GENDER IN LANGUAGE PROJECT
INCLUSIVE PARTIAL GRAMMAR OF DANISH
by EHM HJORTH-NEBEL MILTERSEN,
This grammar identifies all sites of gendered personal reference in Danish (i.e. everywhere that linguistic gender aligns with the social gender of who is being referred to). We display the prescriptive masculine and feminine forms as well as inclusive forms attested by nonbinary speakers. It does not identify the sites of Danish grammar that do not have gendered personal references, like the entire verbal system. Attestations of these genders are listed in References below.
'theirs [GEN. SG.]'
'theirs [GEN. SG.]'
In the Standard Danish personal pronoun system, there are masculine-feminine gendered distinctions only in the 3rd-person singular pronouns han 'he' and hun 'she', each with their own case forms. In present day, three pronouns are attested by nonbinary speakers as gender-inclusive and/or specifically nonbinary: hen, singular de, and den. The historical development of these pronouns and their use is still under investigation.
Singular de is an expansion of the plural pronoun de, and is both semantically and pragmatically a close analogy to the English singular/plural they distinction. It is also homophonous with the polite 2nd person singular pronoun De, which is normally spelled with a capital D. Singular de is currently the pronoun most widely used as a gender inclusive and nonbinary pronoun.
Hen is a borrowing from Swedish hen, which was proposed as a gender neutral alternative to han ‘he’ and hon ‘she’ in 1966, again in 1994, and included in the official Swedish glossary in 2014. Hen has less widespread use in Denmark than in Sweden, but is still the second-most common nonbinary pronoun. The oblique and possessive forms of hen have yet to reach consensus, however attestatations of all forms listed are available.
The third personal singular common gender pronoun den is an expansion of the common grammatical gender 3rd person singular pronoun. Some language users motivate their use of den for human referents as a way of deconstructing the conceptual distinction between humans and animals by using the same pronoun to refer to both. The same or a similar pattern for the neuter pronoun det has not been observed.
Other pronouns have been proposed or discussed as potential gender-neutral/gender-inclusive pronouns, but at the time of this writing, none of them have been documented as being in used in practice. Some of these pronouns are høn, hæn, hyn, and huan.
While these word pairs now belong to the common gender in Standard Danish, they form masculine-feminine gender distinctions in different ways. Some differ by the presence or absence of a feminine suffix like -inde, -ske, or -esse (e.g. prins 'prince' and prinsesse 'princess'). Others do not differ by the presence or absence of a feminine suffix, but by some other feature(s) (e.g. dreng 'boy' and pige 'girl').
These honorifics are gender-marked, though their usage in the present day is mostly limited to highly formal contexts, like courtrooms.
CITE THIS PAGE
Bredsdorff, E. (1958). Danish: An elementary grammar and reader. Cambridge University Press.
Hjorth-Nebel Miltersen, E. (2018). De, den, hen, and the rest: A pilot study of the use of gender-neutral and nonbinary/genderqueer pronouns in Danish. Journal of Language Works, 3(1), 31-42.
Hjorth-Nebel Miltersen, E. (2020). Singular de and its referential use in talk-in-interaction. Scandinavian Studies in Language, 11(2), 22-61.
Hjorth-Nebel Miltersen, E. (2021, May 21). Gender neutral and nonbinary pronouns in Danish [Conference session]. 27th Annual Lavender Languages and Linguistics Conference, held virtually.
Lundskær-Nielsen, T. & Holmes, P. (2011). Danish: An essential grammar (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Samtalegrammatik.dk. (2014). Dansk samtalegrammatik. Samtalegrammatik.dk.