Hellen Vergoossen, porträtt

Hellen Vergoossen


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Works at Department of Psychology
Telephone 08-16 38 23
Visiting address Frescati hagväg 14
Room 246
Postal address Psykologiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

My research interests are in psycholinguistics, gender, and social psychology.

The question whether language shaped our thinking, or whether our thinking has shaped our language (or both!) has kept many a scientist and philosopher occupied over the years. That our choice of words affects our perception of others is one of the fundamental ideas underlying language planning. A specific form of language planning is gender-fair language planning, which aims to have genders presented equally in language. But do gender-fair alternatives change the way we think about others? This is the central question in my projects:

(1) When we meet someone in the street, one of the first things we notice about this person is their gender. Thus far, gender categorization has been described as dichotomous - either we see someone as a woman, or as a man. In my PhD project I will be investigating what influence gender-neutral language has on the way we determine people's gender identity and the way we categorize them, and whether this categorization truly is dichotomous or something broader than just female and male. I'll also be taking a closer look at the way we judge emotions and personality traits in faces with undifferentiated gender traits and whether gender-neutral words can reduce stereotypical associations based on gender in faces.

(2) Similar to seeing people on the street, we also determine gender when reading about people in written form very quickly - even when there's no explicit information about their gender present. A nurse, a carpenter - we'll often imagine someone of a certain gender. Such activation relies on our experiences with seeing others in these roles, and on stereotypes, and in turn will affect our judgment of people not conforming to this image. Gender-neutral language's aim is to reduce such stereotype activation. Our eye-movements say something about the way we process information in text. So, what does it look like when we follow the eyes with an eye-tracker when reading texts with gender-neutral pronouns?

I'm also interested in the new Swedish gender-neutral pronoun and am involved in the research project "Vem är hen" [Who is hen].

(3) What arguments do people have against using 'hen'? Gender-neutral language planning, a specific form of gender-fair language planning, differs in its strategy from previous strategies because it removes gender information from a text instead of balancing existing forms and nouns. Do the arguments against using 'hen' differ from arguments against other forms of gender-fair language planning?


I give occasional lectures at various courses and programs, mostly in social psychology.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2016. Hellen Vergoossen (et al.).

    In 2015, a gender-neutral pronoun (‘hen’) was introduced in Swedish as a complement to ‘hon’ (she) and ‘han’ (he). Adding a gender-neutral pronoun differs from previous gender-fair language reforms because it removes gender information instead of making women more visible by using double forms (she/he). The reforms have in common that both “double” and the “gender-neutral” language reforms have been met with negative reactions. Arguments against gender-neutral language partially tap into the same categories of arguments found against previous forms of feminist language reforms, but also belong to some new categories. Novel is the focus on challenging the idea of gender as being non-binary. While ideas such as sexism being acceptable or sexist language not being sexist were very uncommon in our sample, the idea that gender identities (and either male or female) are important and that language should reflect this was common.

Show all publications by Hellen Vergoossen at Stockholm University

Last updated: August 15, 2018

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