Section 5: Inclusive language

Language is a powerful tool for communicating inclusivity or discrimination. Language is not neutral. It is closely tied to the personality of the communicator and the culture and society in which it is used.

Inclusive communication that respects and includes all communities is free from sexist, racist and other discriminatory language. It does not inadvertently exclude groups and it avoids stereotypes, loaded words and patronizing descriptors.

Preferred terms change as language evolves. People’s views differ in terms of values, preferences and practices, and writers should be sensitive to these differences. There are no right answers to the use of some contested words. Where there are conflicting preferences, the terms used in Canadian law are acceptable.

It is important to consult regularly and openly about language—preferably at the beginning of any respectful relationship between writers and subjects. Ask people how they’d like to be identified—as their pronouns, or the name(s) by which they are called, may not match official records or received information—and express your commitment to honour their preferences.

For further information, see the UVic Equity and Human Rights Office website.


5.1 Guiding principles

In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned.

Remember that there is a difference between in-group and out-group naming. For example, a person may have reclaimed a once-derogatory term and may use this term to refer to himself or herself; however, the same term may offend when used by someone from outside that community.

Avoid stereotyping descriptors.

Avoid making distinctions on the basis of physical attributes, including age, unless these are necessary in the context.

Avoid using offensive language or assuming that all meaning and intentions will be understood.

In general, avoid using categories for ethnicity or sexuality as nouns (e.g. “the Americans” when referring to US trade representatives). Be particularly wary of any use involving the definite article “the” and such a group or category, as these statements easily lend themselves to gross oversimplification (e.g. “the Canadians”). 

Instead of writing, “The Japanese have a word for the act of acquiring books and letting them pile up unread,” consider rewording: “There’s a Japanese word for the act of acquiring books and letting them pile up unread.”

5.2 Indigenous Peoples

In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned.

Capitalize terms referring to a specific Indigenous group.

First Nations, First Peoples, Indigenous Peoples, Inuit, Métis

Aboriginal art

Indigenous communities

Preferred terms at UVic include: Indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Indigenous is usually the preferred term over other terms, is widely seen to recognize a global community of Indigenous Peoples, and includes a wider range of people than those who were specifically governed by colonial legislation in Canada (see next paragraph). 

Indigenous governance

Indigenous working group for the United Nations

Indigenous Peoples of North America

Aboriginal is used in legislation to refer to Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. It is legally inclusive of Métis, First Nations and Inuit. The Federal Contractors Program identifies Aboriginal Peoples as one of the designated groups for employment equity.

Although the constitution uses the distinctions “status” and “non-status,” these two terms are highly contested and not preferred.

First Nations typically refer to those peoples who are “status,” usually have membership with a band, nation or treaty group and generally have a card from the government, but use of the term in this narrow sense—rather than in a more general sense—is contested as well.

The singular of Inuit is Inuk, and the language is Inuktitut. Most Inuit of the western Arctic call themselves Inuvialuit. Yup’ik, Inupiaq and Inuvioluktun are distinct from Inuit, though in all cases, these names mean “the people” in their languages. 

There is no set standard for the representation of Indigenous names—whether in conjunction with English names or instead of them—for people who use both or who prefer to be identified by only one—largely because there is such a wide variety of ways people wish to have this relationship represented. Follow the preference of the person who is named.

Where people wish to be identified by linguistic group designation (e.g. Coast Salish, ʔayʔaǰuθəm) instead of by band or nation, it’s worth asking if they would like to supplement that designation with the name of an affiliation or community (e.g. Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwagiulth, St’at’imc). For example, someone from Ukwanalis Village in Kingcome Inlet may wish to be identified as Kwakwaka’wakw (a linguistic community) or by membership in one of the Four Tribes of the Dzawada’enuxw.

Writers must always ask about these representations, rather than presume linguistic or community membership based, for example, on where a person currently lives.

The word Native is not usually used formally, even if it is used colloquially among Indigenous people and in some social organizations (e.g. the Native Student Union at UVic).

The University of Victoria has adopted and supports the use of a territory acknowledgement for gatherings and, where supported by protocol, in print: “We acknowledge with respect the Lkwungen-speaking peoples on whose traditional territory the university stands and the Songhees, Esquimalt and WSÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.”

5.3 Sex and gender

According to the World Health Organization, sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define males and females. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, mannerisms, activities and attributes. Male, female and intersex are sex categories, while gender categories include men, women, trans, non-binary and two spirit, among many others. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned. For instance, if an individual’s pronoun is “they”—a use that avoids gender binaries—rather than “him” or “her,” honour that usage. In writing about someone who uses the singular they, follow plural verb conjugations that align with conversational use (e.g. use “they are” rather than “they is”). 

Use inclusive terms rather than those that make sex distinctions.

“humankind” rather than “mankind”

“staffing the office” rather than “manning the office”

“ancestors” rather than “forefathers”

“working hours” rather than “man hours”

“artificial,” “synthetic,” or “constructed” rather than “man-made”

Use parallel references to sexes (women and men; husband and wife) only where all-inclusive terms such as people, spouses or partners aren’t sufficient.

the survey revealed a pay gap between women and men

When sex or gender is not set, avoid exclusionary defaults such as using the masculine pronoun as a generic pronoun. Do not write, e.g., “If an instructor needs a new computer, he should contact his dean.” Instead, adjust the sentence.

Contact the dean if you need a new computer.

Avoid using “s/he” or “he/she,” “him/her.”

Consider the use of plural nouns with plural pronouns.

Instructors who need a new computer should contact their dean.

Eliminate the pronoun.

Instructors who need a new computer should contact the dean.

Many style guides accept the use of the plural pronouns “they” and “their” with antecedents such as “anyone,” “everyone,” “someone” to produce a gender-neutral statement.

Everyone should decide whether they want to come.

Anyone can request their grade.  

Avoid indicating marital or family status or physical appearance unless necessary in the context.

When courtesy titles are used, they should be used consistently for all people listed. For example, use the neutral “Ms.” as a general rule, but if a woman has indicated a preference to be addressed as “Miss” or “Mrs.,” respect this preference.

5.4 Sexuality and gender identity

In all references be guided by the preference of those concerned.

“Gay” is often used to refer just to gay men but can also include others. The preferred usage is as an adjective, i.e., gay men, gay women, gay people. 

Other preferred terms include: lesbian, bi or bisexual, transgender, transsexual, trans, trans man, trans woman, intersex, two spirit, queer, genderqueer, gender-questioning and bigender.

When referring to partners, “same-sex partners” is preferable to homosexual or gay. 

Transgender is used to embrace both transgendered and transsexual people and is often abbreviated to “trans” or combined with other gender terms, e.g., trans man, trans woman.

Avoid the term “sexual preference,” as preference suggests a choice, and most people do not see their sexuality as a choice. Many prefer to speak of sexual orientation or sexuality.

5.5 Mental and physical disabilities

The terms used to refer to people with disabilities are evolving. Employment equity legislation speaks of persons with disabilities. “Person/people with disabilities” and “disabled people” are used for the most part interchangeably in disability scholarship/disability studies. Some people with disabilities prefer one over the other. As in other cases, it is better to ask the individual what he or she prefers—if such terminology is even necessary in the situation. Most times, there is no need to refer to the disability. When there is a need, the following guidelines can be useful.

Avoid defining people by their disorders or depersonalizing people by turning descriptors into nouns, e.g. “the disabled,” “the blind,” “an epileptic,” “a schizophrenic.” (See also 5.1, Guiding principles.)

Put the person first, not the disability. “With” phrases are useful.

person with Down syndrome

person with schizophrenia

diagnosed with mental illness

living with fibromyalgia   

“Is” or “has” phrases can be useful.

a person who is blind

a person who is deaf or hard of hearing

a person who has a visual or hearing impairment

a person who has epilepsy

“Visual impairment” or “sight impairment” are often used to indicate some loss of vision or as alternatives to “blind.” Be aware that some individuals or groups may dislike the use of “impaired.” Preferred terms are “deaf” or “hard of hearing” rather than “hearing impaired.”

Use factual rather than negative or value-laden references. A person may have a condition but may not necessarily “suffer” from it.

“wheelchair user” rather than “wheelchair-bound person”

a person with a mobility issue who uses a wheelchair

“someone who had a stroke” rather than “stroke victim”

There is often a societal stigma attached to mental illness or disability which makes some people wary of disclosing their condition or referring to it as a mental or psychiatric disability. Some prefer the terms “invisible,” “unapparent,” “non-apparent” or “non-physical disabilities.” “People with mental health challenges or conditions” can be more neutral and may be considered more appropriate than terms that victimize or medicalize people. 

5.6 “Race” and ethnicity

The Employment Equity Act refers to members of visible minorities as those who are “non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” This whole topic has been the subject of much discussion and the concept of race is widely challenged as a valid scientific category. However, it is recognized that people who are visibly in a minority because of their skin colour or identifiable “racial” background may face various types of barriers, which may have social implications that need to be addressed.

Groups and individuals within these groups should be identified by the names they choose for themselves.

Some people prefer the terms “racialized women and men” or “person of colour.”

The term “racialized” is useful in referring to individuals or groups who question or reject the validity of the concept of “race” imposed upon them as a category of identity.

The use of the term “visible minority” is complicated, because minority status is relative and depends on which geographic area a person is in. Those in Canada who may be considered a racialized or visible minority are likely to be considered in the majority in many other parts of the world.

Avoid stereotypes, generalizations or assumptions about ethnic or “racial” groups. Try to be inclusive in the use of examples, where appropriate, to take account of diversity in the university population.

Be wary of the use of some expressions or proverbs that may be culture-bound and may contain stereotyping, racial or otherwise inappropriate connotations.

Some people prefer reference to ethnicity rather than colour for groups, where such references seem necessary, e.g. African Canadian.

Be aware that some references can, even unintentionally, extend to racial connotations (for example, when the word “black” denotes negative attributes, or where “white” could be construed as excluding or exclusive: a black mood, white space, a black heart, a whitepaper, whitewashing).

5.7 Typography and transliteration

Modern Roman-alphabet fonts contain a wide variety of diacritical marks to support important differences of meaning, as well as the transliteration of words from other alphabets. Unless there is an extraordinary circumstance (e.g. preparing materials for speakers of a language that uses a different alphabet, such as Arabic, Thai Abugida, Cantonese or Inuktituk syllabics) set type using Roman letter forms. 

This includes proper nouns. Accommodate transliteration and transcription with as wide a set of diacritics and pronunciation supports as you can under the circumstances. This can produce an enormous variety of words and phrases:

Heʔkw səl’elexw’tala sčelāŋen’s           (“Remember our ancestors/birthright,” Coast Salish)

Leggja höfuðið í bleyti          (“Lay your head in water,” meaning to think deeply, Icelandic)

ǀGui gowa-i ge tatse ǂâusa tama hâ.              (“One language is never enough,” Khoekhoe)

sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ    (Lkwungen name for Victoria’s James Bay area; also its library branch)

Skwxwú7mesh                                      (Squamish, as spelled on bilingual BC road signs)

In cases involving the representation of names of individuals or groups, the relationship between subject and writer remains a key element in fostering respectful practice. The best option is always to extend respect by finding the appropriate diacritic, or a Roman typeface that supports it. (Both Calibri and Cambria, distributed as part of the Microsoft Office suite, include a wide range of diacritics and alternative Roman letterforms.)

This guide does not specify preferred romanization methods (e.g. the use of Pinyin over Jyutping for Cantonese), out of deference to individual preferences.

5.8 Pronunciation support

A reciprocal responsibility of representing names, places and phrases accurately in writing is providing guidance for readers in pronouncing them. If a word or phrase from a non-English language is central subject matter or repeats frequently in the text, consider providing a cue to how the word or phrase sounds immediately after first or second use.

It is generally advisable to provide pronunciation using a set of rapidly recognized phonemes, as the Associated Press does, instead of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) style, as most dictionaries use. Capitalize phonemes for emphasis.


Associated Press


















When preparing text for digital distribution, also consider providing a brief audio clip to assist readers.