BERLIN – German news is becoming more and more neutral.
This is what eight major news agencies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland ad Monday. The agencies, which provide information to the main media in the German-speaking world, said they would be more sensitive in the event of discriminatory language.
Their decision is the latest development in Germany’s battle for a non-sexist language, a debate often referred to as the country’s own cultural war.
German, like many other languages, assigns a gender to all names. Activists for change argue that this can be problematic, for example when the masculine plural is used as a general plural. Word SchÃ¼ler, for example, generally applies to a group of male and female students.
Campaigners say the language should be adjusted to explicitly include women and non-binary people, pointing to studies showing that language shapes the way people see the world. Opponents argue that non-sexist language can be bulky, ugly to read and difficult to pronounce. Many wonder if it is really necessary to change the language.
Agencies – which set the tone for the German language read and heard by millions of people every day – have ended up choosing a middle path, reflecting the wide variety of audiences they serve. They had been asked about their views by the dailies, which use agency material – and were faced with a dilemma.
âWhen they start to use non-sexist language, they have problems with their old print readership. If they don’t, they will have problems with their young employees and with some of their digital users, âsaid Sven GÃ¶smann, editor-in-chief of the German News Agency (DPA).
The agencies agreed to use a range of language adjustments such as writing both male and female forms for plurals, female first:SchÃ¼lerinnen und SchÃ¼ler,” for example.
For now, at least, they’ve decided against more drastic changes, such as the so-called gender star, which places an asterisk before the end of the female word to include women, men, and no. -binary: SchÃ¼ler * innen, for example.
Luise F. Pusch – a linguist and change advocate who has worked on the issue for over 40 years – described the new modus operandi as “a clear victory for the feminist movement”.
Some other German news outlets have already changed their use of the language in response to the ongoing debate. GÃ¶smann said news agencies would keep the issue under review, closely observing the language’s development. The direction of the trip was clear, he said, if not the final destination.
âWe know where the journey is going, but not how far the journey will take us,â he said.