The “hen” Controversy: On gender-neutral pronouns in Swedish

with Benjamin Lyngfelt, University of Gothenburg

Thu, December 4, 2014 | BUR 337

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

In Sweden, as well as in many other countries, increased gender awareness has affected the use of gender marking in the language. As with any ideologically motivated language change, this process—which is still under way—is quite controversial. One case in particular is remarkable as the most hotly disputed linguistic issue in Sweden in recent years: the novel gender-neutral pronoun “hen.” 

In general, present-day standard Swedish has only two grammatical genders: neuter and common gender. The main exception to this is the system of third person singular pronouns. The standard repertoire consists of four genders: Masculine (“han”), feminine (“hon”), common gender (“den”), and neuter (“det”)—where masculine and feminine pattern with common gender in terms of agreement. Traditionally, the masculine “han” is used for gender-neutral reference, for instance in generic contexts, but this practice is no longer generally tenable.

Sponsored by: Sponsored by the Dept of Germanic Studies and the Texas Langauge Center.

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