Diversity conscious language

Equal treatment through language does not only take place in relation to gender, but also in relation to further categories of diversity and inequality, which also play a role at university. Here too it is important to avoid discriminatory expressions and terms which are historically linked to colonial or Nazi history, and instead to employ valorizing and inclusive language.

Here are a few suggestions on how to speak and prepare course material in a diversity conscious way:

If you are unsure of how to designate or describe certain people or social groups, it is better to use the terms used by organizations and advocacy groups instead of external designations (Fremdbezeichnung). Many advocacy groups and associations offer guidelines and advice on language and how to use it.

There are texts and handouts with background information, explanations on common self-denominations, and further tips on a diversity conscious use of language, for example in the context of racism, disability, gender identity and transgender themes.


Further reading:

Projekt Lern- und Erinnerungsort Afrikanisches Viertel (LEO) beim Amt für Weiterbildung und Kultur des Bezirksamtes Mitte von Berlin und Elina Marmer, Hrsg., Autor*innenkollektiv. 2015. Rassismuskritischer Leitfaden. Berlin.

Redaktion Leidmedien. 2012. Leidfaden.

AntiDiskriminierungsBüro Köln, Öffentlichkeit gegen Gewalt e.V., Hrsg., Nacro, Sanata, Larissa Fuhrmann, und Ilka Simon. 2013. Leitfaden für einen rassismuskritischen Sprachgebrauch. Handreichung für Journalist_innen.

Triq - TransInterQueer e.V., Hrsg. 2014. Trans* in den Medien. Informationen für Journalist_innen.

Neue Deutsche Medienmacher. 2018. Glossar.



When talking and writing about marginalized groups, one or the other feature is often singled out, thus neglecting the manifold aspects of people as well as the heterogeneity of the respective groups.

For this reason, in German it has become customary to talk about “Menschen mit Behinderung” (person with a disability) instead of “Behinderten” (a ‘Disabled’, nominalized adjective). At the Toolbox we have chosen to write “BeHinderung” (disAbility) with a capital H, aligning ourselves with the concept that the capital letter serves to highlight the fact that it is through socially constructed obstacles that it is made more difficult for certain people to participate: they are then made disabled.

Instead of focusing on disabilities, people’s competences and abilities can be brought to the fore by avoiding sentences that present disability as a stroke of fate. For example, instead of “despite”-sentences or presenting someone as a victim, disability can be thematized as one of many aspects of a person instead of the only determining factor for their personality.


Further reading:

Redaktion Leidmedien. 2012. Leidfaden.

The contributions of people belonging to marginalized groups as well as the causes for discrimination are often rendered invisible through what seems at first glance like a neutral and unspecific representation. For this reason, try to explicitly name acting subjects, interests and existing conflicts.


Examples:

  • ·         “Marie Curie discovered polonium and radium” instead of “Polonium and radium were discovered in 1898.”
  • ·         “In 1904 the Herero and Nama rose up in colonial territory and formed an anti-colonial resistance” instead of “in the colonies Germans and natives fought against each other.”
  • People did not have to leave Germany after 1933 “because they were Jews”, but “because they were endangered by the ever growing antisemitism”. (Lebert/Zeug/Hornscheidt 2016)

You can also make authorship clear by including the first names of authors in bibliographies.


Further reading:

AntiDiskriminierungsBüro Köln, Öffentlichkeit gegen Gewalt e.V., Hrsg., Nacro, Sanata, Larissa Fuhrmann, und Ilka Simon. 2013. Leitfaden für einen rassismuskritischen Sprachgebrauch. Handreichung für Journalist_innen.

Lebert, Andreas, und Katrin Zeug. 20.07.2016. Lann Hornscheidt: „Es ist eine Frage der Zeit, bis wir bei der Geburt kein Geschlecht mehr zugewiesen bekommen“. Die Zeit.

Projekt Lern- und Erinnerungsort Afrikanisches Viertel (LEO) beim Amt für Weiterbildung und Kultur des Bezirksamtes Mitte von Berlin und Elina Marmer, Hrsg., Autor*innenkollektiv. 2015. Rassismuskritischer Leitfaden. Berlin.

Terms change with time. Words that used to be used by many people only a few years ago are now recognized as being discriminatory and can be avoided. Belittling, clichéd, exoticizing or discriminatory terms are such examples. Alternatives exist for many discriminatory terms. Discriminatory ideas and unnecessary sentences can be left out.

Think about what exactly it is you want to say, and what wording your need for this.


Examples of German sentences that bring the abilities of people to the fore instead of being disparaging:

  • „mutig und verantwortungsbewusst handeln“ instead of „seinen Mann stehen“
  • „Reinigungskraft“ instead of „Putze“,
  • „Menschen, die Rollstühle benutzen“ or „Rollstuhlfahrer*innen“ instead of „Menschen, die an den Rollstuhl gefesselt sind“,
  • „Geflüchtete“ instead of „Flüchtlinge“.
  • Instead of referring to the whole African continent, name specific states – Africa is not a country.
  • The operations that some trans* people decide to undergo are called, in German, „geschlechtsangleichende Operationen“.
  • Sentences such as „das schöne Geschlecht“, „das starke Geschlecht“ or „der schwarze Kontinent“ can simply be discarded.

Further reading:

Arndt, Susan, Hrsg. 2006. AfrikaBilder. Studien zu Rassismus in Deutschland. Studienausg. Münster: Unrast-Verlag. Link zum Inhaltsverzeichnis.

Arndt, Susan, und Lann Hornscheidt, Hrsg. 2009. Afrika und die deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. 2. Aufl. Münster: Unrast Verlag. Link zum Inhaltsverzeichnis.

Arndt, Susan, und Nadja Ofuatey- Alazard, Hrsg. 2011. Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht. (K)Erben des Kolonialismus im Wissensarchiv deutsche Sprache. Ein kritisches Nachschlagewerk. 1. Aufl. Münster: Unrast-Verlag. Link zum Inhaltsverzeichnis.

Triq - TransInterQueer e.V., und Leo Yannick Wild, Hrsg. 2014. Trans* in den Medien. Informationen für Journalist_innen.

Neue Deutsche Medienmacher. 2018. Glossar.

Language itself can constitute a barrier, for example if the language used is not someone’s first language or if a disability requires a specific use of language. Here too it is difficult to give general advice, since the needs and scope for action can be very different. Some aspects can however be implemented in all lessons:

  • Spoken information should also be visualized, and graphics and images explained orally.
  • Ask students if they can hear you and understand you, and ask them to let you know if you should speak louder or slower.
  • Enable students to show their participation in further ways than spoken contributions. More on this in Didactic Principles.
  • Express your readiness to use FM-systems (transmitter microphone for a hearing aid system) or other technical aids, and invite your students to make an appointment during your office hours if they feel the need to. More information on support at Freie Universität Berlin can be found here.

Academia uses specific field related terminology, and one of the important aims of studying is to learn and assimilate these terms and how to use them correctly. However, especially when speaking, try to avoid unnecessarily long sentences, and remember to repeat important points and to transmit content in simple sentences. Even when explaining organizational points such as registration and examination procedures, this can be very helpful for many students, and will also reduce misunderstandings and questions.


Further reading:

Deutsches Studentenwerk, 2013. Informationen für Studieninteressierte und Studierende mit behinderungen und chronischen Krankheiten.

Die Webseite des Netzwerk Leichte Sprache.

Di³ im Rahmen des Programms „Starker Start ins Studium“ und dem Studien-Service-Center der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Hrsg. 2014: Barrierefreies Studium. Leitfaden für Lehrende der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main.