The Swedish Pronoun "Hen"

Topics: Personal pronoun, Gender-neutral pronoun, Grammatical gender Pages: 8 (2235 words) Published: May 1, 2012
Third person pronoun – both a trap and a gap

Gender roles and stereotypes are obviously a part of today’s society, all around the world. However, some appreciate them more than others, and how these facts will develop in the future is something only time can tell.

In Sweden, the debate of equal rights between sexes is a part of the political agenda and the politics of equality was provided with 1.5 billion Swedish kronor between the years of 2007 and 2010.[1] Nevertheless, voices have been raised for the cause of accusing the government for not doing enough.[2]

During the spring of 2012, a vivid debate took place in the Swedish media regarding the gender-neutral pronoun “hen” (which is structured as a combination between the Swedish words for she and he). The pronoun has been used for decades within Swedish feministic networks.

For this reason, it is interesting examining why hen is as provoking as it seems to be and how it is illuminating the fact and question about mankind: are there humans or sexes?

According to Göteborgs-Posten, the second largest daily newspaper in Sweden, the debate regarding “hen” snowballed when the children’s book Kivi and Monsterhund (Kivi and Monsterdog) was published in January 2012.[3] The genders of the characters in the book were intentionally chosen not being displayed and the author Jesper Lundquist has commented on the making of the book as both creative and enjoyable because of the decision to exclude stereotypes.

Due to, the criticism and the discontent conveyed about hen, have numerous times referred to the improperness of the children’s book mentioned above. For one thing, many critics are afraid the children can be confused by the message being sent.

However, the pronoun was included in the online version of the Swedish National Encyclopedia in 2009 and was introduced by Swedish linguists during the 1960’s. The linguist Hans Karlgren reintroduced it in 1994.[4] The meaning of hen is described as a suggested gender-neutral personal pronoun, used instead of he or she in the National Encyclopedia.

Furthermore, androgynous alternatives for third-person pronouns exist all over the world; Chinese, Armenian, Finnish and Persian are examples of languages, which contain gender-neutral pronouns. Several pronouns have been introduced to the English language during the last decade. Among them are: thon, ip, sim, e, ey, eir, em and se (all created by Americans).[5] Also, there is one presented by Joel Weiss from Illinois, who combined the words he, she and it and the word h'orsh'it was introduced. In spite of these examples, the English language has hardly something corresponding to hen.

Thesis statement
• Why is there a need for the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun “hen”?

Because of the fact that the debate, which the thesis statement is about, has primarily occurred in the media my main choice of sources are old articles. To find the widest spectra of ideas and opinions possible, the collection of sources was found on blogs and in media with a wide political diversity. Regarding texts in English, the varieties of political positions were difficult finding. Mainly, the texts were politically far right and published on, consistent with me personally, strongly conservative webpages. At the same time, the articles and entries were in general without any constructive criticism. Instead, the texts were explaining facts in a condemnatory tone with a predefined idea of Socialism and Sweden.

By analysing and comparing several different texts, the facts and ideas were able to complement each other very well in the result. Obviously, the most important facts to be presented are those which, can answer the thesis statement. For this reason, it was prioritized to find several kinds of needs for the pronoun.

Additionally, an episode of the television show Debatt, a Swedish debate program,...
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