Other than English or Finnish, languages with more gender-specific forms are facing broad (and at times heated) debates over how to write inclusively by using expressions that are gender-neutral. Since any deviation from the “generic masculine” – the traditional standard in many languages to predominantly use male forms only when referring to groups of all genders – makes texts more complicated to read, various camps argue passionately over which form is the best.
It’s rare to find empiric data rather than just opinions and guesses, which is why this study by easy-language consultancy Capito is a rare gem: based on an observational study, the researchers validated the comprehensibility of five different forms of gender-neutral German texts.
I particularly enjoyed reading the summary in “easy language”, as I found that to be both quite fitting and very interesting. Based on the results of the study and some general considerations regarding the inclusiveness of the alternatives, the authors generally recommend choosing neutral forms (like “Personen” or “Team”), or to use the common asterisk-form where the female ending is added after an asterisk (“Pilot*innen”) for all but the most limited skill groups. Using both forms (“Piloten und Pilotinnen”) is equally understsandable, but gets some critique for not being entirely inclusive, whereas the study recommends against using a colon (“Pilot:innen”). Most interestingly, the neutral substantivized forms (e.g. “Radfahrende” to describe people who ride bicycles) get dismissed for being most difficult to understand.
Tongue-in-cheek side note: I recently encountered a person actively using the “Entgendern nach Phettberg” method. A pity this niche approach was not part of the study? My hunch is that it is even harder to understand than the substantivized forms (as it throws off pretty much everybody I know).