Thesis Example on English: Taboo Language, Swearing and Cursing

Date:  2021-06-28 22:45:14
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1.1 Definition of taboo language

The English word taboo comes from the Tongan word tabu which means forbidden. In Tongan, the word tabu is applied for any sort of prohibition. The word tabu is a rule of etiquette and is often used in guidance to individuals on how to behave. The word tabu is also used as an injunction for children not to meddle with possessions of elders (Allan & Burridge, 2009).

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Taboo words are words that are viewed by society as indecent, disrespectful, inappropriate, vulgar and negative. Taboo words have different degrees of offensiveness. People who swear often draw their words from different areas of taboo language. According to Timothy (2009), taboo words are words whose definition is developed and sanctioned by institutions that wield power in society. Institutions such as religion institutions and media houses serve a role of defining what taboo words are. In any given society, as a child is raised, he or she is often cautioned against the use of taboo words. People in societies tend to interpret taboo words differently when they are used in swearing.

According to Dewaele (2010), taboo words that are used in swearing have an emotional force. The emotional force of taboo words that are used in swearing tends to be high in a persons first language and lower in languages that a person learns in later years. The study revealed that individuals who learned their language in a manner that is naturalistic are likely to use taboo words that have a high rate of emotional force. However, languages that are learned through instruction tend to have low use of taboo words. Proficiency in a given language is directly related to the emotional force of swearing taboo words.

1.2 Definition of swearing and cursing

1.2.1 Definition of swearing

Swearing refers to the use of offensive language, especially when someone is angry. In swearing, expletives and profane language may be used. Profane language refers to language that is perceived as disrespectful and derisive. In modern times, swearing could also be uttering taboo words out of emotional excitement. Taboo words are mostly used in swearing to put an emphasis on a message that a speaker wants to convey. The emotional excitement in this context could be anger, frustration or joy. In modern times, swearing draws from metaphors of disease and dirt. Swearing also makes references to body functions such as sexual activity and excretion. Swearing that is not associated with taking an oath is often impolite and uses inappropriate words. Swearing is also defined as unintelligent utterances. Swearing is viewed by people who value morals as uncivil and a sign of low intelligence. Swearing is used most of the time as a violation of cultural rules. Swearing is viewed as a type of formulaic language. Swearing is a reflective language that is used to reveal an individuals attitude and feelings. Swearing has different uses.

1.2.2 Swearing context

There are three categories of contexts in which swearing words are used. From a functional point of view, swearing constructions can be used as stand-alones,' as slot fillers and in replacive swearing (Ljung, 2011).

Stand alones refer to swearing constructions that are complete utterances and may function on their own. The stand alone swearing constructions can be further divided into seven kinds of uses. Stand alones can be used as expletive interjections, oaths, curses, name calling, affirmations, ritual insults or unfriendly suggestions (Ljung, 2011).

Slot fillers are not independent utterances but are swearing words that are used inside larger units. The most popular slot fillers in British English are fucking and bloody. The most common slot filler in American English is motherfucking. Other functions of slot fillers is expressing dislike, expressing subjectivity and placing of emphasis (Ljung, 2011).

Replacive swearing stands for swearing words that may be used to express non-literal meanings. Swearing words can be used as independent utterances (Pinker, 2010).

1.2.3 Swearing words and synonymy

Swearing words contain a specific type of synonymy which is particular to only them. Swearing is a type of formulaic language meaning that entire sequences of words cannot be understood from the words that make up the sequence but from words that are contained in the sequence. Examples of swearing words in formulaic language include knock it off, shut up and stupid idiot. Swearing cannot be understood from a grammatical configuration of words that are used for swearing.

Swearing words exhibit desemanticization. Desemanticization means the loss of meaning of different words when they are used in a certain formula and a certain context. Swearing can be classified as an emotive language genre that is used to reveal a speakers attitude. When a person swears, a listener often interprets the sworn words with regard to his linguistic and non-linguistic information. Swearing is likely to lead to severe consequences. Different languages have different ways in which they do their swearing (Dewaele, 2006). According to Timothy (2009), swearing is often associated with extraversion. However, there is a negative correlation between swearing and religiosity; swearing and conscientiousness; and swearing and agreeableness. Swearing has evolved and continues to persist because taboo words can ably be used to communicate anger and frustration more readily when compared to words that are non-taboo. Courtesy of use of taboo words in swearing, a speaker can achieve a variety of social and personal goals.

1.2.4 Domains associated with swearing words

Swearing words are often derived from different domains. Swearing words can be derived from religion. In Christianity, swearing can be diabolic or celestial. In Islam, diabolic themes do not occur. The second theme from where swear words can be derived is a scatological theme. The scatological theme refers to anything that relates to excretion. The third theme from which swearing words can be derived is about sex organs. Use of taboo words about sex organs is prevalent in contemporary societies all over the world. The theme around sexual activities is the fourth theme from where swearing words can be derived. The mother is one of the themes around which swearing words are derived. Minor themes of swearing are associated with ancestors, animals, prostitution, and diseases. Death is used by many cultures as a source of swearing words. However, there are languages that prefer the use of euphemistic terms when it comes to discussing death as a subject (Montagu, 2001).

1.2.5 Cursing

Cursing refers to an expression that wishes a misfortune befalls someone. Cursing is often done by invoking the name of God, a divine being or supernatural spirits. Utterances used in cursing are often regarded as profanity with regard to Christian faith. Utterances that are used in cursing are regarded in Christianity as blasphemous because they invoke divine intervention. Historically, there have been attempts to curtail cursing by issuing legal consequences and divine threats on individuals found involving themselves in cursing. The threats were meant to frighten individuals so that they refrain from cursing. Curse words are often hurled at a person who has done an abominable thing such as breaking a taboo (Montagu, 2001).

1.3 Clear Cut distinction between swearing and cursing

In swearing, there can be an invocation of a divine being or not. In cursing, there is always the invocation of a divine being. In cursing, there is the invocation of a supernatural being or supernatural spirits. The name of a supernatural being is often mentioned during cursing (Montagu, 2001).

In swearing, words may be uttered jokingly. In cursing, words are often uttered seriously, with no pun intended. Cursing is more malevolently intended than swearing given that it stems from deep-seated conditions (Montagu, 2001).

Any human being can take part in swearing. On the other side, cursing is often associated with religious and spiritual leaders. In most societies, cursing is considered as a special prerogative for a priest or a spiritual leader (Montagu, 2001).

Swearing makes reference to the present whereas cursing makes reference to the future. Studies have revealed that most of the time, people swear when the promise of relief is immediate, and achievement of effect is immediate. On the other side, a person may curse when relief is immediate, but the effects of a curse could be somehow delayed. Cursing is often associated with a language that refers to the future. A person will swear at his enemy when the enemy is within reach, and a person curses his enemy when he is not within immediate reach (Montagu, 2001).

Swearing preceded cursing. There are studies that assert that before people began to curse, they had started to swear as a way of expressing anger, joy or frustration. There are scholars that assert that swearing is a form of cursing and cursing is a form of swearing. There are indications that swearing preceded cursing (Montagu, 2001).

Swearing is not allowed in most societies. Cursing, on the other hand, enjoys some form of social sanction. Most societies view swearing as a sign of low intelligence and incivility and therefore, detestable. Cursing is allowed in most societies because it plays a major role in ensuring that individuals do not engage in abominable activities (Montagu, 2001).

Swear words are not necessarily directed to someone. On the other hand, a curse is often directed to someone. Swearing out of anger, frustration or joy is not necessarily directed at a person. Cursing is deliberate and objective whereas swearing can simply be done for immediate relief (Montagu, 2001).

Swear words may be used for a person who has not done anything wrong. Curse words are often administered on a person who has done an abominable thing. There are curses words that are directed to a person for breaking a taboo (Montagu, 2001).

1.4 Types and functions of swearing

1.4.1 Types of swearing

According to Steven Pinker (2010), there are five categories of swearing. The categories of swearing are dysphemistic swearing, abusive swearing, idiomatic swearing, emphatic swearing and cathartic swearing (Pinker, 2010).

Dysphemistic swearing is often used to give a negative input to a subject matter under discussion or an audience towards which the swearing is directed. For instance, by swearing you look like shit, it means that the person that the swearing words are directed towards is not appealing to the eyes. Dysphemistic swearing always compels a listener to think about a provocative matter or a negative matter. This type of swearing is often an opposite of euphemism (Pinker, 2010).

Abusive swearing is a type of swearing that is used to insult or intimidate a person that the swearing is directed to. Some of the popular abusive words that are mostly used include fuck you and son of a bitch (Pinker, 2010).

Idiomatic swearing is a type of swearing where words are used to capture a persons attention, exude coolness or to express to peers that the person who is involved in swearing and his or her audience are in an informal setting. Examples of idiomatic swearing phrases include Fuck, man. And Hell, yeah. Idiomatic swearing is also used to arouse interest in a certain matter (Pinker, 2010).

Emphatic swearing is used to assert emphasis about a certain issue or matter. A person can be emphatic about a point by swearing (Pinker, 2010).

Cathartic swearing is used when something that is not pleasing happens. For instance, when a person gets hurt or feels bad. Cathartic swearing is used to reveal to an audience that a person is undergoing a difficult time or is experiencing negative emotions. For instance, a person can swear by stating Aww, fuck!/ Damn this coffee (Pinker, 2010: 137).

1.4.2 Functions of swearing

Swearing is...

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