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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2018

11. Why do the Dutch swear with diseases?

From the book Linguistic Taboo Revisited

  • Tom Ruette


In this paper, we address the general problem of dealing with a complex and interwoven set of influential factors, potentially both linguistic and extralinguistic factors, behind linguistic choices. We do so by investigating the rare phenomenon of swearing with diseases in Dutch, rather than with the more common Western taboo concepts of (among others) religion and sexuality. The standing hypothesis is that swearing with diseases is related to the Calvinistic cultural background of the Dutch. Methodologically speaking, we perform a corpus- based analysis of a large database of location-specific tweets from Flanders and The Netherlands in which we observe “bad language”. Since the hypothesized influential factor of Calvinism shows an outspoken geographical pattern, we intuitively expect clear overlap of the area in which we observe a preference for disease-based swearing and the area in which Calvinism is the predominant religion. We do not find a straightforward overlap in the geography of Calvinism and disease-based swearing. Although the locations where disease-based swearing is conspicuously frequent are all within the Calvinistic area of The Netherlands, disease-based swearing is more likely in the highly-urbanized region around Amsterdam. Therefore, we can only conclude that urbanity, socio-economic factors, religious affiliation and nationality play intertwined roles in the choice for disease-based swearing versus swearing with words from other lexical domains. Consequently, we end up with a complex and interwoven set of extra-linguistic factors that influence the lexical choice for a taboo word from a specific domain for swearing.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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