Persian equivalent is such that the reader does not understand whose son is a teacher, Elizabeth's or her brother-in-law's? in order to avoid ambiguity, the translator needs to use explicitness strategy. Therefore, the Persian equivalent could be in this way:
- برادر شوهر اليزابت معلم است.
Barādar shohar-e Eelīzābet moallem ast.
- اوه، چه جالب! پسر برادر شوهرش هم همينطور.
Oh, che jaleb! Pesar-e barādar shoharash ham hamintor.
However, literal translation of the third person singular pronouns and their possessive forms does not always cause problems. In sentences where there is only one noun and one pronoun referring to it, ambiguity is not always a problem:
Mary washed her car.
Merī shost ash māshin.
Merī māshinash rā shost.
مری ماشينش را شست.
As briefly represented above, languages may differ greatly in the way they encode the category of gender in their lexical and grammatical systems. They may also differ in the expectations of their relevant cultures concerning what is meant by gender. We all know that every translation inevitably entails making a number of choices; moreover, there is a strategy behind every choice, and a reason behind every strategy, and the translator should try their best to transfer all the components of a noun as well as possible, because each word or noun has its own value.

Halliday, M.A.K. and R. Hasan. (1989). Language, Context and Text: Aspects of language in a Social Semiotic Perspective. Oxford: OUP
Nissen, U. K. (2002). Aspects of Translating Gender. Linguistik Online, 11, 25-37. Retrieved September 2 from:
McElhinny, B. (2003). Theorizing Gender in Sociolinguistics and Linguistic Anthropology. In J. Holmes & M. Meyerhoff (Ed.) The Handbook of Language and Gender. (pp. 21-43). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Golestany,G. & Mortahen, M. the problems of the third person pronoun in translation [on-line]. Available at: http://
Grammatical gender [on-line]. Available at:
Karoubi, B. gender and translation [on-line]. Available at:
Frank, A. & Hoffman, C. & Strobel, M. gender issues in machine translation [on-line]. Available at: http://

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