Swedish dictionary to offer alternatives to racist & offensive words

Reuters / Tyrone Siu
Sweden is about to present its first ever official dictionary featuring safer alternatives of words deemed either offensive or racist. Apparently, many Swedes are unclear about the more appropriate options.

"It is a better service for the readers, because we do get a lot of people calling up and asking questions about certain words. The obviously offensive ones people know, but they don't always understand what they should choose instead. Which words are derogatory changes with time," Sofia Malmgard, an adviser at Sweden’s Language Council, told the Local.

The official dictionary from the Swedish Academy is due for publication next month, and will feature more options for words like Neger (negro), zigenare (gypsy) and others. Next to offensives word will be the phrase “anvand ustallet”, meaning "use instead".

The dictionary that will include 13,000 amendments, including the much talked-about gender-neutral personal pronoun “hen”. This little word has been a subject of debates for several years, since a children’s author first decided to use it.

Now it is here to stay, either when the text refers to a transsexual, or in places where the gender of the person is either unknown or irrelevant.

Explanations that a term is offensive were present on the pages of the dictionary before, but without the alternate suggestions. Malmgard hopes casual racism will be reduced as a result of the new measure.

Sweden is first among many foreigners for its human rights record and views on controversial topics relating to tolerance of different groups of people, and immigration has been a hot topic with the Swedes.

In 2013, it granted Syrian refugees automatic residency, while its asylum requests are expected to reach 90,000 by the end of the year.

While an estimated 60 percent favor immigration in Sweden, a new survey commissioned by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter revealed that people are starting to worry about integration. Some 10 percent, according to the poll, fear that efforts at integrating foreigners aren’t working.

Those debates have contributed to the decision to implement the new measures, according to the dictionary’s editor-in-chief Professor Sven-Goran Malmgren, who spoke to Sveriges Radio on Monday. The academic’s organization will study the effect of the new changes on the readership after they come into force.

"Words are always really important. This is about how one describes reality and this in turn can have different motives," he added.