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A Descriptive Analysis of the Social Functions of Swearing in American English
Dalarna University, School of Languages and Media Studies, English.
2000 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The methodology of the present study, designed for the purpose of collecting quantitative and qualitative data, reflects a sociolinguistic approach to swearing, allowing for an investigation of the relationship between swear word usage and social context. Swearing utterances and details of the social context in which they were made were recorded discretely and anonymously with the use of field notes within the University of Florida undergraduate student speech community. Sixty members of this speech community also participated in a six-part questionnaire which elicited information regarding use of and attitudes towards swear words. Eleven of the questionnaire participants furthermore participated in an ethnographic interview to discuss the questionnaire and the subject of swearing in greater depth. Previous research had established swearing as both a frequently occurring speech behavior within the university speech community (Cameron, 1969; Jay, 1986; Nerbonne and Hipskind, 1972) as well as a highly offensive one (Driscoll, 1981; Jay, 1977, 1978, 1986; Mabry, 1975; Manning and Melchiori, 1974). The resulting ‘swearing paradox’ represents the question of how frequency and offensiveness can be directly related. The results of the present study explicate the swearing paradox by providing evidence of a discrepancy between the type of swearing that is most characteristic of social interaction within the university speech community and the type of swearing which is typically presented in offensiveness ratings tasks. The use of swear words in conversational American English was revealed to be a linguistic device used to affirm in-group membership and establish boundaries and social norms for language use. Intraspeaker and interspeaker variation in the use of and attitudes towards swear words was shown to be primarily a function of interlocutor gender and race. The data show evidence of males imposing standards of language use on females and suggest that different races use swear words to fulfil different social functions. Finally, the data suggest that the members of the focus speech community impose restrictions and standards on the swearing behavior of out-group members.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida , 2000.
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-3314OAI: oai:dalea.du.se:3314DiVA, id: diva2:523370
Available from: 2008-06-24 Created: 2008-06-24 Last updated: 2012-04-24Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
  • chicago-author-date
  • chicago-note-bibliography
  • Other style
More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf