Taboo words

If you are planning to study or work abroad, or even during your daily routine, you can be sure that at some focal point of your interlanguage self-appointed local language teachers will want to hear you utter their taboo words and some selected obscenities.

Even if we are well aware of what the offensive, vulgar counterpart is in our native tongue, we can reiterate them with relative ease, without hardly any emotional response or repulsion.

Some languages traditionally pride in a particularly elaborate system of swear words and vulgarities, which according to linguists can be understood as psychological and socio cultural phenomenon.

In English more and more words which used to be considered taboo are being downgraded to slang as they are losing their capacity to shock in everyday discourse. The Collins English Dictionary only mentions 16, though over 70 different taboo word types are publicly recorded, most taboo word use involves 10 frequently used terms (fuck, shit, hell, damn, goddamn, Jesus Christ, ass, oh my god, bitch, and sucks), which account for roughly 80% of swearing.

A study was carried out by a group of psychologists to examine bodily reactions shown to taboo words and childhood reprimand pairs equivalent in meaning in the subjects’ mother tongue than in their second language. Not surprisingly, results show that regardless our proficiency level, we tend to react far more intensely to indecent and vulgar lexical items in our native language than in a language learnt after the age of 12.

This study suggests that when it comes to comparing first and second language acquisition, besides the obvious cognitive factors, it might be worth examining the emotional resonance that differenciate our learning experience in L1 and L2.

Why do you think we need swear words? Is it necessary to study taboo words in a second language if they do basically lose their shock value and emotional charge in the second language? Do you use taboo words or do you feel more comfortable using euphemisms?

In the article below you can read about the above mentioned experiment in detail.

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