In a testament – albeit controversially so – to Sweden’s liberal society, the Swedish language is set to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun into its official national dictionary from April 2015.
While the Swedish language – or svenska – has traditionally used either han (he) or hon (she) when referring to people, the controversial gender-neutral term, hen, will be added to the Svenska Akademiens Ordlista (Swedish Academy’s Dictionary) from next year.
The pronoun has already been used in literature, however, when the children’s book Kivi och Monsterhund (Kivi and Monster Dog) was published in 2012.
As with any official additions or changes to language, there has been some criticism of the introduction of the pronoun. Lena Lind Palicki, who has developed the section focusing on the new word in the dictionary, told Sveriges Radio that:
“There are older people and people in rural areas who do not like the word. There are lots of language users that still would not use the word even if it is included a dictionary. I do not think there’s another word that has been so controversial in history.”
Either way, the word will be used in two cases; when the gender of the subject is either unknown, or if considered irrelevant to the context.