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Gender of "new" words?

This is probably a question for native Swedes...

When a new word is added to the Swedish lexicon (for example, the word for "blog" - a word that's only been around for a little over a decade) - how is the word's gender decided? Does the public just eventually agree on whether it will be an en or ett word? Or is there some official body that decides these things? Seems interesting either way!

January 19, 2015



Gender in words borrowed from one language by another

Ibrahim identifies several processes by which a language assigns a gender to a newly borrowed word; these processes follow patterns by which even children, through their subconscious recognition of patterns, can often correctly predict a noun's gender.

  1. If the noun is animate, natural gender tends to dictate grammatical gender.
  2. The borrowed word tends to take the gender of the native word it replaces.
  3. If the borrowed word happens to have a suffix that the borrowing language uses as a gender marker, the suffix tends to dictate gender.
  4. If the borrowed word rhymes with one or more native words, the latter tend to dictate gender.
  5. The default assignment is the borrowing language's unmarked gender.
  6. Rarely, the word retains the gender it had in the donor language. This tends to happen more frequently in more formal language such as scientific terms, where some knowledge of the donor language can be expected.

Sometimes the gender of a word switches with time. For example the Russian modern loanword виски (viski) "whisky" was originally feminine, then masculine, and today it has become neuter.


That is an interesting question. I've never thought about that.


It is interesting! I struggle with this a lot, but from a slightly different angle. I play video games, a lot, and one of the games I play is StarCraft 2. This game, as almost all games, does not have a Swedish translation. This means that all the unit names in the game are English, e.g. "zealot", "stalker", "siege tank" and so on. I sometimes play 2v2's with a friend of mine where we run into the following problem:

How to apply Swedish grammar to the units? Here is what happens (unconsciously):

  • "A zealot" becomes "en zealot". Simple enough! No problems here. But why "en"? I have no idea.
  • "Two zealots" becomes "två zealots". I guess this has to do with our knowledge of the actual plural form of "zealot". So still no problems.
  • "That zealot" becomes... Uh-oh, problem, now we have to start mixing the grammars together. The result is: "den zealoten". Still pretty simple though, doesn't sound that awkward.
  • "Those zealots" becomes, well, if "that zealot" sounded awkward, take a look at this wonderful construction: "De zealotsarna". Yep, you read it correctly. It's "zealot-s-ar-na".

Now you might ask: Why wouldn't you just say "De zealotarna"? Good question! The answer is: Well, we do. In the span of 5 minutes you can hear all of the following forms of the word:

  • zealot
  • zealoten
  • zealots / zealotar
  • zealotsarna / zealotarna

This is really awkward to work with. So I'm thankful every time I use a unit that already has an easy Swedish translation, like "tank", or is already used in Swedish, like "gate" (pron. "gäjt").

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