Taboo Language Essay

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In this section, some of the most important studies in the field of swearing and L2 will be presented. Studies investigating the perceived emotional weight of taboo and swearwords by bi- and multilinguals in different languages have shown that words in the L1 are usually perceived as stronger than in a first language (Harris et al. 2003, Dewaele, 2004b, 2005, Jay & Janschwitz, 2008). It is not hard to imagine that uttering or hearing strong, offensive words in a language that one has not learned from birth will have a different emotional significance than saying their equivalents in a language that has been one’s main source of expression and communication since their early memories. While the idea that those words in an L2 are not as strongly perceived as in the L1 seems to be widely accepted, the reasons behind it are still a topic of debate. According to research, a number of variants influence people’s perception of language and it is not an easy task to pinpoint a single defining factor.
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Whether the language is learned through a formal, informal or mixed context will influence the outcome of how they use it and perceive it, which is not surprising due to the fact that, as mentioned by Toya & Kodis (1996), Dewaele (2004a; 2005) and Horan (2013), books do not often present students with taboo words, sticking to a more formal language that many times is far from reality and from what people will find in everyday conversations. Mercury (1995) argues in favour of the importance of teaching adult students of English about taboo language – not the words per se, but a more comprehensive view of why people use it and its meaning within a social context. The author says that “it is probable that EFL/ESL speakers often misunderstand and misuse obscene language simply because they are left on their own to learn about its use”
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