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Gender Researchers Sorting Out the Lingo

Concepts and terms in the field of gender studies and gender research are under scrutiny. Projects to standardise the terminology are underway in both Norway and Sweden. What does hen and hin really mean, and is the word genus even needed?


The aim of the Norwegian project is to explain gender-related concepts in an online glossary that will continue to grow over the course of the project. The project is headed by Jorunn Økland andAmund Rake Hoffartresearchers at the Center for Gender Research, University of Oslo.

‘We’ll do the spadework and select a large number of concepts used in the field, from both Norwegian and English sources. Then we’ll gather gender researchers from different universities and discuss which terms to include in the glossary.’

English is taking over

The glossary project is funded by the Language Council of Norway and run by the Center for Gender Research. Hoffart stresses the importance of making the terminology relevant to everybody in the field. The glossary will include concepts and definitions in both Standard and New Norwegian – the country’s two official forms of written language.

‘One goal is to strengthen the position of the Norwegian language in this academic field. It is well-known that English is becoming increasingly dominant in academia,’ says Rake Hoffart.

The meaning of several gender-related concepts is subject to lively debate in Norway. One example is the use of hen and hin, two gender-neutral pronouns.

‘In Sweden it seems like hen has been integrated in the language in a different way than in Norway. Our national language council is receiving a lot of questions about this and it’ll be interesting to look closer at these words.’

Another issue that will be discussed is the gender vs. sex issue. Norwegian currently does not have a special term for the former; instead, if a distinction is necessary the Norwegians typically refer to a person’s social (vs. biological) sex.

‘We’ll discuss this further. It’s interesting that Sweden has solved this in a different way,’ says Rake Hoffart.

Controversial concepts particularly challenging


The Swedish project has many things in common with its Norwegian counterpart. The work is led by gender researchers Ann Werner and Anna Lundberg and will result in a dictionary. The publication will include discussions and explanations of concepts used in gender studies and gender research. As in Norway, the idea is to create a common platform for researchers.

Together with a reference group with representatives from Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research and various gender institutes, Werner and Lundberg are going to select which concepts and authors to include in the work with the book.

‘There may be a need to have several authors describe certain controversial concepts. One such concept is intersectionality,’ says Werner.

The dictionary is part of a writing series on gender published by the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research. Previous works in the series deal with subjects such as education, the labour market and critical thinking.

Ownership of language

Creating a dictionary is not a simple task. Lundberg says that the question of who owns the language is of central importance.

‘So it’s important that we both talk history and are open to negotiations.’

The dictionary, which will be available for download, is scheduled to be finished in early 2016. It will primarily target students and an interested public, but the plan is to also make it useful in gender mainstreaming training.

Updated 3 May 2020