Gender neutral ‘hen’ enters dictionary

The ever-controversial pronoun 'hen' has won its battle and is set to officially become part of the Swedish language.

Gender neutral 'hen' enters dictionary
Soon 'hen' will be found on this page. Photo: The Local

In April 2015 the Swedish Academy will release its dictionary, Svenska Akademiens ordlista, or SAOL. And 'hen', a pronoun with no gender, will be in it.

Sven-Göran Malmgren, editor in chief of the SAOL, admitted that the Academy was hesitant to add 'hen' to the list, and the debate took several years.

"We wanted to make sure it wasn't just a fad," Malmgren told Sveriges Radio. "But now it's quite simple. It is a word which is in use and it is a word which without a doubt fills a function."

The pronoun sparked massive debate when a publisher decided to use it in a children's book where 'hen' replaced 'hon' (she) and 'han' (he). 

But others have argued that 'hen' is not meant to replace gendered pronouns. 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.

The word as presented in the Academy's dictionary will have two uses: First, for instances when gender is unknown or irrelevant, and second, as a third gender. 

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