The current paper provides a corpus-based perspective on the issues of pronominal systems and pronoun reference. Specifically, the paper examines the antecedents of Swedish third person singular animate pronouns, with a particular focus on the recently introduced gender-neutral pronoun HEN. Using Swedish Twitter corpora from 2015–2017 (ca. 1.6 B words), the study provides a comparison of the general antecedent types as well as of the specific antecedent lemmas used with each pronoun. The results show that, while there are considerable similarities between the use of HEN and the more established gender-equal expression HAN ELLER HON (‘he or she’), HEN is used substantially more often with nouns that refer to close personal relationships. In this regard, HEN also bears closer resemblance to the feminine pronoun than to the masculine pronoun. Generally, the analysis demonstrates that language users are assigning a distinct set of functional properties to HEN, making it a complement to the “old” gender-specific and gender-equal pronouns, not a replacement.
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