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Danish Becomes More Gender Neutral

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The official Danish dictionary of spelling, the Retskrivningsordbogen, will be relaunched in 2024 as part of a growing effort to make the Danish language more gender neutral and to tackle inequality.

Researchers from the Danish Language Council, a standards body within Denmark’s Culture Ministry, have sifted through over 1,000 pages of terms, to identify masculine words that have no feminine equivalent while rewriting outdated definitions.

The Danish language does not officially carry a male equivalent for the term “career woman” or a female equivalent for the male-gendered noun “financier,” and researchers have been working to correct these.

Margrethe Heidemann Andersen, a senior researcher at the council and editor of the dictionary explained that the project had “ignited considerable debate within the Danish media landscape,” sparking some resentment and controversy among individuals who “erroneously” feel that the editors of the Retskrivningsordbogen are forcing them to use certain words over others, she told The Washington Post.

For the Danish dictionary, this will be its first overhaul in 12 years and next year’s proposed edition will feature several new terms. Afholdsmand is the existing word for someone who abstains from drinking alcohol and it has a male-gendered suffix, a female version: afholdskvind will be added.

Some heavily gendered examples and phrases will also be removed from the dictionary, such as: pigerne fjantede rundt (the girls fooled around) and han er anklaget for uagtsomt manddrab (he is accused of negligent manslaughter).

Heidemann Andersen has not stated an exact figure for the number of words and sentences that have been analyzed or changed, but she suggested that in Danish there will still never be as many words ending with –kvind (-woman) as mand (-man).

She explained that in some cases, words ending in ‘-mand’ do not refer to a specific gender, but rather “a human being,” therefore making the addition of a female equivalent pointless. 

Advances in linguistic gender equality and gender neutrality in Denmark align with the UN’s global goals towards equality for women by 2030, but the cahnges is also largely due to the appointment of Mette Fredriksen, the country’s female prime minister. 

Heidemann Andersen explained some of the hurdles that they have have already endured tomake the changes, “When we add a new word, we have to get the argument right, and the frequency matters a lot,” said Heidemann Andersen, adding “There are some people who have grown up with a language who think we are changing too much, and do not think we need a word like ‘female financier.’”

The Danish Language Council is currently finalizing the dictionary’s new additions, in line for 2024 release.



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