Swedish gender-neutral pronoun 'hen' making headlines

The Swedish language has a new pronoun: hen, which is meant to be a gender-neutral alternative to han or hon (he or she). Technically hen, which was most likely inspired by the Finnish prounoun hän, has been around for several decades, but recently it’s become a preferred pronoun in some LGBT circles and is attracting attention from the mainstream culture. The pronoun is already controversial, provoking hundreds

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of comments online, and now a new front in the debate has opened up with the upcoming publication of two new children’s books: Kivi och Monsterhund, which features hen, and Känn med hen, which is critical.

Språkrådet (the Language Council of Sweden) recently updated their language guidelines to include usage of hen. According to Språkrådet hen may be used by people who wish to avoid using traditional gender designations about themselves or others. Some people use hen to avoid wordier locutions such as han eller hon (he or she), although the Language Council does not agree with this usage.

It will be interesting to see whether hen gains any traction in the mainsteam media or culture. The Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan has adopted a cautious policy, using the pronoun for interview subjects who prefer to use it about themselves, but not in other cases. I have no idea whether a conscious introduction of the pronoun by preschool teachers, parents or children’s book authors will make any difference in the living language. The English gender-neutral pronoun thon never caught on, and I had never seen the modern equivalents ze and co until I looked into the pronoun issue. Perhaps the furor will die down as quickly as it blew up once the difficulty of reforming something as basic to a language as the pronoun system becomes apparent, but in the meantime it is fascinating to watch this linguistic experiment in action.

Further reading (in Swedish):
Newsmill
Språkrådet

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Nordic Translation Conference 2013

Nordic Translation Conference 2013

Call for Papers

The second Nordic Translation Conference will take place on 4, 5, and 6 April 2013 at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England.

This quinquennial event is solely dedicated to the particular challenges and pleasures of translating between and among the Nordic countries, which are often closely related culturally, if not always linguistically. It is open to academics, students, translators, publishers, and others who work with the Nordic languages. The first such conference took place in London at the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies in 2008 and it resulted in the book Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries (Peter Lang, 2009).

The keynote speakers in 2013 will include Andrew Chesterman, Riitta Oittinen, and Anna Mauranen. As in 2008, there will be workshops, talks, panels, and dual-language readings. Both academics and practising translators

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are encouraged to attend and present at the conference.

The conference will look at literary and non-literary translation of all kinds, including interpreting and subtitling, both between various Nordic languages and also between English and the Nordic languages. Nordic here includes Danish, Faroese, Finnish, Greenlandic, Icelandic, Norwegian, any of the Sámi dialects, and Swedish. Topics can include, but are not limited to, specific linguistic issues involved in translation/interpretation between two or more languages, analysis of particular texts/genres, professional issues, translating texts by or about minority groups, the translator/interpreter’s role, and the effect of cultural similarities/differences among Nordic countries.

In addition, the conference will include several workshops on relevant topics, such as working with specific languages or kinds of texts, using computer tools, finding reference materials, and so on. Those interested in running workshops are also invited to submit proposals.

Please send proposals (250-400 words) for workshops by 1 June 2012 and for conference papers by 15 August 2012 to B.J. Epstein and Gudrun Rawoens by e-mail at conference@nordictranslation.net or by regular mail to B.J. Epstein at the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, England, NR4 7TJ. Along with the proposal, please include a brief biographical note.

Conference details are available at http://www.nordictranslation.net. For ease of communication, English should be the primary conference language.

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Danish TV drama “Borgen” available on LinkTV (and online)

The season is already well under way, but I’ve just learned that the Danish television drama Borgen is available in the US on the LinkTV network, which also makes episodes

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available online for two weeks after broadcast.

Borgen is a smart political drama about a female prime minister. The show has been a hit in the UK, which may come as no surprise since it comes from the same people who made The Killing.

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In Gothenburg and ready for E-Days!

p>I’ve arrived in Gothenburg for the Swedish-American Entrepreneurial Days event organized by SACC, the Swedish American-Chambers of Commerce. The program has a really interesting lineup this year, with updates from Swedish CEOs on business conditions and Sweden’s strong areas such as Cleantech, and nitty-gritty “boot camp” sessions on doing business in the US.

I won’t have much time for sightseeing but am enjoying the scene on Avenyn, Gothenburg’s lively major thoroughfare where the conference is located. Avenyn is a great place for people watching at any time, but on the Swedish All Saints holiday weekend some partygoers are dressed for Halloween. I definitely won’t lack for entertainment until the conference kicks off on Monday.

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The English translator as mediator to the world

p>The kickoff event of the Scandinavian Impulses series

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at the University of Massachusetts was a lecture by Ibsen expert Professor Vigdis Ystad of Oslo University, entitled “Ibsen on the World’s Stage.” From the descriptions of Ibsen productions from China, Armenia and Burkina Faso, and a video of a dramatic setting of Peer Gynt staged at the foot of the Great Sphinx of Giza near Cairo, Egypt.

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Film versions of Stieg Larsson trilogy to be released in US

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Swedish film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium” trilogy are scheduled to be released in the US

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this year, beginning on March 19. This is very good news: the films have gotten good reviews in the rest of the world, and I’ve been waiting on pins and needles for a US release.

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On finding translation clients — and being found

p>A couple of resources on marketing for freelance translators have caught my eye this week. Doug Lawrence has added a subgroup for freelance translators to his Selling

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Translations group on LinkedIn.

I also just caught up with Corinne McKay’s excellent list of theories about direct clients. I actually wouldn’t call them theories, as the piece is a series of observations learned over time. The point that struck me and has also provoked the most discussion is “Many direct clients will find you, rather than the other way around.” This has caused me to rethink what I am doing and to make sure that I am putting my energy into the right areas.

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Nordic news podcasts

p>One year when I was spending the Christmas holidays with relatives in Sweden, the daughter of the family took me for an evening drive to the nearby metropolis of Jönköping. We drove aimlessly up and down the utterly deserted streets of the pretty town where they rolled up the streets at night, and then my restless cousin popped a cassette into the car’s tape deck. Suddenly we were in California, listening to a mellow radio announcer catching us up on the summer’s hits and the latest traffic report.

My cousin had been an au pair in California, and used to relive her memories by listening to her taped radio broadcasts. Fast forward

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twenty years: to keep up my language skills, I regularly drive around listening to news podcasts which I have downloaded to my iPhone from the websites of Swedish and Norwegian radio. Assuming you have a portable device for playing podcasts, with a minimum of effort you can enjoy daily news updates and give your language skills a workout.

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The City of Gothenburg – what’s in a name?

The "fish church" in Gothenburg

Feskekôrka (the "fish church") in Gothenburg

The Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri reports that the Swedish city of Gothenburg has given up its attempt to go by its Swedish name (Göteborg) internationally, and has returned to using the name Gothenburg in English.

The English name is nothing new: according to the city’s web site, the official name Gothenburg dates from at least 1621, when it was specified on the city’s charter. Many European cities have names in languages not their own, also known as exonyms (think Copenhagen or Vienna), but Gothenburg is reportedly the only Swedish city to have one.

Why switch back? Apparently the city elders finally realized that English speakers have trouble with the name Göteborg. I could have told them that: my grandfather came from Gothenburg, and I have a “Göteborg” sticker with the city seal on the dashboard of my car. I’ve listened to many perplexed passengers tackle the name, and can report that it’s a world of trouble down to the last letter. (Try explaining the pronunciation of the final -rg in Björn Borg or Göteborg to an English speaker some time.)

As a translator I vastly prefer to use the familiar (indeed, ancient) English moniker in my translations, and I have in fact had this discussion with at least one agency which wanted to conform to the city’s policy. So I am glad that they have returned to using Gothenburg on an official basis.

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The E.U. and Survival of the Nordic Languages

Common Sense Advisory”s Global Watchtower blog had another post yesterday on Nordic language issues. In the article Nordic Languages Remain at Risk in Spite of EU Diversity Policies, contributors Anne-Marie Colliander The time it takes to complete truck driver parent taught drivers ed varies. and and Nataly Kelly describe a Stockholm seminar on Transparency and Clear Legal Language in the EU.

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