Sweden adds gender-neutral pronoun to official dictionary

(Photo: Reuters)

Sweden has added the gender-neutral pronoun "hen" to its official dictionary. 

The Swedish Academy's reference book will be released on April 15, although "hen" is already commonly used to express unknown or transitioning gender identity. 

"It's quite simple. It is a word which is in use and without a doubt fills a function," editor Sven-Goran Malmgren said, according to The Independent

In Swedish, "han" means he and "hon" means she. Instead of the plural "they" or the cumbersome "s/he" used in English, the Swedes have officially adopted a gender-neutral description. The word "hen" emerged during the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, and increased in popularity in the 2000s as transgender persons adopted the pronoun. 

Controversy around "hen" peaked in 2012, when children's author Jesper Lundqvist published "Kivi och Monsterhund" ("Kivi and the Monster Dog") exclusively using "hen" as a pronoun. 

Gender-neutral passports may become a reality in the UK after receiving backing from the Labour Party earlier this month. Australia, New Zealand, and Nepal are currently some of the few countries that allow people to identify neither as male nor female. 

University of Illinois linguistics professor Dennis Baron listed English attempts at creating gender-neutral pronouns on his blog site. The words "ne", "nis", "nir," and "hiser" were used around 1850, and "hi", "le," and "ip" were suggested in the later 19th century. "Thon"' - an awkward combination of "that" and "one" was also proposed. None of these suggestions has withstood the test of time, however. 

"Artificial coinages are rarely successful," English professor John Mullan of University College London admitted. "Language is also not very susceptible to campaigns."

The Swedish Academy dictionary is updated every 10 years, and the upcoming edition includes a total of 13,000 new words.