De, den, hen, and the rest
A pilot study of the use of gender-neutral and nonbinary/genderqueer pronouns in Danish
The Danish language, like many other ‘Western’ languages, does not have any human-referent gender neutral third person singular pronoun that is “officially” recognized in the sense that it is taught in language classes, used in public documents, or included in most dictionaries. Nevertheless, many individuals prefer being referred to with pronouns that do not designate that individual as either female or male, which prompts linguistic innovation and creativity. This article is a pilot study presenting the initial results of a 7-question survey investigating the use of gender neutral and nonbinary/genderqueer pronouns in Danish. Based on 75 responses, it is found that the pronouns most people prefer others to refer to them with are de ‘they’ (the third person plural), den ‘it’ (the third person singular common gender, conventionally used to refer to objects and non-pet animals), and hen (third person singular neologism), as well as hun ‘she’ and han ‘he’. The survey targeted two groups of respondents: 1) Nonbinary/genderqueer individuals and 2) Women and men who wish to be referred to with pronouns other than hun/han. The final section of the article suggests several topics for further research of gender neutral and nonbinary/genderqueer pronouns, both in Danish and in other languages.
Hansen, E. and Heltoft, L. (2011). Grammatik over Det Danske Sprog. Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag.
Jensen, J. N. (2016 ) Han el. hun. Nyt fra Sprognævnet. Retrieved 13 December 2017 from http://sproget.dk/raad-og-regler/artikler-mv/svarbase/SV00001134
MacNamara, J., Glann, S., and Durlak, P. (2017) Experiencing Misgendered Pronouns: A Classroom Activity to Encourage Empathy. American Sociological Association 45: 269-278.
Miltersen, E. H. (2016). Nounself pronouns: 3rd person personal pronouns as identity expression. Journal of Language Works – Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift 1: 37-62.
Viborg, A. (2012) Han, hon og … hen? Nyt fra Sprognvænet. Retrieved on 7 February 2018 from http://sproget.dk/nyheder/han-hon-og-hen-1
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