• Sweden edition
 
Gender-neutral pronoun debate rocks Sweden

Gender-neutral pronoun debate rocks Sweden

Published: 08 Oct 2012 09:18 GMT+02:00
Updated: 08 Oct 2012 09:18 GMT+02:00

"There's almost nothing left to do in the field of gender equality, so people are suggesting increasingly strange ideas," said independent journalist Elise Claesson, partly amused and partly irritated by the debate.

The word "hen" was coined in the 1960s when the ubiquitous use of "han" (he) became politically incorrect. It was about "simplifying the language" and avoiding the clumsy "han/hon" (s/he) construction, said linguist Karin Milles.

But the word never really took off.

It resurfaced around 2000, when the country's small transgender community latched onto it.

Then the publication this year of a children's book reignited the debate over the pronoun.

"Kivi och Monsterhund" (Kivi and the Monster Dog) uses "hen" exclusively, dispensing altogether with "han" and "hon".

Author Jesper Lundqvist said he wanted his book to address children in general, not little boys or little girls.

"Hen" is not meant to replace "he" and "she", supporters argue. Instead, it allows speakers to refer to a person without having to mention the gender if they don't know it, if the person is transgender, or if the information is considered irrelevant.

Swedish society "needs a third sex, a third position," Susanna Karlsson of the Language Council of Sweden told AFP.

However, she said: "But we have to keep 'he' and 'she' because these are categories that everyone uses to orient themselves. We want to know if a person is a man or a woman."

According to Milles, "hen" is a tool that "works to spread the idea of

gender equality."

Another linguist, Mikael Parkvall, is less convinced, however.

"The notion that language determines our way of thinking is very popular, but those of us who are specialists are pretty sceptical," he said.

"The link between language and thought is not very strong, and you don't become more gender equal by using a neutral pronoun," he added, citing Mandarin, the language of male-dominated China, as an example of a language

that has such a pronoun.

'Project for the intellectual elite'

It's difficult to predict whether "hen" will gain a large following in the Scandinavian country.

Sven-Göran Malmgren, editor of the Swedish Academy's authoritative dictionary, said he doesn't know of "a single example in the world where a pronoun that has

been invented has taken hold."

Whether "hen" will be included in the next edition of the dictionary in 2015 will depend on how widespread it becomes, Malmgren said.

For the moment, "hen" seems to be more of a fad.

"It's a project for the (intellectual) elite," Claesson said.

"A study conducted online by the Aftonbladet tabloid showed that 96 percent of people who took part don't use 'hen'," she said.

A small group "think that they can create an egalitarian society by manipulating different things. ... It gets a little exaggerated," she added.

Some Swedes say they've never even heard of the word. But the pronoun has taken a step onto the political stage: the Green Party, the country's third largest political formation, used only the "hen" pronoun in its party programme published in September.

"It was natural for us to use gender-neutral language," said party secretary Anders Wallner.

"It's a modern way of writing in texts where you don't need to specify gender, which happens quite a lot," he said.

Wallner said he believes "hen" will soon be as free of controversy as the 1970s decision to abolish the plural form for addressing strangers and instead use the more informal singular.

Swedish Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni, contacted by AFP, had no

comment on the "hen" debate.

Camille Bas-Wohlert

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

11:15 October 8, 2012 by RosemarysBaby80
"There's almost nothing left to do in the field of gender equality, so people are suggesting increasingly strange ideas,"

Elise Claesson sounds like a wise woman.
11:24 October 8, 2012 by Opinionfool
And what happens when this book (and any others that follow its author's idiocy) are to be translated into other languages, languages that don't treat people as commodities by describing them as asexual things "hen" but rather have words that describe the clear and obvious physical difference between male and female? The experiment will fail not on the streets of Sweden and in the mouths of Swedes but instead on the desk of the hapless translator who has to deal with this nonsense.

Give it up. Celebrate that there are differences between the genders, all five of them, and don't force homogeneity upon us.
12:01 October 8, 2012 by ellie12
Sven-Göran Malmgren, editor of the Swedish Academy's authoritative dictionary, said he doesn't know of "a single example in the world where a pronoun that has

been invented has taken hold."

What about Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss. That has taken hold.
12:18 October 8, 2012 by entry
Tomorrow I will be nailing antlers to my head and on Thursday if I regain consciousness I will be demanding the Swedish govt. to recognize me as an Antelope-HEN!

While you eagerly wait for reports of my Progress:

The Gender-Neutral Kitten Salvation Happiness Fund

http://youtu.be/fHlkpzkqe3E
12:25 October 8, 2012 by byke
It would be ironic if the use of "hen" ended up on the chopping block.
13:26 October 8, 2012 by Lanthus Clark
So we are being reduced from men and women to mere chickens... great.

;^)
17:48 October 8, 2012 by Grokh
There is gender inequality in sweden when it comes to sallary, but instead of focusing on that these idiots come up with the "hen" crap .

it is not practical, it is not equality.

when talking to someone or even warning the police who commited a crime if i say hen instead of he or she how much trouble will that cause?

if they want to focus on gender equality they should focus on sallaries not on something as stupid and damaging as well as trivial as this Hen crap
18:25 October 8, 2012 by FotoGuy
Swedes are sick....I feel bad for their kids...they will obviously grow up super messed up. I know of parents that refuse to tell people if their kids are male of female (theres one such broad in my wifes mamagrupp) and dress their kids in colors that don't give away their sex. And they get pissed when u ask if it's a boy or a girl...citing that it "doesn't matter". It DOES matter...for example in the church...since the priests only like little boys, it would be confusing for them.
23:08 October 8, 2012 by David S
Well, like it or not, it's apparently taking hold. The other day two separate swedish friends of mine both used "hen" in normal conversation.
09:33 October 9, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
The use of all languages, written or spoken or in thought bubbles, should be banned within Sweden. Otherwise little Johnny who eats his peanut butter sandwiches in the corner of the school lunch room each day, might be offended by something said by someone at some point..
17:14 October 9, 2012 by kanjo
"There's almost nothing left to do in the field of gender equality, so people are suggesting increasingly strange ideas," This is a nice statement.

Most of the social changes are experiments, I really don't know where this experiment will end. For Gods sake let us all be equal but also embrace our differences and uniqueness. I really don't know how boring the world would be if every one behaves like ever one else. Its our differences that become our strength when the world embraces equality because every one gets to contribute some thing.
23:33 October 9, 2012 by Flutterbye
A'll hae a troch 'o roch, un a puck 'o richy peg hen !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
10:19 October 10, 2012 by rise
*sigh* If Sweden is going to be the country of hens we'll also need some roosters to defend us. I guess Bofors or some similar will be the one breeding the roosters.
20:21 October 10, 2012 by dizzymoe33
This is so stupid!!!!! Really Sweden get your head out of your butts!! The next step is to have all of our male and female body parts removed so we are no longer defined by them as well!!! This is just so very stupid!!!
20:33 October 10, 2012 by hackie
the most stupid idea of 21st century. Grow up you nutts.
21:21 October 10, 2012 by Pharazon
"There is gender inequality in sweden when it comes to sallary, but instead of focusing on that these idiots come up with the "hen" crap "

Men and women with the same job and same education have the SAME SALARY.

What they do is that they take ALL men and calculate the mean salary and then take all women and do the same calculation.

But since more men have high wage jobs like engineers and doctors while women work more in less paying jobs like health care and teaching (and also work far more part time) the final result is that there is a big difference.

But the difference is between the groups as a whole, not for the same jobs.
21:31 October 10, 2012 by frenchviking
some people really are under stimulated... do they have nothing better to do?

I hope that they are not paid by our tax money to come up with such useless ideas...
15:34 October 11, 2012 by Morden
for the love of Lucifer... cant this genderless nonsense get flushed down the toilets? this is going to far. we dont need this trash. political correctness/gender neutrality is going to far now why dont we just outright ban he/she while we are at it huh? I will not use this "hen" it sounds like 'im calling the person in question a chicken sheesh..
19:32 October 13, 2012 by Finnish guy
As a Finnish speaker, I agree that gender-neutral pronoun is often useful and avoids using clumsy constructs like he/she. However, I think that getting rid of grammatical gender would be even more useful for Swedish language. It is so difficult to remember if some word has common gender or neuter and that makes learning Swedish difficult.
09:25 November 13, 2012 by adiz0r
Why don't the Swedes who want to use hen just learn Hungarian instead? :) It doesn't have gender-specific pronouns at all, sometimes it's even a problem to phrase one's thoughts correctly, because it's confusing if s/he's talking about a man or a woman.

Come on guys, it's easy! Even my small children managed to learn it well. :)
17:13 November 18, 2012 by wakeupdummy
I believe English and Chinese are successful languages partly because they do not have gender specific pronouns. People can learn the words faster, have more confidence and communicate more accurately. Learning multiple languages also then becomes easier. Gender pronouns are such a waste of time and space when you should be concentrating on what is actually being said.
Today's headlines
Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

National
Stockholm 'sinking' oil spill ship safe
The ship was rescued on Thursday. Photo: Swedish Coast Guard

Stockholm 'sinking' oil spill ship safe

After fears a ship carrying around 52 tonnes of oil could sink in Stockholm's archipelago, Sweden's Coast Guard said the vessel had been towed to safety. READ  

National
Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal
A scene from a video of the attack published by Dagens Nyheter

Dog attack policewoman acquitted on appeal

A policewoman accused of letting her dog attack a drunk man while she repeatedly hit him with a baton, has had her conviction overturned by a court in Stockholm. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

989
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN