HD: Hen, Swedish Gender Neutral Pronoun
Posted: 12 April 2012 03:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4600
Joined  2007-01-03

It’s good to know that English doesn’t have the monopoly on despising language change.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1153
Joined  2007-02-14

Interesting.  Does no one use the common gender den?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2986
Joined  2007-02-26

"like invading Huns”
But not hens.

If they can make it cool among 13 year olds, they’ve got it made. Perhaps they need to bribe Roomie to start using it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3411
Joined  2007-01-29

See, I would have said “It’s good to know that English doesn’t have the monopoly on well-intentioned but doomed attempts to create gender-neutral pronouns.”

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  342
Joined  2012-01-10

An interesting article, if almost in spite of itself.  The article’s general tone is so hyperbolic, and its willingness to make leaps of logic is so clear, that I found myself distrusting nearly everything it said, aside from trusting it that the direct quotes were accurate reproductions of things that other people had said.

For example, it seemed odd to me that the slate author was so quick to say that hen’s proponents are politically-motivated, and for it to then quote, uncritically, the author who said that hen is a feminist plot to destroy the Swedish language. The latter quote seems to me to be proof that hen’s detractors are at least as politically motivated as hen’s proponents.

It strikes me that a gender-neutral singular pronoun would be very useful, if one caught on and it did not carry with it unneeded political baggage.  This, apparently, was the reason (or at least a major reason) why hen was originally proposed.

I often find myself in the unpleasemt dilemma of choosing between 1) the clunky “he or she”, 2) the sexist universal “he”, 3) the potentially confusing “she” [i.e., are you using she as a universal, or suggesting the person is in fact female?  It is usually clear from he context which is meant, but it nonetheless introduces an ambiguity which I’d rather avoid if I can], 4) the sometimes equally awkward “pluralize everything” solution, and 5) the oft-mocked “singular they”.  I usually go with “he or she”, because, while it is clunky, the other options are even worse (sometimes, pluralizing all subjects and/or objects, so I can use “they” without fear of being mocked, is a perfectly fine solution, but sometimes it ends up producing a very awkward sentence).  This problem is magnified when I am crafting a sentence with multiple references to a singular person who might be of any gender (one, “he or she” isn’t a big deal, but having to say “he or she” three or four times, or more, in one sentence gets downright annoying.  (Of course, that might be a sign that i’m crafting a sentence with too many clauses.)

But, as noted, it seems highly unlikely that a gender neutral pronoun will ever catch on, perhaps outside certain circles.  And even those circles might get tired of trotting hen out at some point, and move on to other causes.

The one example of hen usage that seemed very odd to me (but unlikely to destroy the Swedish language) was the example of th columnist from the Swedish version of the village voice, who commented about his experience of hearing female friends making negative generalizations about men, which make him ask himself (to paraphrase) “hen knows I am not sexist.  Why is hen condemning all men?”

This made me wonder, hen previously identified hen as female, and, in context, the comment wouldn’t make sense unless hen was female.  In fact, as hen is commenting on a type of interaction with a strong gendered component, hen and hen’s genders both seem to be central to hen’s story. Therefore, hen’s gender seems like an odd thing for hen to downplay through hen’s use of a non-gendered pronoun. So what does hen think hen is accomplishing through hen’s use of hen in this particular instance?

[ Edited: 12 April 2012 10:45 AM by Svinyard118 ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2777
Joined  2007-01-31

He’n knows.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 12 April 2012 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3411
Joined  2007-01-29

5) the oft-mocked “singular they”.

The mockers are on the losing side of this particular struggle.  “They,” unlike all the artificial forms proposed by people even more on the losing side of history, is an actual word of long standing, and its use as a singular form comes natural to people and also has deep roots.  I won’t bother to link to the many sources backing me up on this (googling “singular they” should find a lot of them), but I guarantee you in fifty years it will be completely accepted (aside from the few, the proud, the hopeless peevers).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 04:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
RankRank
Total Posts:  63
Joined  2007-03-13
Faldage - 12 April 2012 03:53 AM

Interesting.  Does no one use the common gender den?

Den means it and is used as such. It is however not grammatically gender-neutral since all singular nouns in Swedish have either neuter or non-neuter gender. Den is non-neuter: the neuter form is det.
Using den as a gender-neutral pronoun for a person has the same derogatory flavour as using it in the same sense in English. Hen isn’t widespread (yet).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 04:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2986
Joined  2007-02-26

Den means it and is used as such. It is however not grammatically gender-neutral since all singular nouns in Swedish have either neuter or non-neuter gender. Den is non-neuter: the neuter form is det.
--
Confused. If den is not gender-neutral, ... surely that means there is a gender attached to it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3411
Joined  2007-01-29

Now being discussed at the Log, with considerable input from Swedes.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1253
Joined  2007-03-21

The pronouns “they/their” came in naturally to stand for “he or she” and I agree with LH. There were some silly attempts in the 70s to create a new “inclusive” pronoun but to no avail.

There are additional problems in languages like German that still have gender endings to their nouns (something Swedish had dropped some time ago according to the discussion at the Language Log). In order to maintain inclusivity in one word the writer must bend over backwards a bit. Such as “professors” written to be inclusive of male and female professors and in plural should be “Professoren und Professorinen” One solution is the Binnen-I (interior capital i) which LH has written about in 2006. Sounds like that option may have died, but it leaves other constructions more difficult to scan much less pronounce.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2986
Joined  2007-02-26

So is ProfessorInnen pronounced differently from Professorinnen?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 April 2012 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1253
Joined  2007-03-21
OP Tipping - 13 April 2012 02:22 PM

So is ProfessorInnen pronounced differently from Professorinnen?

Keine Ahnung!

Profile
 
 
   
 
 
‹‹ Capital schwa      Hind legs of a donkey ››