Gender-Inclusive Language

“The mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna stands for equal treatment, fairness, and respect towards all members of its university community. Therefore, gender-appropriate formulations should be standard at the mdw.” (Rector Ulrike Sych)

The mdw is an institution that seeks to offer all members of its community (students, teachers, administrators) the best possible conditions for learning, teaching, and research. In this spirit, it is important that people interact with each other in a respectful manner— and the way in which people use language embodies one aspect of how such respect is expressed.

There exist various approaches to realising the gender-inclusive language necessary for this purpose.
A set of guidelines entitled “Fair in Wort und Bild” [Fair in Words and Images] was published by the mdw in 2016 in order to provide help with employing gender-inclusive formulations. It was published with the participation of Rector Ulrike Sych, Vice Rector Gerda Müller, the AKG, and the GGD, and it forms the basis for the use of gender-inclusive language at the mdw.


Communication at the mdw*

* Many of the recommendations below are specific to the German language. The full version of “Fair in Wort und Bild” also contains general guidelines for English usage.

In the condensed version of the guidelines, the Rectorate recommends using an underscore (symbolising space for diverse gender identities) between masculine and feminine personal pronouns as well as nouns and their feminine endings or the internal capital I-form in addition to the options of completely writing out the masculine and feminine gendered versions of personal pronouns and nouns as well as gender-neutral formulations in official mdw written communications.

The form with the underscore (or, alternatively, asterisk) is the form currently in common use at the mdw for official documents (mdw announcements, development plan, etc.), mdw publications (mdw Magazine, job adverts), and external communication (website, press releases, lectures, etc.). Academic papers must be written using gender-inclusive language, with the authors having the option (subject to consultation with their advisers) as to which form of linguistic equality they implement.

In personal communication (e-mail, etc.), a tilde (“~”, e.g. Wissenschafter~innen) may be used as a substitute for the underscore.

The printed version of the guidelines is available from the Administrative Department of Equality, Gender Studies and Diversity.

Regarding the mdw guidelines “Fair in Wort und Bild”, we extend special thanks to the Vienna University of Economics and Business – Gender and Diversity Policy Office and Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC) as well as Christoph Hofbauer and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna for their friendly permission to adapt their brochure and its guidelines for gender-sensitive language.


Societal Developments

“The limits of your language are the limits of your world.” To loosely paraphrase a point made by Ludwig Wittgenstein, we can say that our linguistic practices of naming—i.e., the language that we speak, the names and words that we choose—say a lot about how we think.”
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Language constructs reality and is dynamic; at the same time, it is changed by societal developments.

We understand gender-inclusive language as a tool with which to:

  • communicate successfully and in an esteeming manner,
  • register in a gender-politically exact manner which person does what when how why and wherefore,
  • and raise the visibility of the diversity of gender identities by explicitly including all genders—such as with the word “Student_innen”.

The internal I (“I”, as in: TechnikerInnen), in sue since the 1980s, is fading into the background due to criticism of the dominant binarity of gender-related notions. The underscore (as in: Künstler_innen), referred to in German as a Gender-Gap, functions as a linguistic expression of the diversity of people’s gender identities and goes beyond the binary categories of feminine and masculine. This is particularly relevant in the wake of a June 2018 ruling of the Austrian Constitutional Court (VfGH) that affirms protection of the right to individual gender identities on the basis of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In concrete terms, this means that it is currently (2021) the case in Austria that intersex individuals—and only intersex individuals—may choose from six gender categories: alongside “male” and “female”, Austria’s civil register contains the options “diverse”, “inter”, and “open”, as well as the option to have one’s gender entry deleted altogether. Human rights groups have criticised the fact that this diversity of options is not made available to non-binary individuals. The underscore (Gender Gap) makes available the necessary linguistic space and latitude in a form that encompasses all genders.


Further Sets of Guidelines

- Leitfaden geschlechtergerechtes Formulieren
Donau-Universität Krems, Stabsstelle für Gleichstellung und Gender Studies, 4. überarb. Auflage 2020

- Platz für gerechte Kommunikation. Leitfaden für eine inklusive Sprache
Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Abteilung Personalentwicklung, Gender & Diversity Management, 2020

- Geschlechterinklusiver Sprachgebrauch in der Administration der Universitaet Wien
Universität Wien, Wien 2019

- Geschlechtergerechte Sprache. Leitfaden im Wirkungsbereich des BMBWF
hg. v. Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung, Abteilung Gleichstellung und diversitätsmanagement (Präs/1) mit inhaltlicher Unterstützung der Arbeitskreise für Gleichbehandlungsfragen an Universitäten, Wien 2018

- Fair und inklusiv in Sprache und Bild. Ein Leitfaden für die WU
Sonja Lydtin, Stabstelle für Gender & Diversity Policy der Wirtschaftsuniversität (WU), in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Arbeitskreis für Gleichbehandlungsfragen (AKG) der WU und Christoph Hofbauer, Wien 2015

- Geschlechtergerecht in Sprache und Bild
hg. v. Stabsabteilung für Gleichstellungspolitik, Universität Linz, Linz 2009