“In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has,” Mark Twain wrote. “Think what overwrought reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect for the girl.”
The three German gender pronouns–der, die, das–might begin to see some change in the near future, linguists are arguing in the Guardian. Since the federal justice ministry has called for gender-neutral language in official government paperwork, Germans are increasingly casting about for ways to avoid gendered language.
Of course, the same difficulties exist in most languages. Even though English only has male and female pronouns, a variety of more or less elegant solutions to the gender problem have been tried over the years: he/she, (s)he, and even invented coinages like Ey, Hu, Per, and Thon.
But at least English has the advantage of the genderless plural they which is increasingly used in the singular as well. In German, cumbersome solutions such as Student(inn)en and PolizstInnen are popular, and some job ads simply default to the female form with a male pronoun: der Professorin.
“Language should be comfortable and fair,” the Guardian quotes linguist Luise Pusch. It remains to be seen how German will adapt to the requirements of gender-neutral language and hopefully become more fair without getting too uncomfortable. Either way, Übersetzer(innen) all over the world will have to keep adapting to the requirements of living, every-changing languages.