Are New Gender-Neutral Pronouns Difficult to Process in Reading? The Case of Hen in SWEDISH

Hellen P. Vergoossen, Philip Pärnamets, Emma A. Renström, Marie Gustafsson Sendén

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7 Citeringar (Scopus)
20 Nedladdningar (Pure)


Hen is a Swedish gender-neutral pronoun used for non-binary individuals and as a generic singular pronoun form. Hen was added to the Swedish Academy Glossary (SAOL) in 2015, and opponents of hen have argued that gender-neutral pronouns are difficult to process, and therefore should not be used. As of yet, this has not been empirically tested. This pre-registered study used eye-tracking to experimentally test if hen has a processing cost by measuring the process of understanding whom a pronoun refers to (i.e., pronoun resolution). Participants (N = 120) read 48 sentence pairs where the first sentence included a noun referring to a person (e.g., sister, hairdresser, person) and the second included a pronoun referring to the noun. The pronouns were either gendered (she and he) or gender-neutral (hen). The nouns were either neutral (e.g., person, colleague) or gendered, either by lexically referring to gender (e.g., sister, king), or by being associated with stereotypes based on occupational gender segregation (e.g., occupational titles like hairdresser, carpenter). We tested if hen had a greater processing cost than gendered pronouns, and whether the type of noun moderated this effect. The hypotheses were that hen referring to neutral nouns would lead to a smaller processing cost than hen referring to gendered nouns. Furthermore, we hypothesized that hen referring to lexically gendered nouns would lead to larger processing costs than stereotypically gendered role nouns. The processing cost of hen was measured by reading time spent on three regions of the sentence pairs; the pronoun, the spillover region (i.e., the words following the pronoun), and the noun. The only processing cost for hen occurred in the spillover region. The processing cost in this region was greater when hen referred to neutral nouns than when hen referred to a noun associated with gender. In contrast to the hypothesis, the type of gender information associated with the noun did not interact with these effects (i.e., the same reading time for hen following e.g., the queen or carpenter). Altogether, the results do not support that gender-neutral pronouns should be avoided because they are difficult to process.

Sidor (från-till)1-10
TidskriftFrontiers in Psychology
StatusPublicerad - 2020-nov.-10
Externt publiceradJa

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  • Psykologi (50101)


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