The official Norwegian language is set to add a new gender-neutral pronoun within the year, confirms the Language Council of Norway.
The gender-neutral third-person singular counterpart to the feminine “hun” and the masculine “han” will be “hen.”
According to Daniel Ims, a representative of the council, gender-neutral pronouns have been discussed in Norway’s linguistic and grammar community for a while now, though the arguments for their use were not mirrored by Norwegian speech patterns in the past.
“Over time, we have seen that the actual use of hen has increased and stabilized,” Ims told Norwegian media.
The English “they,” which first entered the English language in its plural form through Old Norse, is now widely used to refer to non-binary people in a singular sense. Recently, this has caught on with some non-binary Norwegians who use the Norwegian equivalent “de” in the same way.
Carl-Oscar Vik, a non-binary 18-year-old hailing from Skien in south-east Norway, feels more at home with de, but is not at all bothered that the official language plans to accept hen as the gender-neutral pronoun, saying that “ultimately, it’s just a question of preference.”
In fact, Vik sees the debate sparked by the plans to recognize hen as a positive way to increase the visibility of non-binary people in a public space. “I think that a normal person on the street doesn’t know anyone who identifies as non-binary,” they said. “But I hope that by getting hen into the dictionary we can get the idea out there because there are many people who don’t feel at home in certain pronouns but don’t have the words to describe it.”
They also hope that the addition of hen into the official language is a step towards the legal recognition of a third gender in Norway.