At Spotify, we work to amplify those who aren’t traditionally represented in audio media—whether that’s uplifting women as songwriters, producers, editors, and sound engineers in music; making accessible to people of color podcasts that resonate with them; or enabling LGBTQ+ individuals to hear queer stories reflected in their favorite music. But there’s another vitally important element of representation: language.
Language—and our understanding of it—is constantly evolving, and in Germany, there’s been a movement in more recent years to help move away from the gender binaries within the language to provide room for inclusivity and diversity within existing words and grammar. This is called “gender-inclusive language” or “gender-responsible language.”
“Gender-responsible language as we see it on Spotify means using and deploying language that addresses all genders or identities in an equally visible and appreciative manner,” says Michael Krause, General Manager Europe, Spotify. “It refers to language use which, with regard to personal designations, aims at the equal treatment of women, men, and, moreover, people of all genders, and wants to express gender equality in spoken and written language.”
In some languages (like Spanish, German, and French, to name just a handful), grammar is more clearly gendered. In languages where this is the case, the grammar used for individuals’ professions defaults to the masculine. So imagine opening up the Spotify app and seeing the word “artist” but knowing that the way it’s written actually refers to “male artist.” If there’s a female artist, a variation of the word would be used. For some of our listeners, including women, trans, and non-binary individuals, this meant their identity was rarely reflected while scrolling through our app.
German-language speakers who want to utilize gender-responsible language can pay attention to using gender-neutral formulations and avoid using the generic masculine as default. In Germany, individuals and organizations have started to address this in a few ways. And as of January 2020, Spotify has decided to use an asterisk (*) to denote gender on the Spotify app in Germany. We chose this because it best explicitly addresses people who do not want to or cannot identify as male or female.
So, for example, instead of the masculine word Künstler (artist), German Spotify listeners see Künstler*innen. Now we use this convention not only on our platform and in-app, but also in all our communications materials and on social media. And our spokespeople also use it, to the best of their abilities, in spoken-word content we engage in—such as in interviews, panels, or podcasts—by verbally stressing the word ending.
Although this language doesn’t capture every intricacy of identity, it’s a big step in the direction toward inclusivity and representation on our platform.
“Gender-responsible language is important to us in Germany because language shapes our consciousness and our thinking,” says Michael. “Language is constantly evolving, and many new words are adopted as a matter of course. We believe that this is also possible with gender-responsible language. By using gender-responsible language, we raise awareness of this issue in Germany and support people in gradually incorporating these changes into their own day-to-day life.”