Berlin issues handbook for ‘diversity-sensitive’ language


The new guide bans the use of 'foreigner' and 'fare dodger' - REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
The new guide bans the use of ‘foreigner’ and ‘fare dodger’ – REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

State employees in Berlin have been told to watch their language after being given a new diversity-sensitive language guide. 

The new guidelines put in place by the city government offers guidance on phrases that should and shouldn’t be used. For example, it says the term “asylum seeker” is misleading, as there is a fundamental right to asylum. They instead recommend the term should be replaced with “persons requiring protection”. 

“Foreigners” should be replaced with “residents without German citizenship”. People who have a migrant background should be referred to as “people with an international history”.

The 44-page guide is part of a national diversity programme that aims to train Berlin’s state employees to communicate “with the people in this city”, regardless of their gender, ethnic origin or skin color, age, disability, religion, worldview or sexual identity. It will not be enforced by penalties, but is instead a set of recommendations. 

The guide was put together by the State Office for Equal Treatment Against Discrimination, which is run by Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt, from the Green Party. Berlin’s centre-left city government is a coalition of the Greens with the Social Democrats and Left Party.

“Berlin is home to people from many different backgrounds and in very different situations,” Mr Behrendt said in a press statement. “Berliners should understand the administration as their own and therefore the administration should also be open to this diversity. If the diversity of Berlin is reflected in the administration, then that is a benefit for the entire city.”

In addition the booklet states that if someone changes their gender, officials should no longer call that a “gender change” but a “gender alignment”. “Schwarz fahren”, which literally translates as ‘riding black’ and is a widely used German term for fare-dodging on public transport, also shouldn’t be used.

Opinions are steered by language, the authors said as an explanation for the guide, adding that it is necessary to reflect on your own language and to question it critically. 

Not everyone has been impressed, however. Gunnar Schupelius, a commentator on the local daily newspaper BZ, said a “clique” of politicians are trying to influence people to believe what they think is right. 

They want to ensure people “behave in accordance with their political ideology,” he wrote. 

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