spokesperson v. spokesman v. spokeswoman

Coeurnelle   Monday, October 11, 2004, 07:32 GMT
As a French-speaking translator occasionally translating from French into English, I am wondering whether to use "spokesperson" or "spokesman" when referring (in formal writing) to a male spokesperson. I would like to use a non-sexist phrase, but I am wondering whether perhaps "spokesperson" should be used only either when the person's sex is not known or when you wish to use a non-sexist term for a female spokesperson.

I expect replies to depend on respondents' own preferences as regards non-sexist terminology, so could you mention where you stand in this respect?

Thank you in advance!
mjd   Monday, October 11, 2004, 07:35 GMT
If it is known that the individual is a male, then I see nothing wrong with "spokesman." If the person's gender is unknown, then "spokesperson" would be the wiser choice so as to be on the safe side.

I don't know any guy that'd be offended by "spokesman."
Easterner   Monday, October 11, 2004, 07:49 GMT
Yeah, you have to be careful, especially if an American audience is involved (Britons don't seem to care so much about it). I definitely recommend "spokesperson" for a female. But then you should use the same word for a male as well, otherwise there's a weird case of "reverse sexism". But I guess no male person would be offended by this.

On the other hand, a German audience would maybe even accept "spokeswoman", as they seem to find nothing wrong with "Pressesprecherin" in their own language. I translate a lot from German, and feminine foms ending in "-in" keep coming up all the time.
Adam   Wednesday, October 13, 2004, 13:27 GMT
The fact that English has no gender can make it a sexist language. For example, the world "surgeon" is usually considered as being masculine, even if the surgeon is a woman.

I reckon it should be "spokesman" if it's a man, "spokeswoman" if it's a woman, and "spokesperson" can be used for both of those.