Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton January 7, 2017

Taboos and euphemisms in sex-related signs in Asian sign languages

Felix Y. B. Sze, Monica Xiao Wei and Aaron Yiu Leung Wong
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

This paper investigates sex-related euphemisms in four Asia sign languages, namely, Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL), Jakarta Sign Language (JakSL) (Indonesia), Sri Lankan Sign Language (SLSL) and Japanese Sign Language (JSL). It aims at finding out if direct visual reference to sex-related body parts or concepts is taboo to Deaf signers and if this is the case, what strategies they adopt to form the corresponding euphemistic expressions. It will be argued that even though Deaf signers are used to the visual explicitness of the signing modality, the highly iconic nature of certain sex-related signs can still be offensive at times, thus giving rise to euphemistic expressions. While certain euphemistic strategies by the Deaf signers target at toning down the degree of visual iconicity originally associated with the taboo signs, most of the remaining strategies show striking resemblance to those used in spoken languages, suggesting the universality of these verbal politeness strategies across language modalities.

References

Allan, Keith & Kate Burridge.1991. Euphemism and dysphemism: Language used as shield and weapon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Allan, Keith & Kate Burridge. 2006. Forbidden words. New York: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Andersson, Lars & Peter Trudgill. 1990. Bad language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Burridge, Kate. 2012. Euphemism and language change: The sixth and seventh ages. Lexis 7. 65–92.Search in Google Scholar

Colville, Martin & Colin Stewart. 1988. Signs of a sexual nature: An introduction to some sexual signs used in British sign language. Northwich: Cheshire Society for the Deaf.Search in Google Scholar

Cooper, David. 1986. Metaphor. Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Engberg-Pedersen, Elisabeth. 1995. Point of view expressed through shifters. In Karen Emmorey & Judy Reilly (eds.), Language, gesture, and space, 133–154. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Search in Google Scholar

Fischer, Susan. 2009. Sign language field methods: Approaches, techniques, and concerns. In James H-Y. Tai & Jane Tsay (eds.), Taiwan sign language and beyond, 1–19. Min-Hsiung: National Chung Cheng University.Search in Google Scholar

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Linfoot-Ham, Kerry. 2005. The linguistics of euphemism: A diachronic study of euphemism formation. Journal of Language and Linguistics 4(2). 227–263.Search in Google Scholar

Meir, Irit. 2010. Iconicity and metaphor: Constraints on metaphorical extension of iconic forms. Language 86(4). 865–896.Search in Google Scholar

Mirus, Gene, Jami Fisher & Donna Jo Napoli. 2012. Taboo expressions in American sign language. Lingua 122. 1004–1020.Search in Google Scholar

Napoli, Donna, Jami Fischer & Gene Mirus. 2013. Bleached taboo-term predicates in American sign language. Lingua 123. 148–167.Search in Google Scholar

Nash, Walter. 1995. Fair words and foul. In Jan Svartvik (ed.) Words: Proceedings of an international symposium, vol. 36, 23–38. Kungl: Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien.Search in Google Scholar

Pyers, Jennie. 2006. Indicating the body: Expression of body part terminology in American sign language. Language Sciences 28. 280–303.Search in Google Scholar

Rawson, Hugh. 1981. A dictionary of euphemisms and other doubletalk. New York: Crown.Search in Google Scholar

Sandler, Wendy & Diane Lillio-Martin. 2006. Sign language and linguistic universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sutton-Spence, Rachel & Bencie Woll. 1999. The linguistics of British sign language: An introduction. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Tang, Gladys (ed.). 2007. Hong Kong sign language: A trilingual dictionary with linguistic descriptions. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Taub, Sarah. 2001. Language from the body: Iconicity and metaphor in American sign language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Warren, Beatrice. 1992. What euphemisms tell us about the interpretation of words. Studia Linguistica 46(2). 128–172.Search in Google Scholar

Woodward, James. 1979. Signs of sexual behavior: An introduction to some sex-related vocabulary in American sign language. Silver Spring, MD: T. J. Publishers.Search in Google Scholar

Appendix A. Target concepts in this study

Body parts

  1. 1.

    Anus

  2. 2.

    Breasts

  3. 3.

    Clitoris

  4. 4.

    Nipples

  5. 5.

    Pee

  6. 6.

    Penis

  7. 7.

    Testes/testicles

  8. 8.

    Vagina

Sexual excitement

  1. 1.

    Climax

  2. 2.

    Ejaculation

  3. 3.

    Ejaculation-inside-vagina

  4. 4.

    Erection-of-penis

  5. 5.

    Female-climax

  6. 6.

    Female-lubrication

  7. 7.

    Horny

  8. 8.

    Male-lubrication

  9. 9.

    Nipple-erection

  10. 10.

    Semen

  11. 11.

    Sexual-desire

  12. 12.

    Sexual-excitement

Masturbation

  1. 1.

    Clitoral-masturbation

  2. 2.

    Lesbian-mutual-vaginal-masturbation

  3. 3.

    Gay-mutual-masturbation

  4. 4.

    Male-masturbation

  5. 5.

    Vaginal-masturbation

Oral sex

  1. 1.

    Cunnilingus

  2. 2.

    Fellatio

  3. 3.

    Gay-mutual-oral-sex

  4. 4.

    Mutual-oral-sex, sixty-nine

Intercourse

  1. 1.

    Anal-intercourse

  2. 2.

    Lesbian intercourse

  3. 3.

    Gay intercourse

  4. 4.

    Intercourse

  5. 5.

    Penetration

Other sexual activities

  1. 1.

    Be-raped

  2. 2.

    Female-bestiality

  3. 3.

    Group-sex

  4. 4.

    Male-bestiality

  5. 5.

    Many-men-using-one-woman

  6. 6.

    Mate-swapping

  7. 7.

    Rape

Individuals and relationships

  1. 1.

    Adultery

  2. 2.

    Butch

  3. 3.

    Cohabiting

  4. 4.

    Effeminate

  5. 5.

    Fornication

  6. 6.

    Gay

  7. 7.

    Lesbian

  8. 8.

    Incest

  9. 9.

    Promiscuous-person

  10. 10.

    Promiscuous-woman

  11. 11.

    Prostitute

  12. 12.

    Straight

  13. 13.

    Virgin

  14. 14.

    Come-out-of-the-closet

Birth control

  1. 1.

    Abortion

  2. 2.

    Birth-control-pill

  3. 3.

    Coitus-interruptus

  4. 4.

    Condom

  5. 5.

    Contraceptive-foam

  6. 6.

    Diaphragm

  7. 7.

    IUD (intra-uterine-device)

  8. 8.

    Sterilization, tubal-ligation, vasectomy

  9. 9.

    Withdrawal (of-penis)

Health, hygiene, and functions

  1. 1.

    Caesarean section

  2. 2.

    Careless-pregnancy

  3. 3.

    Circumcision

  4. 4.

    Douche

  5. 5.

    Gonorrhea

  6. 6.

    Gynecologist

  7. 7.

    Hot-flashes

  8. 8.

    Hysterectomy

  9. 9.

    Impotent (male)

  10. 10.

    Menopause

  11. 11.

    Menstrual-cramps

  12. 12.

    Menstruation

  13. 13.

    Miscarriage

  14. 14.

    Pregnant

  15. 15.

    Premature-ejaculation

  16. 16.

    Sanitary-napkin

  17. 17.

    Syphilis

  18. 18.

    Tampon

  19. 19.

    Vaginal-discharge

  20. 20.

    Vaginal-suppository

Other signs

  1. 1.

    Breast-sucking (sexual)

  2. 2.

    Enema

  3. 3.

    Foreplay

  4. 4.

    French-kissing

  5. 5.

    Hickey

  6. 6.

    Think-dirty-thoughts

Additional signs

  1. 1.

    Sleep with many men

  2. 2.

    Sleep with many women

  3. 3.

    Biseuxal

  4. 4.

    Transsexual

  5. 5.

    Sexual-assault

  6. 6.

    Catamite

  7. 7.

    Ask-for-prostitute

  8. 8.

    Male prostitute

  9. 9.

    Compensated-dating

  10. 10.

    One-night stand (419 – for one night)

  11. 11.

    Change from gay back to heterosexual

  12. 12.

    Change from heterosexual to gay

  13. 13.

    Nude

  14. 14.

    Cyber sex

  15. 15.

    Pornographic-website

  16. 16.

    Level three movie (X-rated movies)

  17. 17.

    Level four movie (X-rated movies)

  18. 18.

    AIDS

  19. 19.

    Puberty

  20. 20.

    Precocity/early mature

  21. 21.

    Loss of virginity

  22. 22.

    Young man having an affair/sex/get married with an old woman

  23. 23.

    Young woman having an affair/sex/get married to an old man

  24. 24.

    Gang rape

  25. 25.

    Underage-prostitute

  26. 26.

    One-woman brothel

  27. 27.

    Yellow places (places where sex service is provided under the disguise of other business)

  28. 28.

    Providing on-call sex service

  29. 29.

    Pornographic-place

  30. 30.

    Red-light district

  31. 31.

    Pornographic-publication

  32. 32.

    Male-procurer

  33. 33.

    Female-procuress

  34. 34.

    Exhibitionism

  35. 35.

    Fetish

  36. 36.

    Pedophilia

Appendix B. Euphemistic expressions in the four Asian sign languages

SignsHKSL (5 signers)JakSL (2 signers)JSL (2 signers)SLSL (4 signers)Total
1. Intercourse222111045
2. Menstruation102618
3. Breasts (female)523717
4. Ask for prostitute931114
5. Female lubrication711110
6. Testicles223310
7. Mutual oral sex4149
8. Pregnant4329
9. Vagina1449
10. One night stand628
11. Loss of virginity3227
12. Fellatio31127
13. Male masturbation527
14. Penis527
15. Adultery21216
16. Anus1236
17. Clitoral masturbation21216
18. Erection of penis1236
19. Pornographic place2226
20. Promiscuous person2136
21. Think dirty thoughts3126
22. Fornication325
23. Menstrual cramp1135
24. Premature ejaculation325
25. Effeminate314
26. Ejaculation224
27. Ejaculation inside vagina1124
28. Lesbian intercourse/lesbian1214
29. Gay intercourse/gay134
30. Horny1124
31. Impotent224
32. Male lubrication44
33. Miscarriage224
34. Nipple134
35. Nipple erection2114
36. Pornographic publication2114
37. Prostitute1124
38. Sanitary napkin2114
39. Semen11114
40. Sexual desire1124
41. Virgin314
42. Abortion1113
43. Bisexual213
44. Butch123
45. Careless pregnancy213
46. Cohabiting33
47. Condom33
48. Gay33
49. Lesbian intercourse123
50. Gay intercourse33
51. Hickey33
52. Mate swapping123
53. Promiscuous woman213
54. Sexual excitement1113
55. Vaginal masturbation213
56. Be-raped112
57. Breast sucking112
58. Climax22
59. Cunnilingus112
60. Female climax112
61. Foreplay112
62. Gonorrhea22
63. Pedophilia112
64. Pee112
65. Pornographic website112
66. Sleep with many men112
67. Straight22
68. Syphilis112
69. Anal intercourse11
70. Change from gay back to heterosexual11
71. Clitoris11
72. Exhibitionism112
73. Fellatio/cunnilingus11
74. Female bestiality11
75. Lesbian11
76. Group sex11
77. Hot flashes11
78. Incest11
79. Male prostitute11
80. Many men using one woman11
81. Menopause11
82. One-woman brothel11
83. Pee (female)11
84. Penetration11
85. Precocity11
86. Rape11
87. Sexual assault11
88. Sterilization11
89. Tampon11
90. X-rated movie11
Grand total1573799100393

Note: Out of the 126 lexical targets in this survey, 87 can be expressed with euphemistic signs in the survey. There are three more additional entries on top of these 87 targets: signs that can mean either LESBIAN or LESBIAN-INTERCOURSE, signs that can mean either GAY or GAY-INTERCOURSE, and a sign that specifically means FEMALE-PEE.

Symbols key (Tang 2007)

The double arrows indicate that the movement is repeated. The direction of the arrow shows the direction (or sometimes path) of the movement.
This indicates the bending of the middle joints of the fingers
This indicates the twisting on the wrist or the forearm.
This indicates the wiggling of finger tips.
This indicates the opening of selected fingers, and the direction of the opening depends on the direction of arrows.
This indicates the closing of selected fingers, and the direction of the opening depends on the direction of arrows.
This indicates a repeated bi-directional movement.
Published Online: 2017-1-7
Published in Print: 2017-1-1

©2017 by De Gruyter Mouton